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Europe’s local and regional authorities will play a “very important role” in ensuring that the United Nations’ global development strategy is a success, members of the European Committee of the Regions heard on 6 April at a commission meeting that also debated how the European Union can work with local authorities in Libya to reduce migration.
At the commission, the CoR give its preliminary support for an opinion that sets out recommendations on how European regions and cities should try to meet targets set down in the UN’s sustainable-development goals (SDGs), and for an opinion that calls for the EU to develop “programmes to contribute to strengthening and empowering local governance in Libya and other countries along the Central Mediterranean” route for migrants.
In a letter read out at the meeting, the mayor of the southern Libyan city of Sebha, Hamid al-Hiali, said: “I would like to remind you of the situation in our country to show you that Libya is a victim of the situation, it is not just a transit country.” Describing the effects of the military and political conflicts that have dominated in Libya since 2011, the mayor said that migrants are being recruited into mercenary armies and are being “forced to donate organs and to participate in smuggling of weapons”. He warned that the situation in Libya risked “very soon” becoming “a security threat to all countries in the neighbourhood” and to the EU “unless serious action is taken”.
Fathi Suleman, a political adviser to the mayor of Sirte in Libya, said that “the impact of illegal migration is evident all over Libya, particularly in the southern regions” at a time when, because of conflict, “local authorities face unprecedented constraints with very limited resources”. Mr Suleman said that cities are struggling to provide basic services even “to their own residents” and have “basically” been “left alone with insufficient support to accommodate and to help” Libyans who have displaced by the fighting.
Sirte and Sebha are among a set of Libyan cities whose public administrations have been receiving practical support from the CoR and member regions and cities since January 2016. The initiative matches requests by Libyan mayors for capacity-building help with offers from European regional and local governments.
The CoR’s opinion on an EU communication on “Migration on the Central Mediterranean route – Managing flows, saving lives” emphasises the need to strengthen local authorities, said the CoR’s rapporteur, Hans Janssen (NL/EPP), mayor of the town of Oisterwijk. Mr Janssen’s recommendations call for the EU to boost Libyan cities’ ability to meet “basic needs and services”, to develop youth policies, and to promote “alternative livelihoods”, as well as for the EU to give its political support so that, “as a minimum”, local governments are given “the authority and resources to respond appropriately to the needs of migrants in the communities under their jurisdiction”.
Leonello Gabrici, head of the division for migration and human security in the European External Action Service (EEAS), said that “we need to rebuild this country [Libya] starting with local communities” and to accept that the EU’s support will need to go “beyond classic development aid”.
“It is the local communities who are the ones who really work with the people,” said Mr Gabrici. “It is in the context of the communities in which they live that we must focus.”
The second set of recommendations approved by the CoR’s Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX), on “European action for sustainability“, is intended to ensure the EU and its cities and regions respond fully and effectively to the UN’s SDGs, a 15-year plan of action – in the UN’s words – “for people, planet and prosperity”. Specifically, the CoR’s opinion, which was drafted by Franco Iacop (IT/PES), President of the Regional Council of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, offers the EU’s decision-making institutions a local perspective on the EU’s strategy to implement the SDGs, which – for the first time – set development targets for economically developed as well as developing countries.
In his report, Mr Iacop describes the EU’s strategy as “very ambitious and wide-ranging”, stresses that local and regional authorities should be viewed as “fully-fledged policy-makers”, and argues that efforts to localise the SDGs should be reflected in greater political and financial support for local and regional authorities in and beyond Europe. To enhance the effectiveness of actions taken by cities and regions, the opinion advises national governments and the EU to invest more in impact assessments and suggests that the EU should use a pillar of its regional policy – national reform programmes – “in an even more strategic and operational manner”.
Two of the UN’s SDGs are particularly relevant to local and regional authorities: Goal 10, “to reduce inequality within and among countries”, and Goal 11, to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. Goal 11 will affect administrations’ approaches to urban planning, transport, social welfare and sustainable lifestyles.
Luana Natali of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) noted, however, that each of the 17 SDGs sets out targets related to the responsibilities of local and regional governments. Local and regional authorities “are poised to pay a very important role”, she said, because “implementation [of the SDGs] really depends on local action and leadership in coordination with all levels of governance”.
To tackle poverty and sustainable-development challenges, “we need to give local governments responsibility and autonomy so that they can provide the right answers to the big social issues”.
Ms Natali emphasised the political benefits of embracing the UN’s development agenda, telling the CoR’s members – all of whom are regional and local politicians – that the SDGs provide “a chance to defend democracy, to make sustainable development more inclusive and participatory, to strengthen local institutions and processes and to involve people in decision-making”.
She highlighted Valencia, Tuscany and municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia as some of “many, many” local and regional administrations in Europe that have begun the process of localising the UN’s sustainability ambitions.