DECISIVE: DEVELOPMENT OF CYPRIOT TWINNING CAPACITIES THROUGH ACTIVE VOLUNTEERING – 07/01/2010

After a proposal submitted by the Union of Cyprus Municipalities (UCM) in the framework of the “Europe for Citizens” programme (Action 1: Measure 2.2 Support measures), the European Commission decided through the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) to finance the training of volunteers in the Municipalities of Cyprus, in order to support the development of Twinnings with other European countries. The project has a duration of 12 months, starting from the 4th January 2010 and the partners are the Union of Cyprus Municipalities (UCM), the Vereniging van Vlaamse Steden en Gemeenten (VVSG) – Belgium and the Local Union of Municipalities and Communites of Prefecture Chios (TEDK CHIOS) – Greece.

Cypriot municipalities currently underexploit the possibilities offered by Town Twinning. According to the results of a survey conducted by the UCM, the main reasons for that are: a) geographical distance, b) lack of information on town twinning and most importantly c) lack of qualified municipal personnel (to fill in applications and run the projects). On the other hand, municipalities that have the capacity to run Twinnings, develop them mainly with neighboring countries and only give the possibility to a few of the citizens to participate in them.

The same problems exist in other distant and small geographical units such as the island of Chios – Greece. The DECISIVE project targets all these problems:

a) even if distance can be an obstacle for the creation of Twinnings, municipalities often pay for travel and other expenses on their own, if the they think it’s useful. Distance becomes, therefore, a minor problem if a twinning is useful.

b) the UCM had a part of the responsibility for the lack of information, despite the efforts undertaken especially during the last two years. The DECISIVE project helps the UCM and other associations facing the same problems to further develop their capacities by creating a real dialog between citizens, local politicians and municipal officers concerning all practical and political aspects of town twinning.

c) there are not many ways to deal with the lack of personnel. After discussing with different associations of local authorities around Europe, we have decided to exploit and develop in Cyprus and Chios the methodology used in Flanders: it is the citizens themselves that voluntarily prepare and run twinnings. This method not only alleviates the administrative burden from municipalities but also strengthens the citizens’ feeling of ownership over the projects.

DECISIVE, therefore, focuses on developing voluntarism and transferring knowhow from Flanders to Cyprus and Chios, through training sessions in Cyprus and Belgium.

The project aims to promote volunteering not simply as a principle, but also through the development of specific skills for the participating volunteers. New skills (filling-in of the Online Grant Application Form and project management) will be developed not only amongst those who are responsible for twinning activities at a local level but also among ordinary citizens that will learn how to work with their local politicians and municipal officers.

This way the project will foster the sense of ownership of the European Union among citizens: not only will they have the chance to participate in a European project, they will also have the opportunity to shape it and create something useful out of it.

Finally, the project hopes to promote twinnings at least between Cypriot and Flemish towns – currently no twinning exists between towns in the two regions. By including citizens in the process and helping them understand the meaning of Twinning, we also hope to revitalise some of the current twinning agreements that remain inactive. A dissemination event will also take place on the 9th of May, helping in this way citizens and local stakeholders to better learn and understand the practical meaning of active European citizenship: citizens, local officials and local politicians working together for the same purpose and cooperating with European regions that have the same problems and targets.

Every Cypriot municipality has already indicated a number of potential volunteers along with local officials and politicians. This group of 250 people, along with the representative of TEDK Chios will follow the first training session that will take place in Cyprus in May 2010.

The trainers, five in total, will be selected by the VVSG as follows: Two trainers from a municipality where town twinnings are organised only by the town twinning committees (volunteers), two trainers from a municipality where town twinnings are organised by the municipality with the collaboration and help of a town twinning committee and one trainer from the Association.

After the first training session, a group of 39 potential volunteers will be chosen among the 250 initial ones. These, along with the representantive of TEDK Chios will travel to Belgium at the end of September 2010 for a series of practical training sessions. One of the sessions will take place in the premises of the EACEA and will be focused on the filling-in of the Online Grant Application Form, one in the premises of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities where the Europe for Citizens programme and the CEMR website on twinning (www.twinning.org ) will be presented to them and another one, either in the municipality of the trainers, or within the UCM premises, in order for the participants to be more thoroughly acquainted with the work of the Flemish town twinning committees.

