To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, a delegation of the EU's Committee of the Regions (CoR) yesterday paid tribute to the victims during an official visit to the city of Ypres and the Flanders Fields Region– which was the scene of some of the heaviest battles of the Great War. They highlighted that at times when a significant share of EU citizens openly question the European integration project, it is crucial to remind and underline the EU's achievements, also through regional cooperation across borders, in defending the values of peace and prosperity across the continent.In a commemorative tribute to those million men who fell during World War One, a CoR delegation(*) composed of the CoR President, First Vice-President and presidents of the political groups, visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passendale, the largest British war cemetery on mainland Europe, and the "In Flanders Fields" Museum in Ypres which presents the story of the First World War in the West Flanders front region. Leaders of the CoR also took part in the "Last Post" Ceremony under the Menin Gate in Ypres to honour the memory of the unidentified soldiers who died while defending the Ypres Salient. Speaking at a round table debate with Ypres' Deputy Mayor and Flemish government representatives, CoR President Ramón Luis Valcárcel stressed the "peace-making power" of European integration: "To the four main reasons usually put forward by historians to explain the origins of the Great War– militarisation, web of alliances, imperialism and nationalism – I would add a fifth one: the absence of any supranational platform of dialogue between the States where one could search for a solution in case a local conflict arises". In this respect, President Valcárcel further underlined: "As leaders of European regions and cities, we should bear in mind that many conflicts in world history started 'locally'. It is often also true that at the local level first, yet significant steps towards reconciliation and mutual trust-building can take place." Referring to the CoR actions in neighbouring countries, such as Ukraine, to promote decentralisation, local autonomy and regional cooperation, he pointed out that also the CoR can help in exporting the EU's values of the rule of law, democracy and freedom.CoR First Vice-President Mercedes Bresso was eager to stress the benefits of regional cross-border cooperation to build the local roots of a united Europe: "We, as representatives of local and regional authorities, can use the instruments available from the EU for inter-regional cooperation to create a space for cross-border dialogue and genuine cooperative relations between regions that used to fight each other. This is an example of how you can build Europe bottom-up." Welcoming the CoR delegation in Ypres, Jef Verschoore, Deputy Mayor, underlined the continuous engagement of his city in promoting peace worldwide: "Ypres, a small city in the West of Belgium, also known as the "City of Peace", has been raising its profile with the emanation worldwide of its 'In Flanders Fields Museum', its knowledge centre, and in setting up international networks promoting world peace. The daily visits of so many visitors and political figures from all over the world, including the delegation of the Committee of the Regions today and, in three weeks, the EU Heads of State and Governments, are making this city one of the main international meeting centres of the commemoration of the World War I. The involvement of Ypres in the international network of 'Mayors for Peace' toward the total abolition of nuclear weapons is another illustration of our continuous efforts to work for peace and international solidarity.”On behalf of the Flemish Vice-Minister-President Geert Bourgeois, representatives of the Flemish government pointed out that the commemoration of the WWI Centenary has been a very important part of Flemish policy, with the aim of conveying a message of peace and promoting a "remembrance and ethical tourism". In the context of the international dimension of the commemoration, they also highlighted the challenge of finding a balance between conveying a peace message and recognizing the diversity of war remembrance.(*) The CoR delegation consisted of Ramón Luis Valcárcel, CoR President (Murcia, Spain), Mercedes Bresso, CoR First Vice-President (Piedmont, Italy), Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the CoR Socialist Group, Minister-President of the German Speaking Community (Belgium), Michael Schneider, President of the CoR European People's Party and Envoy of the State of Saxony-Anhalt (Germany), Uno Silberg, President of the CoR European Alliance Group, Local Councillor in Kose (Estonia), Gordon Keymer, President of the CoR European Conservatives and Reformists Group, Local Councillor in Tandridge (UK), and Luc Van den Brande, CoR Vice-President and Chairman of the Flanders-Europe Liaison Office.
The Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives from all 28 Member States. Its mission is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law infringes the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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