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Local and regional authorities urge EU to integrate Ukrainian refugees into European society  

The need for assistance and support to all people displaced by the conflict in the Ukraine and giving them access to the labour market, housing and other social services was the main message during a debate in the meeting of the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC) of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 1 April. CoR members highlighted their support for Ukrainian refugees and underlined the need for a properly managed social support.

As the war in the Ukraine continues, local and regional leaders emphasised the need for a quicker integration of and support for Ukrainian refugees. During the debate of the SEDEC commission of the CoR, members stressed that the biggest social challenges for Ukrainians include social security, loss of job, social support and psychological adjustment. They therefore called for the European Union to integrate refugees into society swiftly and grant all the support they need. A quick access to the labour market, housing, education and social support, particularly to children and people with disabilities is notably important.

"Local and regional authorities are at the forefront of solidarity efforts with the Ukrainian people. Effective and resilient public services are at the heart of a social Europe that protects its people and all those that seek its protection. Sub-national authorities must be fully empowered to deliver adequately such services," said SEDEC chair Anne Karjalainen (FI/PES). Hanna Zdanowska (PL/EPP), Mayor of Łódź, reported that in her region the number of pupils and students have increased by 10% since the beginning of the war and made clear that a functioning education system should be created which is available to all pupils and students.

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz (PL/EPP), Chair of the CoR Working Group on Ukraine and Mayor of Gdańsk, presented the main outcomes of the meeting of the CoR Working Group on 30 March and underlined the need for a prompt integration of all Ukrainians who are fleeing to the EU.

The European Commission has maximised funds of the Cohesion's Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) to provide additional flexibility in cohesion policy funding so that Member States hosting people fleeing from the Ukraine have additional support. They will also be able to use resources from the European Fund for Regional Development and the European Social Fund to provide assistance to all refugees.

Erja Kaikkonen, Head of Policy and Public Outreach Department at the European Training Foundation (ETF), highlighted that the EFT is supporting Ukrainian refugees with digital education and training inside and outside the Ukraine with resources and helps to recognise and translate qualifications of Ukrainian students.

SEDEC members also discussed and adopted three draft opinions that are all set for final adoption at the CoR plenary session in June:

Better working conditions for people engaged in work through digital labour platforms

As digital platforms and artificial intelligence are constantly changing the world of work and impacting workers' rights and working conditions, progress is urgently needed on the regulation of the platform economy. Rapporteur Yonnec Polet (BE/PES), 1st Deputy Mayor of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, welcomed the European Commission's draft directive that introduces a presumption of employment, based on specific criteria. "There is a need to put a definitive end to the abusive strategies of platforms and to hold them socially responsible," he insisted, hoping that this directive will allow more than 4 million European workers under the status of bogus self-employed to be reclassified as employees. "We need to demonstrate our ambition to extend the social acquis to new forms of economic activity and the capacity of the EU institutions to prevent labour rights from being sacrificed to the benefit of businesses," the rapporteur stressed.

European Strategy for Universities

The opinion drafted by Emil Boc (RO/EPP), Mayor of Cluj-Napoca, flags the importance of raising the standard of European university education and research and boosting the availability of local and regional support for the objectives identified in the European Commission's strategy. The rapporteur highlighted that universities play a pivotal role in promoting objectives which are vital for the EU, such as the green and digital transitions, and for tackling brain drain. The opinion points out LRAs' role in creating and consolidating local and regional ecosystems promoting active cooperation and networking between public authorities, businesses and industry, and universities.

EU Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life

The European Commission presented the first ever EU strategy against antisemitism in October. The CoR rapporteur János Adam Karácsony (HU/ECR), Member of County Council of Pest Megye, stressed that local and regional authorities across Europe must promote the fight against prejudice and antisemitism. "We should all commit to create a more inclusive and safe future for Jewish communities in the European Union. Education plays a key role in this process promoting a respectful dialogue among students. The EU needs to promote an open and regular dialogue with churches and religious associations given that only through the promotion of freedom of religion and belief, we can ensure a safer future for our communities," he said.

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