The training session in Belgium will hold a key role in the project since it will familiarize future twinning officers with the work and personnel of the EACEA and the EU in general (information visit to the Committee of the Regions and potentially the European Parliament).

A final conference will again take place in Cyprus at the beginning of November 2010 with the participation of all (or even some new) 250 potential “twinning officers” with the aim to conclude the work, set up Cypriot town twinning committees and present ideas for the creation of new twinnings or present new ones already created via the project.

DECISIVE Project: 9th of May Dissemination Activities – 11/05/2010

Within the framework of the DECISIVE project -for the training of volunteers and municipal personnel of Cypriot Municipalities for the development of twinnings with municipalities from other EU countries- and on the occasion of the 9th of May (Day of Europe), the Union of Cyprus Municipalities, in cooperation with the European Commission Representation in Cyprus undertook dissemination actions for the project.

More precisely, informational material was distributed and information on the project was given to the public, during two events that were organized for the Day of Europe.

The first one was organised on the occasion of the “European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion”, by the European Institute of Cyprus, the European Parliament Office in Cyprus, the European Commission Representation in Cyprus, the Press and Information Office (PIO) and the Municipality of Limassol and consisted of a series of events in the framework of the celebrations of the Week of Europe, which took place from 3 until 9 May in Limassol and Nicosia.

The festivities culminated with a big concert at the Grigoris Afxentiou Square in Limassol District (Independence Avenue) on Saturday 8th May, with jazz, rock and Greek music. Along with the concert, entertaining activities for children were held and, at special stands, the organizers along with Member States’ embassies of the European Union, provided information on Europe to the public. Information material on the DECISIVE project was also distributed from the stands.

On Sunday, May 9, an event was also organized by the European Commission Representation in Cyprus, for the Day of Europe in the gardens of the Presidential Palace, in cooperation with the European Parliament Office in Cyprus, the European Institute of Cyprus and the Press and Information Office. The event was held under the auspices of the Presidential couple of Cyprus.

During the event, information material was distributed from the organizers, speeches were given by the President of the Republic and other officials, and a concert was held by the band of the Police. During this event, informational material on the DECISIVE project was also distributed, always in cooperation with the European Commission Representation in Cyprus.

DECISIVE Project: First training seminar in Cyprus – 21/05/2010

On the 18th of may, the first training seminar of the DECISIVE project was organized in Cyprus. 250 volunteers that the municipalities of Cyprus had designated, participated in the seminar and were trained in drafting proposals for funding through the “Europe for Citizens” and other European programmes. The seminar was held at the Mediterranean Beach Hotel in Limassol.

The seminar started with a general introduction to European programs and a presentation of the “Europe for Citizens” programme and the DECISIVE project.

There was also a presentation on the organization of town twinning in Flanders (Belgium), where the best practices of the City Malle (Belgium) were shown. Among others, presentations were held on: the story of the twinnings of Malle, the active involvement of volunteers through the twinning committee of Malle, and the success of the «Golden Bridge» project.

For this purpose, three trainers went from Flanders to Cyprus:
1. Anne Geens, an officer of the Vereniging van Vlaamse Steden en Gemeenten (VVSG). She explained the general framework of how municipalities in Flanders work with twinning committees and gave tips and hints as advice to Cypriot municipalities that wish to follow the same methodology.
2. Staf Verhoeven, president of the twinning committee of the municipality of Malle. As participants had the chance to see, Mr. Verhoeven is a very motivated volunteer who is running a project called “The Golden Bridge” with partner municipalities from France, Germany, Poland and the UK. As he explained, this project was also funded by the Europe for Citizens programme. Mr. Verhoeven explained how the municipality of Malle managed to establish an impressive series of activities with a high involvement of citizens.
3. Roger Rottiers, member and treasurer of the twinning committee of Malle. Mr. Rottiers is also a volunteer with a lot of experience, which he shared with the Cypriot volunteers.

