At the European Committee of the Regions Plenary, Our President François Decoster discussed strengthening democracy, Jasna Gabrič enlargement with European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi; Kate Feeney the Multiannual Financial Framework with European Commissioner Johannes Hahn and more…
— This overview/blog covers the European Committee of the Regions plenary of Wednesday 5 and Thursday 6 July 2023.
Debate on US and EU subnational entities: strengthening democracy, fostering growth and development – with François Decoster
Debate on the role of LRA’s in the EU enlargement process – with Jasna Gabrič and our Young Elected Politician from Ukraine Kseniia Semenova with European Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi
Jasna Gabrič said: “For several years I am now chairing meetings between North Macedonian local representatives and their EU counterparts. And today, more than ever, I can stand before you and claim that cities and regions matter! While LRAs have a very limited role in the accession negotiations as such, they have a significant weight in accompanying citizens with relevant information on the process and implementing concrete projects showcasing how membership in the EU could improve the quality of citizens’ lives . These steps contribute strongly to building a favorable atmosphere for EU membership, at times when there is a clear accession fatigue in many of the countries that dreamt once the European dream. Last, but certainly not least and in particular in the context of Western Balkans, but also in the context of Ukraine, local and regional authorities have the power to ease outstanding regional conflicts, although this power remains unused. LRAs serve as catalysts in promoting cross-border cooperation, enabling regions to collaborate on diverse initiatives. Their active facilitation allows for joint projects encompassing infrastructure development, research, and cultural exchanges. By fostering collaboration across borders, LRAs instill a sense of solidarity, encouraging regions to leverage their strengths and collectively tackle shared challenges. And one more thing… we shouldn’t let them waiting too long. Interest in the EU among the population is declining. And I completely understand them, because we ask some of them to change so that we can take them among us. Would you love someone who would make your love conditional on you changing your name, your language? Probably not. I’ll finish with the quote of Robert Schuman, one of the fathers of EU: “… only the people can change and enrich things in the institutions and transmit them to future generations.”
Our young elected politician (YEP) Kseniia Semenova also intervened, giving a gripping testimony about the situation in Ukraine, starting with the statement that “Ukraine pays blood for the values of democracy”, and focusing on ongoing reforms.
WATCH HER INTERVENTION:
Debate on the role of local and regional authorities in the defence of democracy – with Anne Rudisuhli and European Commissioner Vera Jourova
Anne Rudisuhli said: “In the face of the alarming decline in voter turnout in France (only 34% in the last local elections, and 33% have no faith in the democratic process) and the lack of interest that threatens our society, local authorities have an important role to play in the democratic process. We need to rebuild trust, encourage participation and transparency, fight corruption and invite our citizens to re-engage in the democratic process “
Debate on the revision of the EU legislation about urban waste water treatment and ambient air quality with Jens Bo Ive and European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius
Jens Bo Ive, Mayor of Rudersdal, Denmark, intervened in the debate and said: “There is still room to be more progressive and show that municipalities and regions are at the forefront of the work to ensure zero pollution and health for our citizens. We can be more ambitious in relation to implementation deadlines, and we can be more ambitious – especially – in relation to the degree of purification of phosphorus and nitrogen. Therefore, I hope that there is support when we recommend sticking to the Commission’s proposed limit values for the purification of phosphorus and nitrogen. I believe that the addition that the water must be 12 degrees warm before there is a need to clean for nitrogen is a sufficient compromise that allows us to set such ambitious goals. This is really where we can show that we are leading the way and taking responsibility. I would also like to use this opportunity to highlight the importance of the opinion providing an exception to the Water Framework Directive. In the statement, we have an exception that applies when all precautions have been taken to ensure appropriate treatment of urban waste water that damages the environment as little as possible. The water framework directive can be a stumbling block for the development of waste water facilities, as even the most modern facilities cannot deliver purification that meets all the requirements of the water framework directive. Therefore, I recommend that we retain the remark about exemption from the water framework directive in the report.
Debate on the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) with Kate Feeney and European Commissioner Johannes Hahn
Kate Feeney: “I welcome the revision of the MFF, particularly considering the pandemic and the EU’s efforts in and with Ukraine. This was necessary and I think that it holds promise for mitigating the impact of the changing external landscape and ensuring a more stable and prosperous future. We also welcome the establishment of STEP, and we appreciate that you did not create a new fund but instead propose to boost and find better synergies within the existing ones. I want to emphasise the urgent need to address migration challenges and to prioritise sufficient resources for both the short-term integration and long-term inclusion of people who had made Europe their home but who too often find themselves on the fringes of our societies. In Renew Europe, we have worked hard to change the narrative on migration, but without adequate funding for LRA, it becomes challenging to showcase its positive aspects. Therefore, while we welcome the funding increase for migration and border management, we regret that it falls short of the original proposal and that border security is prioritized over other critical migration issues. Prioritising integration is not only better for our towns and cities, it is better for our citizens. Insufficient integration budgets hinder our ability to provide necessary services to refugees, such as healthcare, education, and transport. We should be looking at direct funding opportunities for Local and Regional Authorities to develop local programmes relevant to their needs under existing funds such as the ESF+. Finally Commissioner Hahn, you are aware of the financial position of this institution. I want to address the matter of Cinderella. I find it extremely regretful that for the second time this week we have members of other institutions come here to tell us what a good job we are doing and how important our work is. These words ring hollow when our requests for sufficient resources not just to merely function, but to add much more value to the European Project are ignored. There are 90,000 municipalities in the EU, 1.2 million LR reps, 50% of public investment in Europe is through LRA’s. More so, citizens have more trust in their LR politicians than in any other group of politicians. In short, we are an under utilised asset! We can be more than just voices to get the good word out. Through a properly funded Councillors Network which is proposed under Cinderella – the CoR can help EU decision makers to receive evidence of how the Union is functioning on the ground in a way that no other institution can. But that requires proper resources and the EU has deprived the CoR (and itself!) of that evidence from the ground and I urge you to re-engage on the issue.”
At our group meeting Ukrainian Young Elected Politician Kseniia Semenova painted an impressive picture of the situation on the ground in Kiev with the ongoing war.
French Renew Europe MEP Nathalie Loiseau spoke at our group meeting, discussing the war in Ukraine in terms of defence and security.
A Ukrainian delegation from Parliament, civil society, discussed supporting Ukraine with our President François Decoster, for instance in returning people who fled the war to their home, in their own cities and regions.