What will be the role of local self-governments and town twinning in the new Europe for Citizens 2014-2020 Programme?

Now that the European Commission has come forward with its Europe for Citizens 2014-2020 draft programme, our interest will be to monitor, how the new programme will support the activities of the towns and municipalities, especially as regards their partnership cooperation projects, which in the current Europe for Citizens Programme figures as one of the most important pillars, with a 45% budget allocation (approx. EUR 96 million).

When perusing the text of the draft, however, we’ll be surprised to find that no emphasis at all is placed in it on the role the municipalities and towns should play in getting people engaged in civic activities and strengthening their civic awareness. This is all the more surprising, since the municipalities have an essential role to play in strengthening people’s civic responsibility both towards their community, the state, and the European Union. The draft absolutely ignores the fact that the municipalities and towns are closest to their citizens and can explain intelligibly and illustratively the effect of European politics on the people’s everyday life. In this respect, an irreplaceable role is played by town twinning, which, during the long time of the existence of this programme, an absolutely natural instrument of international cooperation, has proved its usefulness in strengthening the mutual understanding of nations and cultures, in passing on experience in all walks of the life of the community and its citizens and in the development of the communities and the strengthening of European integration, and consequently its greater political and economic cohesion. Another puzzling omission is that the term town-twinning is mentioned in the draft only once, and this only in the list of activities the programme is also going to support.

Our question is: is it an intentional omission or an inadequate appreciation of the importance of self-governments and the twinning of towns as an instrument of this programme? Thousands of communities and towns in Europe participate in the partnership cooperation programmes of towns, which represent thousands and thousands of activities and millions of personal contacts, and which form the mosaic of the firm foundations of the European Union and of all Europe. It is an instrument not only for democratic integration, but also the economic development of Europe. Is it really such a negligible movement that it is not worth mentioning be it in a single instrument, which it supports?

In the idealogical framework of the draft programme one can trace the tendency towards diversion from small projects in favour of large supranational ones involving a larger number of partners, the argument being that this is a more efficient way of attaining the aim, i.e. ensuring greater involvement of the citizens in EU affairs. Is it really an efficient method that will get those big projects closer to the citizens living their lives in towns and villages and make them more capable to participate in the creation of EU politics?

The programme calls for greater cooperation between different entities in local and regional life without taking into account the grant applicants, while placing emphasis on the content and orientation of the project. The Union of Towns and Municipalities supports efforts towards greater synergy between the communities and civic organisations at the local level and their closer cooperation in joint projects. It is very useful if public and civic entities, civic associations and clubs become involved in the partnership cooperation projects of towns or the projects of civic organizations (such cooperation already exists in many places), as this will lead to better results and will ensure a more durable and broader effect of the projects.

As regards financial allocations for the town-twinning projects of towns, the total amount of funds proposed by the European Commission is substantially lower than the funds available in the current period, by approximately EUR 21 million instead of the proposed EUR 69.9 million. The programme reduces to minimum the support of one-off meetings of citizens, which are very popular especially among smaller towns and communities, cutting the funds by EUR 50 million! On the other hand, higher budgets are made available for town twinning and twinned town networking projects spreading over several years, which will obtain EUR 28.7 million more.

As mentioned above, the Union of Towns and Municipalities CR has several essential comments to make on the new Europe for Citizens 2014-2020 draft programme, which the Union pointed out in the debate on the position of the Czech Republic concerning this programme. The following are the Union’s essential comments:

1. In the Europe for Citizens draft programme the Union of Towns and Municipalities CR has found no mention of the role the self-governments and town twinning  should play in strengthening European citizenship and the involvement of citizen in the political activities of the European Union.

2. We demand that the Europe for Citizens 2014-2020 Programme clearly specify  the financial allocation for projects in the framework of partnership cooperation, whether the applicant be the town/municipality or a civic organisation, and that the financial allocation for those projects remain at the level of the current Europe for Citizens Programme, i.e. 45% of the total programme allocation.

3. We demand the raising of fund allocation for the Citizens’ Meetings activity in the framework of Action 2 Democratic involvement and active citizenship.

4. The draft of the future Europe for Citizens Programme fails to adequately emphasize the idea that the most important target group of the programme is the citizens of the European Union, at whom all the activities should be aimed.

Comments ad 1 and ad 2 were taken into consideration in the comment procedure and they were duly incorporated in the Framework Position of the Czech Republic. The Union will naturally continue to monitor the new programme approval process and pursue the requirement that town-twinning activities continue to be supported, as they are among the most important instruments of European integration and the citizens’ involvement in public life.