Members of the ECR Group met on 8 September in Lviv (Ukraine) to discuss EU's relations with Eastern Neighbourhood countries and the future of Europe. The conference, organised at the invitation of the Marshal of Podkarpackie region and ECR Group Member Władysław Ortyl, brought together local, regional, national and EU politicians and experts.
Speaking about the future of Europe, Ruža Tomašić MEP (ECR/HR) said: "As a sovereignist and localist I believe Europe needs more smart decentralisation. Currently diversity is not much respected in Brussels when it comes to national and regional differences. The EU should respect local specificities and decisions of national governments. We cannot accept a situation in which those who do not want further centralisation become second class members. As to Ukraine, I believe that with our help the country will soon rebuild itself and in the future it will be able to join the EU so that we can work together on delivering best results to our local communities".
The conference aimed to facilitate a wider discussion on what future we want for ourselves, our children and our continent. "The European Union is in the process of reflecting on the future of Europe, but so far the debate has concentrated on how the EU could evolve. It is however important to remember that our future is dependent not only on the EU, but also on non-EU countries", said ECR Group President Rob Jonkman (Alderman in Opsterland, Netherlands).
Particular attention was paid to the EU's relations with Ukraine, a country facing an ongoing conflict with the Russian Federation. Ukraine is a priority partner for the EU with whom the EU has entered a new state of relationship following the coming into effect of the Association Agreement on 1 September of this year.
"The Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) represents clear added value for the EU and must continue. At the same time we have to search for new instruments and improve the existing ones to enrich this policy. We need an EU macro-regional strategy for the Carpathian region so that EU Funds can deliver better results. More EU support is also needed for local and regional partnerships, which help to remove social and infrastructural barriers", said Marshal Władysław Ortyl.
Head of Strzyżów District and ECR Group Member Robert Godek gave a practical example of good cooperation between his district (located in Podkarpackie region, Poland) and the city of Brody (located in Lviv oblast, Ukraine). A joint project funded by the EU and realised by Strzyżów and Brody focused on developing their tourism potential. "The value of such programmes cannot be quantified. Their biggest benefit is promoting mutual understating among people leaving across the border".
Other speakers, all of whom highlighted the need for more decentralised cooperation in Europe, included ECR Group Member Pavel Branda (Deputy Mayor of Rádlo, Czech Republic), Pieter Cleppe (Head of Brussels office of Open Europe), Oleksandr Hanushchyn (Chairman of the Lviv Regional Council) and Serhiy Kiral (Member of the Ukrainian Parliament).