In the last months, the Cohesion Alliance has followed most relevant EU developments: the start of works by the new Parliament, the selection, hearing and nomination of a New Commission, and very recently, the end of a period and the start of a new one at the European Committee of the Regions.
Under the leadership of Karl-Heinz Lambertz, CoR’s role has achieved maximum influence in a crucial moment for European Cohesion Policy (the debates were im
portant enough), and there have been regular CoR Own Opinion initiatives making possible to show a strong position on important topics affecting EU local and regional interests.
The 13th meeting of the CoR Intergroup on CBC coordinated by AEBR Vice-President Pavel Branda took place on 5 December 2019, dealing with an overview of the activities of the intergroup, a presentation of the state-of-the-art of b-solutions by AEBR Secretary General, as well as CoR activities in the field of CBC and EGTC, including upcoming CBC relevant opinions, and the future of the interregional group in the new CoR mandate.
CoR’s 137th Plenary Session took place on 4-5 December 2019 with the presence of David Maria Sassoli, President of the European Parliament. It included a debate on the 25thAnniversary of the CoR, with the participation of various EU institutions, former Commissioners for Regional Policy and Presidents of the CoR, as well as Presidents of European regional associations. Ann-Sofi Backgren intervened there on behalf of AEBR, stressing:
In our still comfortable Europe we have a new generation of cross-border obstacles to overcome in more sophisticated cooperation areas, with a long and standing cooperation, and new needs such as the provision of CB public services; while other regions are still in need of stronger incentives and more “Cohesion”. Thus our commitment within the Cohesion Alliance to keep or even increase funding for Cohesion, in particular Territorial Cohesion. Meanwhile, border regions at the external borders and our neighbours beyond face many ups and downs due to geopolitics and other factors, such as migration phenomena. However, all of us have to be concerned by common challenges, unite forces to adapt to climate change and take very seriously the Sustainable Development Goals.
Other debates followed on Green Deal with Commission’s Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans, and on Europe’s social pillar with Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights. The CoR also discussed own opinions on the Covenant of Majors, the Eastern Partnership, disinformation, administrative capacities, railways, metropolitan regions, and on a macroregional strategy for the Carpathian region.
Following Plenary took place on 12-13 February 2020, marking the end of a mandate with the presidencies of Markku Markkula and Karl-Heinz Lambertz. It goes without saying the input given by KHL in his mandate to the defence of Cohesion Policy through the #CohesionAlliance, the Reflecting on Europe campaign, the State of the European Union address on 9 October 2018, the 8th Summit of Regions and Cities in Bucharest in March 2019, among many other initiatives and declarations.
The CoR has inaugurated a new mandate with a new President for the next two and a half years, Apostolos Tzitzikostas (GR; EPP), Governor of Central Macedonia. Vasco Ilídio Alves Cordeiro, President of the Regional Government of the Azores (PT, PES) is the First-Vice President. The Plenary also discussed on enlargement, Africa, the rule of law, environment, brain drain and culture.
Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner designate for Cohesion and Reform, was confirmed after her hearing at the European Parliament’s Committee for Regional Development (REGI) on 3 October 2019, and the Cohesion Alliance issued a Press Release the following day under the headline EU-wide coalition looks to Commissioner-designate Ferreira to defend cohesion policy and the partnership principle. During European Parliament’s hearing, Elisa Ferreira committed to ensuring “no region will be left behind” and that “reforms must fit with principles of cohesion”.
The Cohesion Alliance welcomed the commitments the Portuguese Commissioner took to protect cohesion policy after 2020 and demanded more attention be given to the crucial role of regions and cities in shaping and delivering EU priorities.
Cohesion policy —EU’s main investment tool mobilising to deliver inclusive and sustainable growth by involving local stakeholders— is under threat because of budget cuts demanded by some Member States, as well as ongoing attempts to centralise governance that would jeopardise the involvement of regional and local governments.
The #CohesionAlliance partners therefore welcomed the Commissioner-designate’s willingness to “campaign for the highest possible financial framework” after 2020, “protect cohesion policy” and ensure “reforms and cohesion reinforce each other”, with reforms “fitting the principle of cohesion”. Her support for place-based development strategies and tools has been highly appreciated, particularly with regards to delivering EU’s objectives on climate action. In this perspective, a new, place-based, Just Transition Fund, will play an important role in providing additional support for regions particularly challenged by the green transition (e.g. coal regions). But the new instrument should not lead to further cuts of the cohesion policy budget.
Concerns remain about the freezing of cohesion funds as a sanction to enforce fiscal discipline and the full respect of the partnership principle in the definition and implementation of investment plans 2021-2027. In order to secure the involvement of local and regional governments, the Alliance called on the incoming Commissioner to reject any form of centralisation of the policy’s governance and functioning and ensure new provisions do not weaken its capacity to adapt to local needs.
With regards to the funding of 2021-2027 programmes, the Alliance urged EU institutions to maintain at least one-third of the future EU budget for cohesion policy, a position shared by the European Parliament. But, after the European Commission proposed a 10% cut to cohesion policy allocations, an increasing number of Member States are demanding deeper cuts to the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, which set annual expenditure ceilings for all EU policies.
The #CohesionAlliance will continue to call on Member States and EU institutions to ensure Europe’s citizens can rely on a impactful cohesion policy after 2020 that is capable of reducing disparities, supporting the clean energy transition locally, and boosting the digitalisation of all EU’s local communities.
On December 2019 Karl-Heinz Lambert, President of the European Committee of the Regions sent a letter to Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and to the Heads of State and Government of the EU, signed as well by the Presidents of main European associations of regions and cities, highlighting main points of the Alliance to defend Cohesion. Here you can find more information and the letter.
On 9 January 2020 the Cohesion Alliance met with Commissioner Ferreira. European regional associations’ Presidents raised an exchange on the impact of future EU budget, including the Green Deal and Just Transition, in Cohesion Policy. The Commissioner referred to multi-level governance and the partnership principle, conditionalities, schedule, urban dimension, etc.
The Alliance has prepared a new visual identity, including the 4 icons (multilevel governance, greener EU, inclusive EU, smart EU). They also prepared a new brochure and new infographics at the end of September 2019.
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