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Hani Abdelmasih Al-Hayek
Gathering in Antalya, Turkey, local and regional leaders and representatives from the European Union and its Mediterranean partners called for a new momentum in the European Neighbourhood Policy. Taking part in the 6th plenary session of the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) on Monday, they stressed the importance of stronger cooperation and closer involvement of regions and cities from the three shores of the Mediterranean.
The meeting was hosted by Menderes Türel, Mayor of Antalya Metropolitan Municipality, who welcomed the participants along with Michel Lebrun, President of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and co-president of ARLEM. In his opening speech President Lebrun highlighted the need to strengthen the territorial dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. He argued that macro-regional strategies, such as the EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region, offer opportunities for cross-border cooperation between regions in and outside the EU. “The CoR will support the European Commission in its review of the European Neighbourhood Policy: in the Mediterranean we can identify several good examples for designing macro-regional synergies and for implementing instruments devoted to economic, social and territorial development”, President Lebrun said.
In its annual report on “The state of the territorial dimension of the Union for the Mediterranean”, the assembly argued that the EU must continue to support countries to the south and east of the Mediterranean towards a prosperous and peaceful future. The implementation of a cohesion policy at the macro-regional level supported by funding, especially from the European Neighbourhood Policy, is something ARLEM has been calling for since its creation. Extending the scope of the European Commission’s Local Administration Facility to the Mediterranean should be envisaged as a way of strengthening the institutional capacity of local and regional authorities. Anna Terrón, Special Representative for the Union for the Mediterranean said in Antalya: “ARLEM is part of the Union for the Mediterranean. The secretariat in Barcelona is working to implement our priorities, among them urban development. We find the annual report of ARLEM and its political priorities very useful.”
A report on the role of local and regional authorities in managing migration in the Mediterranean, drafted by António Costa (PT/PES), Mayor of Lisbon and Secretary-General of the Portuguese Socialist Party, was also adopted. According to the report, migration flows in the Mediterranean form a complex process that presents significant challenges and opportunities for Europe and for all countries in the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean. In Antalya, Mr Costa pointed out that many cities and regions are particularly affected by growing flows of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, as it is these authorities that have the obligation to receive and integrate them.
“Since 2011 the Syrian conflict has displaced more than 3 million people of which less than 100,000 have come to Europe. Countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt are doing their utmost to receive those people in desperate need of protection. But sharing the responsibility in the spirit of solidarity requires more support to those local and regional authorities and countries most directly affected, so EU support is crucial. In this context, ARLEM can play an important role in finding the right response to the humanitarian catastrophes in the Euro-Mediterranean”, Mr Costa said.
During the afternoon session discussions focused on environmental issues and urban development where a report on waste management at local and regional level drafted by Mohamed Boudra, President of the Regional Council of Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate, Morocco was adopted. In the Mediterranean region the amount of solid waste could rise from 174 million tonnes in 2000 to 396 million tonnes by 2025. The report calls for increased resources for local and regional authorities to help manage waste. An ARLEM initiative for an urban agenda for the Mediterranean was also presented in Antalya. It aims to strengthen the institutional and administrative capacities of cities and regions in urban governance, notably via pilot projects to be realised in each of the participating countries between 2015 and 2018.
Finally, Palestinian Hani Abdelmasih Al-Hayek, Mayor of Beit Sahour was appointed as the successor of the current co-chair Youssef Ali Abdel-Rahman. He will lead ARLEM alongside the President of the Committee of the Regions from February 2015. “Dialogue between local authorities throughout the whole Mediterranean region is my priority, and ARLEM will facilitate fostering cooperation at territorial level”, Al-Hayek said.
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