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EU cities' and regions' expectations for next EU legislative mandate
Following the European elections and ahead of the formation of the next European Commission, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) has put forward its expectations and proposals for the new EU legislative mandate. Representatives of EU cities and regions argue that the main objectives must be to create more and better jobs, and generate "territorially-balanced growth" to strengthen citizens' trust in the European project.
 
Meeting in plenary session today, CoR members adopted a resolution setting forth the political priorities which, in the CoRs' view, should guide the work of the next European Commission's and Parliament's mandates. Michel Lebrun (BE/EPP), newly-elected President of the CoR, stated, "On the eve of the new EU legislative mandate, I very much welcome the contribution of our assembly to influence the political agenda of this new mandate. The guidelines presented in this resolution will form the basis of my future institutional contacts during this next semester as CoR President."
 
Investing in EU's cities and regions for more growth and jobs
 
Europe's local and regional authorities have been hit hard by the crisis, leading to a significant reduction of public expenditure despite growing financial demands to cope with high unemployment and social exclusion. Against this backdrop, Michael Schneider, President of the CoR's EPP Group, stressed that: "As we enter the new legislative mandate for the EU, we cannot forget our responsibility to create more and better jobs in Europe’s cities and regions. Economic reform and growth-friendly budget consolidation must be priorities for the coming months and years. We call on the Commission to consider more innovative and ambitious support methods for EU public investment and to enhance synergies between the EU, national and sub-national budgets."
 
The chair of the CoR Socialists' Group (PSE), Karl-Heinz Lambertz, insisted on the importance of public investment for cities and regions and called for stronger flexibility in fiscal discipline: "Public investment is a top priority for us. The leverage effect of public investment, two-thirds of which fall under the responsibility of local authorities, should not be curtailed without any consideration of economic common sense. This requires an adaptation of the Stability Pact. In the short term, we insist on the need to exclude from the calculation of budget deficits national and regional co-financing when it comes to EU funded investments. In the medium term, the Commission must submit proposals that consider the quality and long-term effect of public investment."
 
These views and proposals are reflected in the resolution which also calls for extending the Europe 2020 project bonds initiative based on the results of the evaluation expected in 2015.
 
Strengthening the territorial focus of EU policies
 
The CoR reiterates its call for a territorial dimension to be introduced on the occasion of the review of the EU's growth strategy. It also advocates closer involvement of local and regional authorities in the economic and financial policy coordination process ("European Semester") and stresses that territorial impact assessments should be mandatory in the European's Commission's impact analysis of new legislative proposals. The CoR further suggests putting special emphasis on the development of cross-border solutions, interregional networking and macro-regional strategies by also extending the use of European Groupings for Territorial Co-operation as an instrument for other EU policies.
 
In this regards, the chair of the ALDE Group, Bas Verkerk stated: "The EU must strengthen the territorial dimension in EU policies to facilitate regions and cities' contribution to the EU growth strategy." He further insisted on the CoR's call to the Commission to present a "White Paper on Territorial Cohesion" to address growing territorial disparities and promote urban/rural sustainable development through a White Paper on integrated urban development.
 
Preparing the EU for new policy challenges
 
The CoR calls on the Commission to work closely with cities and regions in their efforts to integrate migrants and urges for the development of a comprehensive migration policy. In the field of competitiveness, it asks for the development of a "regional Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme" (REFIT) initiative to reduce administrative burden for SMEs, and to enhance the role of smart specialisation strategies to tackle the innovation divide between EU regions. The CoR stresses the need for a revised EU energy strategy based on local and regional solutions for climate change (e.g. Covenant of Mayors) and further develop the partnership principle in this area. It also invites the Commission to propose a proper rural development strategy based on an integrated territorial approach. With regard to external relations, CoR members reiterate their support to continuing the enlargement of the EU and stress that the EU must step up support to Eastern Partnership countries to promote local democracy and decentralisation. They call for developing tools to increase social and territorial cohesion in the Mediterranean and ask the Commission to expand the Local Administration Facility programme to EU's southern neighbours.
 
In a bid to strengthening citizens' trust in the EU, CoR members encourage the Commission to co-operate more closely with the CoR to implement a genuine "decentralised communication policy" at regional and local level. On this subject, Uno Silberg, chair of the CoR European Alliance Group, pointed out: "While we have endured a hard-hitting financial and economic crisis, this has also contributed to the crisis of confidence in the EU. The European elections results demonstrate that Europe needs to change. We need to change the way we communicate and better explain what we are doing and what we have achieved. We have to rebuild trust with the citizens! That should be our main goal for the near future".
 
Also considering the role of the CoR in a longer term, Gordon Keymer, President of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), emphasised that, "The EU must embrace localism during its next legislative mandate. This is key to sustainable growth and jobs and key to bringing the EU closer to the citizens. Even if it does not happen in this new EU legislative mandate, I would like to see the CoR given the powers to amend and delay EU legislation. A bottom-up approach is the only way forward for the EU."
 
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