At the event, speeches were also held by Mr. Yannis Antoniades, Secretary General of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities and Mr. Fanourios Pantelogiannis, Head of the Brussels Office of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities.

The participants were trained in applying for funding through the Europe for Citizens programme, as well as completing the eForm and the budget form.

Positive impressions were aroused by the interest of the participants, as demonstrated by the number of the questions posed, which were impossible to be answered due to lack of time.

After this first training seminar, a group of 39 Cypriot volunteers / citizens and municipal personnel, will be selected and participate in a study visit to Belgium, at the end of September 2010, for a series of seminars.

 

On the initiative of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities, a meeting was held at its premises on May 26, gathering twinning officers from Cypriot Municipalities.

During the meeting the following issues were discussed:
• The “Europe for Citizens” programme.
• DECISIVE Project: debriefing on the first seminar and forward planning for the activities of the project.
• Information on the implementation of the SKILLS project.

Twinning Officers Meet in Nicosia – 31/05/2010

Most Cypriot Municipalities have a website, from which citizens or other municipalities can take all the necessary information on issues that concern or interest them.

What happens, though, when a foreign municipality is looking for a municipality in Cyprus in order to be twinned with or create a partnership for another project?

Up to now there are 2 options: Exclusively for twinnings, the solution can be provided by the website of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions http://www.twinning.org/. Cypriot Municipalities can upload their profile and partner search, in order for other municipalities in Europe and the world to be able to contact them. The twinning.org website is, however, addressed to all municipalities in Europe, which means that information relating to the municipalities of Cyprus can be ‘lost’ in the abundance of information.

For both Twinnings, and other European projects, there is also the possibility, for any municipality in Europe to contact the Union of Cyprus Municipalities, which will then transmit that information to all of its member municipalities, hoping that one of them will respond positively to the request.

As one can see, what was missing until now was a website that would focus exclusively on the municipalities of Cyprus and present their characteristics in an identical, coherent and understandable manner, so that anyone could quickly select among 33 municipalities in Cyprus, those who interest them the most in order to create a partnership or twinning link.

The possibility to create this website was given to the Union of Cyprus Municipalities through the Europe for Citizens Programme. This website, has now been created, is available online at: http://www.ucm.org.cy/Account_List.aspx and is being enriched with more information every day.

4th meeting of the ENVE Commission (Environment, Climate Change and Energy) of the Committee of the Regions in Limassol – 30/06/2010

On the 28th and 29th June 2010 was held in Limassol, Cyprus the fourth meeting of the ENVE Commission (Environment, Climate Change and Energy) of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and a seminar on the “Promotion of Sustainable Water Management”.

These two events took place following an invitation of the Head of the National Delegation of the Republic of Cyprus to the Committee of the Regions, Mr. George Georgiou, Mayor of Kato Polemidia. The meeting and seminar were also attended by full and alternate members of the National Delegation of Cyprus.

The ENVE meeting took place in the hall of the Four Seasons Hotel in Limassol, chaired by Mr. Ilmar Reepalu, Municipal Councillor of Malmö (Sweden). On Monday, 28 June, the Union of Cyprus Municipalities organized a study visit to the Sewerage Board of Limassol-Amathus and an official dinner in honor of the members of the ENVE Commission in the courtyard of the Technological University of Cyprus.

The seminar was held on Tuesday, 29 June, with the participation of key European speakers and experts in the field of water management. The seminar focused on recent developments in the EU policy framework and highlighted successful examples of sustainable water management in municipalities and regions of the European Union.

The seminar participants were also informed through brochures for the Union of Cyprus Municipalities and its activities, including the DECISIVE project.

The Union of Cyprus Municipalities

The Union of Cyprus Municipalities is the main association of Local Authorities in Cyprus. Its core functions are to contribute to the development of local government autonomy, as well as to act as spokesman of local government interests vis-a-vis the central government and other national institutions. It also takes an active stand in the relations between Cyprus and the European Union.

For more information: www.ucm.org.cy

The Committee of the Regions

The Committee of the Regions is the EU’s assembly of regional and local representatives. The mission of its 344 members from all 27 EU Member States is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU’s decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law violates the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.

