Local and regional authorities from several countries feel under-represented in preparatory processes
The full respect of the "partnership principle" and its implementation under the new instruments financed by Next Generation EU, such as the Just Transition Fund and the Recovery and Resilience Facility, are among the main requests included in the opinion adopted today by the members of the European Committee of the Region’s (CoR) Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER). Members were also briefed on the progress of the European Year of Rail and exchanged views on an opinion about the gender dimension of structural and cohesion funds 2021-2027.
Partnership agreements and operational programmes are cornerstones of cohesion policy, laying out the Member States' strategies on how to use cohesion policy funding to strengthen economic, social and territorial cohesion by reducing disparities between regions. In order to ensure that cohesion policy successfully meets citizens' needs on the ground, the full involvement of local and regional authorities, socio-economic partners and civil society at all stages of the preparation and implementation of these key documents is of paramount importance.
A recent study commissioned by the CoR shows, however, that there is still much room for improvement when it comes to the involvement of partners. The study found that the potential of partnerships is still under-exploited in a number of countries with some local and regional authorities still lacking direct involvement in all stages of the programming periods.
The findings of the study fed into a draft opinion adopted during the COTER commission meeting. The vote took place on the eve of the final adoption of the cohesion policy legislative package in the European Parliament, which incorporated some recommendations given by the CoR. The rapporteur Juraj Droba (SK/ECR), President of the Bratislava Region, said: “The preparation of the new programming period is at a crucial stage and partnership agreements and operational programs are currently being developed in individual countries. If their ambition is to contribute greatly to solving the key challenges of the territory, the effective involvement of local and regional authorities in their preparation is a necessary prerequisite. The opinion aims to emphasise the importance of the principles of partnership and multilevel governance in the programming process and to send a clear political signal that the voices of regions and cities should be heard as full partners in it."
Members of the COTER commission regret that the outbreak of the pandemic has delayed the drafting of partnership agreements and operational programmes, and call for an immediate acceleration of the preparatory work. Moreover, they warn against trends towards centralisation in the programming and implementation of Structural Funds as a result of the pandemic and the parallel running of two programming periods, the 2014-20 period and the new 2021-27 period.
The opinion will be up for final adoption during the CoR's plenary session in October.
During the meeting, COTER members were also updated on the progress of the European Year of Rail 2021 (EYR) by Matthew Baldwin, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DG MOVE), as well as on the recent Council conclusions on 'Putting rail at the forefront of Smart and Sustainable Mobility'. The COTER commission has been actively involved in the EYR from the outset, working together with the Commission to support the active involvement of the regional level and organizing several local events in cooperation with CoR members.
DG MOVE also provided an update on the Connecting Europe Express train which is set to embark on a month-long journey through 23 Member States. In a letter to the CoR's president Apostolos Tzitzikostas, EU Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean invited all CoR members to participate in the project and visit the train on its route.
In addition, members exchanged views on a draft opinion on 'The gender dimension of structural and cohesion funds 2021-2027, with a focus on the preparation of the operational programmes' by rapporteur Donatella Porzi (IT/PES). It is scheduled for adoption by the COTER commission at its next meeting on 28 October.
2021 is the European Year of Rail (EYR). The EYR feeds into the EU's overarching goal set out under the Green Deal of encouraging a 'shift to rail' across the EU. The CoR, the COTER commission and its members are organizing several events as part of the initiative, including a local event in L'Aquila, in the Italian Abruzzo Region, that will be taking place on 23 June. English and Italian translations will be available during the event.
On Europe Day (9 May) the European Commission announced the route and destinations of the Connecting Europe Express. The train will set out in Lisbon on 2 September and arrive in Paris on 7 October, passing through 23 Member States and 3 neighbouring European countries during its journey. President Apostolos Tzitzikostas and all members of the CoR have been invited to join the project and many are expected to visit the train along its route.
An interactive map showing members' best practices contributing to the EU's Green Deal, including multiple transport related stories, can be found here.
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