The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) urges the European Commission to consider establishing an exchange programme for 2018-2020 aimed at providing local and regional elected representatives with training on European policies. This programme would be based on the positive experiences gained from the pilot "Erasmus for local and regional representatives" project that was run in 2012-2013. It would help meet the need to better inform, assist and train elected local and regional representatives on how the European Union works and how European funds are used, and at the same time promote the exchange of experience and good practices.
For local and regional representatives, performing the duties of their office increasingly involves mastering specialised skills concerning European policies and the use of European funds. They are expected to apply the majority of European legislation in a variety of fields (water, waste, mobility, energy, etc.) at local level, to ensure that the European Structural and Investment Funds are used effectively, and to cooperate with authorities in other Member States on joint projects. And yet they do not always get the training they need to perform these tasks.
In response to this, in 2012 the European Commission, on the initiative of the European Parliament and in partnership with the European Committee of the Regions, launched a preparatory action entitled "Erasmus for local and regional representatives" that aimed to improve elected representatives' knowledge on European cohesion policy. Although the initiative was a great success – with more than 1 000 applications received for 100 places – it has not yet been followed up on.
At the initiative of François Decoster (FR/ALDE), vice-president of the Hauts-de-France Region and mayor of Saint-Omer, the CoR adopted an opinion on 31 January calling for the establishment of an "Erasmus for local and regional representatives" programme, based on experience from the pilot project and focusing on the training aspect.
" The 91 000 local and regional authorities in the EU – and their hundreds of thousands of elected representatives – are an indispensable link between Europe and its citizens, but they are not always trained on European issues before taking office ", said Mr Decoster. " That's why we are campaigning for a new training and exchange programme for local and regional representatives to be included in the Commission's legislative programme. "
Mercedes Bresso MEP (IT/S&D) , who was CoR president when the pilot project was launched in 2012, commented: " To face up to today's challenges, cohesion policy has evolved over recent years and will probably continue to do so after 2020. New tools and new funds have already been created and, in order to make the best possible use of them, a project like this Erasmus scheme could be extremely useful in ensuring that elected representatives are properly trained for these new opportunities. The knowledge and experience they gain would also be of real benefit for European citizens and the EU in general. "
The aim of the programme would be that, at the end of this basic training, local and regional elected representatives would be able to cooperate with elected representatives working on the same topics in different Member States in order to:
improve their knowledge of European legislation,
exchange good practices,
launch new local and regional initiatives, and
understand the ins and outs and the spirit of European integration, so that they can better explain to their constituents why and how the European project can benefit them.
On the question of funding, the Committee suggests that the costs could be shared by EU budgets, the local authorities of the elected representatives taking part and, if need be, training bodies receiving public funds in some Member States.
As a next step, the CoR calls on the European Parliament to support the initiative, as it did in 2012, by proposing that a project be included in the 2018 budget for implementation in 2019. A working group made up of representatives of the Commission, the European Parliament and the Committee should also be established quickly to develop and prepare this programme.
"The European institutions cannot ignore this call" , adds the rapporteur, Mr Decoster, "as they bear some of the responsibility for providing local and regional representatives with training to improve their knowledge of the spirit of European integration and of the EU's policies. As we approach the European elections in 2019, they also need new ideas for strengthening the link between the public and the EU – local representatives can help with this."
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