President Markkula on the priorities of the Maltese presidency

The Maltese government has set the single market, security of Europe's borders, maritime policy and migration, as its priorities. These are all issues that matter greatly to local and regional governments.

Supporting growth has been at the heart of my Presidency which is why I applaud the Maltese government for prioritising the Single Market. We need to demonstrate that our local and regional economies are open for business by simplifying regulation and directing EU funds towards entrepreneurship, start-ups, new technologies and innovation.

We need to bolster the sustainable smart development of our regions and cities by attracting even more private investment through tools such as the European Fund for Strategic Investments. The Digital Single Market, a Maltese Presidency priority, will help create more smart jobs making our economy even more competitive on the global stage. On 7 February in partnership with the European Commission's Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič, we will gather local and regional leaders in Brussels to showcase some of the best examples of smart regional development encouraging others to also become pioneers.

The Maltese government's commitment to get the recently published Clean Energy Package off the ground shows that our future lies in improving energy efficiency and decarbonising our energy system. Our cities and regions need to create the right conditions locally to support green innovation. Greater energy efficiency needs political commitment equally at European, national, regional and local level backed by the right level of funding.

Europe is still recovering from the economic crisis which has and will continue to alter the way we do business. This applies equally to the maritime and marine sector which employs more than 5 million people and generates almost €500bn a year. We need an approach that further unleashes the sector's potential by supporting entrepreneurship and innovation whilst taking a cross-cutting approach to policy. Boosting growth in Europe's islands is also of utmost importance and the focus of a report our Committee will deliver on request from the Maltese EU Presidency.

One of the issues citizens are most worried by and even protesting against is the migration crisis which has demographic, economic and political consequences for our communities. In Europe we need to remember that managing the flow and reception of people ultimately falls on the shoulders of local and regional governments which is why the EU's response must be based on solidarity and pragmatism. The EU needs to step-up its efforts in supporting Europe's local and regional governments to integrate migrants into their communities and manage emergencies when they occur

The global focus should be more on the migrants’ places of origin. My major concern is the shortcomings in promoting peace, creating more job opportunities and upholding basic human rights in unstable regions and countries. Tackling the migration crisis also means strengthening partnerships between regions and cities on both sides of the Mediterranean and helping third countries to develop a better future for their citizens – the focus of a conference organised by our Committee in Valletta on 22 February 2017. The European Committee of the Regions is ready to further support the Maltese EU Presidency by using its networks outside Europe's borders to enhance dialogue and capacity building through the exchange of local and regional authorities' best practices. Helping at the root of the issues is critical to finding a workable solution to the migration crisis.

We also need to bridge the gap between Brussels and our communities showing that first and foremost the EU works on behalf of its citizens. We need to rebuild trust towards the European project by strengthening how we communicate Europe, showing that the EU does listen and demonstrate that every voice counts. As part of this reflection on Europe, led by our members we are co-organising a series of events where citizens and local and regional governments can share their concerns, views and opinions on Europe – this will contribute to a referral being written by our Committee which will be submitted to the European Council.

On 25 March this year the 60th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome will be celebrated. But this is not only a time to remember and celebrate what has been achieved over the past 60 years. It is a time to reflect on what the European Union is today and find ways to improve it so it even more effectively delivers for the 500 million citizens it represents.

Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions