Opinion article by the President of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities on the occasion of the 2020 State of the Union speech with title «For the European Local Government that Cyprus deserves»

Today we discuss Europe. But Europe is not to be found just in the Institutions in Brussels, Europe is our home, Europe is us.

On the occasion of the annual “State of the European Union” speech by the European Commission President, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, I would like to take the opportunity to refer to the Municipalities of Cyprus that, as members of the big European family, have been making unremitting efforts to provide the best possible services to their citizens.

Undoubtedly, the current year has been a particularly difficult year for all of us due to the Corona pandemic. Our top priority is of course the safeguard of everyone’s health. However, it would be a terrible mistake to ignore the tsunami of economic and social consequences of this unprecedented crisis.

Our Municipalities have found themselves on the frontline of the crisis management, as they were called upon to respond on multilevel issues and cover for the State’s shortcomings. With our main focus on the citizens’ security during the times of this health menace, municipal authorities have implemented the ongoing difficult task of constant and regular public spaces disinfection and sterilisation. What is more, the municipal personnel have also served in the field of hygienic and other controls. In no time, Municipalities have adjusted their service provision operations so that the service beneficiary as well as the service provider are both safe. And despite the difficulties of this whole operation, we have managed, as we ought, to maintain our humanity by providing the basic needs for our fellow citizens who found themselves in high risk groups.

Even after the relaxation of measures and in spite of the huge financial blow, the Municipalities of Cyprus are still supporting citizens with all means at their disposal. At their own initiative, Municipalities decided to provide economic facilitations where they could, aiming mainly to boost the recovery of the hard-hit enterprises.

The road towards a full social and economic recovery will surely be long and bumpy. We are still not out of the woods regarding the pandemic and this is not the only challenge we are up against. Refugees and social integration, social policy for our citizens, turning towards greener and more sustainable solutions and transition to the digital era are just a few of the challenges that Local Authorities are facing, without all the necessary means at their disposal and trapped in time-consuming bureaucratic procedures.

In other words, the Cypriot Local Government must face an overall titanic challenge disposing few tools.

This whole situation has showcased the urgent and imperative necessity for a Local Government Reform in our country, so that an actual local democracy system is established with the necessary means to effectively respond to the local social needs. We need the tools, the flexibility, the human resources and the appropriate funding to be able to exercise substantial policy-making as local authorities.

As the democratic institution in closest proximity to the people, we know our citizens and we claim to be in the driver seat as we journey this difficult road to recovery. We understand the responsibility burden and we are ready. Europe succeeds when its anthropocentric character is put forward. Anyway, the European citizens of Cyprus deserve nothing less than that.

Andreas Vyras
President of the Union of Cyprus Municipalities
16 September, 2020