The Committee of the Regions' (CoR) EDUC Commission (Commission for Education, Youth, Culture and Research) held its meeting and organised an international conference on "Sport for All - Interregional Cooperation" in Palanga, Lithuania, from 5–6 July, in cooperation with the Municipality of Šiauliai. Participants stressed the contribution that the ongoing process of developing the European dimension in sport is bringing to the Europe 2020 Strategy, including by opening up opportunities for sustainable job creation, especially for young people. They called for cities and regions to implement concrete measures to encourage inclusive sport activities for all ages and abilities, and to enhance interregional cooperation.
Andrius Kubilius, the Prime Minister of Lithuania, welcomed the CoR members and expressed the intention to continue the fruitful cooperation with the CoR in the second semester of next year, when Lithuania will hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Organised just a few days after the final of UEFA EURO 2012 and in the run-up to the Summer Olympics Games, the conference brought together more than 100 presidents of EU regions and mayors, representatives from Member States and the European Commission, as well as leaders of the grassroots sport movement to address the "Sport for All" principle, its impact on interregional cooperation, and its role in promoting participation and social inclusion in and through sport. Discussions were also particularly timely with the conference taking place in the eve of the "5th TAFISA World Sport for All Games" in Šiauliai.
In his opening address, Alin-Adrian Nica (RO/ALDE), Chair of EDUC Commission, said “Regions and cities have a key role in promoting inclusive sport activities among all citizens. We need to look into the opportunities for reinforcing interregional cooperation, as well as the importance of a coordinated EU support for the development of the European dimension in Sport”. Mr Nica also underlined the importance of grassroots sports and their relevance to cities and regions, and called for national governments not to curtail the funding for grassroots, non-commercial sport as part of current austerity measures.
Daiva Matoniene (LT/EA), Deputy Mayor of Šiauliai City and co-organiser of the event, stressed the significance of the "TAFISA World Sport for All Games" in the EU calendar. She mentioned that the City had to work hard for the opportunity to organise the Games in Lithuania and to attract the attention of the main EU institutions. “I am delighted that the 2012 Games in Šiauliai have been recognised as an important event responding to EU priorities in sport,” she said.
The representative of the European Commission (DG Education and Culture) Susanne Hollmann, presented the EU policy action in the field. She highlighted initiatives to be conducted in 2012 and having relevance for cities and regions, such as awareness-raising about effective ways of promoting sport at municipal level and actions to encourage trans-frontier joint grassroots sport competitions in neighbouring regions and Member States.
The role that sport can play in building bridges across countries and regions was also underlined by Yoomi Renström (SE/PES), Member of Ovanåker Municipal Council, and CoR rapporteur on “Erasmus for All”. Mrs Renström was keen to emphasise that "Sport can be a cross-cutting tool to promote education, health, inter-cultural dialogue, development, gender equality and even peace. Therefore its role as a component of the EU's policies has grown, especially in external relations, and is likely to grow further".
Participants also exchanged experiences about the impact of sport at local and regional level, and shared initiatives launched to promote access to and participation in sport for all. Adam Banaszak (PL/EA), Member of the Kujawsko-Pomorskie Regional Assembly explained how sport and regional infrastructure are benefitting from the UEFA EURO 2012. In addition, Fiona O'Loughlin (IE/ALDE), Member of Kildare County Council, pointed out the crucial role played by the Special Olympics to promote sport as a vehicle for ending discrimination and stigma of people with intellectual disabilities.
Participants to the conference agreed on conclusions on how to further develop "Sport for All" and enhance interregional cooperation which are meant to also feed into the preparation of the future Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of EU next year.
One of the highlight of the programme was the meeting with the Prime Minister of Lithuania Andrius Kubilius. In his welcoming address, the Prime Minister underlined the importance of physical activities for health, quality of life and the economic growth and welcomed the focus that EDUC Commission has placed on promoting “Sport for All”. While acknowledging the important role of the CoR as the voice of local and regional authorities at the EU level, he also expressed the firm intention to continue the fruitful cooperation with the Committee of the Regions in the coming period.
The conference was followed today by the meeting of the EDUC Commission during which members adopted two important draft opinions on the Data Protection Package (Rapporteur Ursula Männle (DE/EPP)) and the review of the Directive on Re-use of Public Sector Information and Open Data (Rapporteur Anne Karjalainen (FI/PES)). The working document on “Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for Europe” (Rapporteur Rogier van der Sande (NL/ALDE)) was also discussed.
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