For more information: www.cor.europa.eu3

Common information session for SKILLS and DECISIVE projects – 07/07/2010

On July 2nd, a meeting was held in the Town Hall of Limassol, in the framework of the Europe for Citizens programme. It was an information session concerning two projects: the SKILLS project for the promotion of twinning between Italian and Cypriot municipalities and the DECISIVE project for the training of citizens and civil servants of the municipalities of Cyprus for the development of twinnings with other EU countries.

The meeting was organized by the Union of Cyprus Municipalities, (represented by Mrs. Kalia Martides), in cooperation with the Brussels Office of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities, (represented by Mr. Fanis Pantelogiannis and Mrs. Stella Kourou).

The meeting was also attended by Mrs. Irene Demetriou, project manager of the “Europe for Citizens” Cypriot Contact Point, which is financed by the European Commission and the Ministry of Education and Culture of the Republic of Cyprus.

In total, the meeting was attended by 15 officers of Cypriot municipalities, who had the opportunity to share experiences and best practices, learn more about town twinning, the ways of finding partners and the opportunities and tools provided through various programs, in order to facilitate their participation in these activities and maximize their benefits.

The aim of the Europe for Citizens programme is to bring Europe closer to its citizens and to enable them to participate fully in the European construction. More information can be found on the website: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/citizenship/programme/about_citizenship_en.php

High degree of satisfaction for the 1st training seminar of the DECISIVE project – 31/08/2010

As we have informed you in our previous issue, the first training seminar of the DECISIVE project was held in Limassol on May 18. During that seminar, 250 volunteers were trained in drafting proposals for funding through the Europe for Citizens and other European programs.

After the seminar, the participants filled out questionnaires in order for us to be able to measure their satisfaction with the seminar.

The questionnaire asked participants to indicate how satisfied they were (Not at all, Slightly, A Little, Satisfied, Very Satisfied) in relation to the following ten questions:

  1. Had you understood the purpose of the seminar before participating in it?
    2. During the seminar did you understand the purpose of it?
    3. Did the structure of the seminar program (selected topics and speakers) served to achieve this purpose?
    4. In your opinion was the purpose of the seminar achieved?
    5. How satisfied are you in general with the presentations/speeches?
    6. Do you think you have been given the opportunity to express your opinion during the seminar?
    7. How useful do you consider that this seminar was for the achievement of the DECISIVE project objectives?
    8. How much do you consider you have improved your knowledge on twinnings thanks to the seminar?
    9. How satisfied are you with the organization of the seminar? (Meeting room, meals …)
    10. To what extent would you recommend others to participate in similar seminars in the future?

According to the responses, participants were satisfied or very satisfied with 8 of the 10 criteria listed above. Many, however, said they had not understood the purpose of the seminar before participating in it (which is explained by the fact that it was the first action of this kind in Cyprus), and that they were not able to express their opinions (the questions raised were too many and were not answered due to lack of time).

DECISIVE PROJECT: ITS FIRST RESULTS ALREADY VISIBLE – 30/09/2010

The DECISIVE project counts already nine months of life. And even though its two main actions (study visit to Brussels and final seminar in Cyprus) have not yet taken place, it is obvious that the project contributes to cultural change, in relation to twinning and European activities of municipalities as well as the participation of citizens to these activities.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the achievements of the DECISIVE project up to now:

Twinnings: It has now begun to be perceived by the municipalities that twinnings can be really useful and that they are not just synonyms with cultural exchanges or travelling opportunities.

Participation of citizens: It is important that citizens and especially organized citizen groups now understand (in those municipalities that this was not the case up to now) that they have the opportunity to work in close cooperation with municipalities and get actively involved in twinning. In at least two municipalities, the organized groups of citizens (mainly Youth Councils) already took the initiative to get in contact with their municipalities, in order to work together on twinning projects.

Union of Cyprus Municipalities: When the DECISIVE project began, a lot of Cypriot municipalities did not even have one officer who was working on twinnings or other European activities. Moreover, the officers of those municipalities that were more organized, did not know each other and many were not cooperating or even communicating with the twinning officer of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities.

