The dialogue around European integration in Ukraine is dominated by serious issues like the battle for a visa-free regime, the adoption of laws stipulated by the Association Agreement, preparations for the next EU-Ukraine summit, and other big-picture matters.
There is, however, another face of European integration, away from the capital and major cities. This was the subject of our conversation with Volodymyr Garazd, the mayor of Dolyna, a city with a population of 20,000 people in the Ivano-Frankivsk region.
We talked during a conference on the theme of “Promoting the sustainable development of the Eastern Partnership,” which was held in October in Yerevan. The conference was dedicated to the EU Covenant of Mayors initiative, to which Dolyna has been a signatory since 2009. Volodymyr Garazd was one of speakers at this forum and he has advice to share with his colleagues.
What does European integration mean for a small city like Dolyna?
For us it primarily means striving for living standards like those in the European Union. In practice, this means studying the experience of European cities and taking similar steps here.
For almost eight years we have had a sister city, Grodziec, which is near Poznan in Poland. We visit Grodiziec to see how the city tackles issues like roads, cycling, public transport, traffic control, recycling, etc.
We have already successfully implemented a few similar projects. It has been easier to take on these types of initiatives in recent years as the city now has more money to work with thanks to budget decentralisation. Just a few years ago, after the city made its required payments, just 34 million hryvnias remained for capital investment; now we have almost 40 million.
Poland is a member of the EU, so Polish cities can receive huge amounts of support from EU structural funds that Ukrainian cities do not have access to. It’s unlikely that Ukrainian cities can match their Polish counterparts with this discrepancy.
Of course, we can only dream of the kinds of opportunities that are available in the EU. But just 15 years ago Polish budgets looked a lot like ours. And the difference is not only the availability of European funds – living standards and tax revenues have also increased in Poland.
This will gradually happen here as well. If the minimum wage is raised after the New Year, it will result in a 20-30% increase in municipal revenue. Even with the funds we have, we have the ability to do much more, we just need to properly manage the money.
Now we are facing challenges with implementing quality urban projects. For example, we want to rebuild our streets with a safer design, taking into account European experience, but we are faced with the fact that there is no one to do the design work.
We are working on this problem. We’ve created an urban design company and hired young professionals who are studying the European experience.
How exactly are these professionals learning from the EU?
As an example, this year I formed an agreement with the mayor of our Polish sister city for two of our employees to visit for training: my deputy on public issues, who is a professional landscape designer, and the city’s chief architect. For two weeks they went to the Grodziec city hall every day and witnessed how the city’s administrators address various infrastructure issues. They returned from Poland with new knowledge and huge motivation to mimic these successes in their city.
We are also now in the process of applying for visas for some of our designers who will also travel to the EU for training.
Why did you decide to participate in the Covenant of Mayors?
For us, participation is primarily about implementing energy efficiency measures and achieving the objectives of the agreement: to reduce the consumption of traditional energy resources by 20%, increase use of alternative resources by 20%, and reduce carbon emissions by 20%. Three 20s.
The project we are implementing under the Covenant of Mayors is the integrated thermo-modernisation of apartment buildings. Application for this competition was somewhat risky. It is difficult to manage such a project in the private housing sector because its success is dependent on the cooperation of tenants. There are people who still have a Soviet mentality and expect that someone will come and do everything for them.
On the other hand, the apartment building sector has the largest potential for energy savings and, therefore, for carbon emissions reduction, in keeping with the goals of the Covenant of Mayors.
Was this your largest grant from the EU?
Yes, it was. The total project cost is €1 million, €772,000 of which the EU has contributed. For us it’s just enormous resources and a unique opportunity to encourage people to modernise multi-storey housing.
During the call for applications for the thermo-modernisation project, people in Dolyna disagreed about whether or not it was worthwhile. The city collected funds to support the project because the EU only partially covered the cost.
That project was organisationally and mentally challenging, but it has been successful. Last year we insulated the first 15 buildings and when the call was reopened, there were many new applications. People began to understand that this project is about comfort, energy savings, prolongation of the life of the building by 40-50 years, and increasing value of the properties. On top of all that, the buildings’ façades look more beautiful and bright following the renovations.
This year we have selected 17 buildings to undergo thermo-moderinisation, and next year we’ll select around the same number. Overall, thanks to this pilot project project under the Covenant of Mayors, we plan to insulate up to 40% of the multi-storey buildings in the city by the end of 2018.
The most important benefit of this project for us is the ways it is changing people’s minds. They didn’t just make a decision, they actually invested money in it. They stepped over the threshold, and now it is easier to engage people in discussions about other projects, such as landscaping.
This is not your first project. How difficult is it to get international funding for the European integration of Dolyna?
That’s right, this is not Dolyna’s first EU integration project. We started off with smaller grants. In 2010 we won a government project on application of funds that Ukraine received from Japan for carbon quota sales under the Kyoto Protocol. With that grant we insulated four kindergartens, a children’s hospital, and a central district hospital.
Then there were several projects organized by different embassies, and a program for small municipalities funded by the EU. That project allowed us to insulate our museum in the city centre and replace the windows in the children’s music and art schools.
So we knocked at various doors and received funding for about every third project we applied for. This is a pretty good result and it is thanks to our professional English-speaking team with many years of experience preparing project proposals. We also cooperate with local NGOs that are also very good at writing proposals. In just the past seven years we have raised €3 million in grant funds.
The Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine has been in force for more than two years now. Have you seen any impact in your community or are the effects of the Agreement restricted to Kyiv?
There are several companies in Dolyna that are trying to enter the EU market. Unfortunately, they have to do it themselves. There is no state support. In my opinion, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade or a similar body should have conducted seminars for entrepreneurs at the regional level. Show examples of best practices, bring in ambassadors or trade attachés in the EU, provide some momentum! The government signed an agreement, but then everyone must still pave their own way.
We’ve lost the Russian market and haven’t compensated by gaining the European one. Even though it is larger, it is also more competitive.
What kind of local companies are entering the EU market?
There is a sewing factory that has been working with Europeans for a long time, but still on a tolling basis. They would like to enter the EU market themselves, but that requires additional resources. Several food companies that produce confectionery have already entered the EU market and work in Poland and Slovenia.
There are also agricultural companies that successfully export blueberries to the EU market, where they enjoy very high demand.
Many people from the Ivano-Frankivsk region have left to work in the EU. Is this trend related to European integration to some extent?
Many of the entrepreneurs who left the region and settled in Poland or the Czech Republic now invest in Ukraine from their new homes. One has built a restaurant, and another has opened a service station. And in founding their businesses, they bring with them not only money but also culture. They want to start a restaurant like those found in the Czech Republic and they bring the European management culture back with them.
These entrepreneurs also invest in housing and children’s education. Overall, I would not over-dramatise the labour migration issue.
There is indeed an outflow of positive, active, and hardworking people, but labour migration is nothing new. People from the West left for Europe, the USA and Canada, and those from the East left for Russia. This is people exercising their free choice; nothing special or new is going on.