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.