Now, most municipalities have appointed at least one officer who deals with twinning issues. These officers have now met each other and have begun to cooperate and exchange information and ideas. It is important that even the Union of Cyprus Municipalities is now aware of the European actions of its Members. The attitudes seem to begin to change…

DECISIVE PROJECT: STUDY VISIT IN BRUSSELS – 08/11/2010

The study visit of the DECISIVE project in Brussels took place from the 2nd to the 5th of November. 40 participants attended the trip, including 38 citizens, elected officials and municipal officers from 16 Cypriot municipalities, the twinning officer of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities and a representative of the Local Union of Municipalities and Communities of the Prefecture of Chios.

The participants were selected by the Union of Cyprus Municipalities according to the following criteria:

  • a) It was obligatory for the participants to have participated to the first training seminar of the DECISIVE project, which was held in Cyprus on May 18, 2010.
  • b) Nearly all citizens who have expressed real interest in the project and town twinning have been selected to participate in the study visit, provided that their municipality has proven over the last few years that is interested in town twinning and that it could send an officer to Brussels to participate in the study visit.
  • c) For each selected municipality, there should be at least one officer and one citizen or elected representative participating in the study visit. As the DECISIVE project seeks to develop cooperation between municipalities and volunteers, it would be pointless to have only officers participating from a municipality without citizens and vice versa.
  • d) As far as possible, participants of the study visit were chosen among organized groups of citizens or among the so-called multipliers, in order to convey the purpose of the project and their experiences to as many other citizens as possible.

The group of participants arrived at Brussels on November 2. The same evening the participants attended a dinner where they met the two officers of the Brussels Office of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities who would accompany them throughout the course of the study visit.

On November 3, the participants visited the Brussels Office of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities, where they attended initially a presentation on the role of the Office and the programme of the study visit

This was followed by a presentation from the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) titled “The European Town Twinning Movement, role and activities of CEMR”. The CEMR officer responsible for Town Twinning also presented the www.twinning.org website, which is one of the main tools for Municipalities wishing to participate in Town Twinning.

A lunch followed the presentation and then, the participants attended a session with a review of the DECISIVE project’s progress. Later on, every participating municipality presented its current situation in relation to Town Twinning and the activities they undertook after the first training session of the DECISIVE project. Opinions of citizens were also heard on how to improve their communication with municipalities, as well as ideas for improving the operating procedures within the municipalities. The same evening all the participants attended a dinner.

On November 4, the participants visited the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency of the EU. The Agency’s activities and the application process for the funding of Town Twinning projects were presented to the group. During the discussion, participants had the opportunity to address their questions and become better acquainted with EU officials, who handle applications submitted by the municipalities for funding through the Europe for Citizens programme.

27th Annual General Assembly of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities – 19/11/2010

On Tuesday, November 16th, the 27th Annual General Assembly of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities was held in Nicosia.

The Assembly was attended and addressed by the President of the Republic of Cyprus Mr. Demetris Christofias and the Minister of Interior, Mr. Neoclis Sylikiotis. The event was also attended by the President of the Cypriot Parliament, Mr. Marios Karoyian, leaders and party representatives, Ministers, MPs and senior officials of the State.

Mr. Andreas Christou, Mayor of Limassol and President of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities presented the activity report of the association for 2009.

According to Mr. Christou, 2009 was a year of intense activity for the Union of Cyprus Municipalities (UCM).

Among other activities, the UCM has been active in promoting cooperation and twinning activities between Cypriot and other European municipalities through the Europe for Citizens programme. The UCM also participated –in cooperation with the CEMR- in the process of drafting a strategic document for the future of the programme.

As Mr. Christou said, the UCM also applied and obtained funding for two European projects for promoting twinning in Cyprus, with a total financing of ca 100.000,00€. “The first project, titled DECISIVE, aims at training volunteers and officials of Cypriot Municipalities for the development of twinnings with other European towns. The second project, titled SKILLS, aims at developing twinnings with Italian Municipalities”, said Mr. Christou.