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COVID: Members speak - Week 6 - Submissions  

The word ‘unprecedented’ is a commonplace description of the COVID-19 crisis. What is difficult to find out sometimes, though, is how ‘common places’ have responded to an unprecedented crisis. That was one of the reasons why the European Committee of the Regions set up the COVID-19 platform and asked regional and local authorities to tell us about their actions and experiences. The responses have come from every corner of the EU, and beyond, as you can see on the map and on the wall of individual stories. Our thanks to everyone who has responded – and, above all, for their work in their communities.

The network of associations for local authorities in south-eastern Europe, NALAS, has been producing weekly digests of activities by local and regional governments in response to COVID-19. The result is a wide and detailed tour of a region that includes EU members (Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia), would-be members of the EU (Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia), and a member of the Eastern Partnership (Moldova). There is much that could be included here, but better to look directly at what NALAS’s latest digest or its back-catalogue .

Jordan joins Palestine and Libya in having provided the CoR with updates. Partners in Amman, the country’s capital, have written to inform us of how the authorities moved to sanitise the Greater Amman Municipality. The process has been written up by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development , which had helped fund a fleet of refuse-collection vehicles that are now part of the broader sanitisation work by the city. More detail is downloadable here in ‘guidelines on solid-waste management measures’ adapted because of the pandemic (including measures to deal with the increase in medical waste).

Island areas across the EU are being hit not just by the pandemic, but also by a near-total halt of transport to the mainland in some places and the loss of a major source of revenue, tourism. Their economic fortunes, relative to other parts of the EU, were already declining before the virus. Their case has been taken up in the European Parliament by the Seas, Rivers, Islands and Coastal Areas (Searica) inter-group, whose members have written to the presidents of the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament. They warn that “each island territory is threatened with general economic collapse” and call for “specific emergency measures” and an “adapted solidarity mechanism to prevent, and limit, the major economic crisis in the EU islands”.

Satu Haapanen​, co-President of the Greens Group in the European Committee of the Regions, City Councillor and Chair of the Education and Culture Board of the city of Oulu, shared the quality recommendation standards for distance learning introduced under her city's leadership. They have been developed as part of the 'OpenDigi - Teachers in Learning Skills and Digital Pedagogy Developer Communities' project. More information is available in English and Finnish at this page . Students have been given 'rights': to receive daily support from teachers; to talk to teachers, and receive verbal feedback; and, finally, to feel part of the classroom. A similar list of rights was established for teachers and student's guardians.

The Municipality of Deryneia, led by CoR Member Andros Karayiannis (NA), shared a new update on their fight against the pandemic. Measures include the use of the 'People's Bazaar of the Social Welfare and Welfare Committee of the Municipality of Deryneia' which serves vulnerable people by providing food, clothing and footwear. Other measures on municipal closures and other public events have been communicated to the population. The Municipal Council of Deryneia finally decided additional financial support of the Famagusta Hospital, converted into a covid treatment and rehabilitation hospital.

CoR Member Barbara Szilvia Hegedűs (HU/EPP), from the Local Government of Veszprém, shared an update on the increased responsibilities of the city council in helping elderly citizens, businesses, rent owners and society at last in these difficult times. From providing protective masks to all households, to increase in government-to-citizens communication, a stop in the increase of rents of municipally-owned flats and free city-parking, measures taken to fight covid were wide in nature and scope.

Close by, the National Association of the Municipalities of Bulgaria shared a link to a dedicated section on Covid response on their website. The information is available in both Bulgarian and English.

The government of the autonomous region of Galicia, chaired by Alberto Núñez Feijóo (ES/PPE), shared a long list of actions. First, an information campaign on recommendations to avoid contagions, distribution of sanitary materials and other health measures. In the business field, support lines have been set up to provide liquidity, especially to SMEs and the self-employed. For workers and aid for the care of dependents and social inclusion entities, a social contingency plan was launched.

Daniela Cîmpean, President of the Sibiu County Council and CoR member (RO/EPP), said that increased public/private collaboration was key in the management of the crisis. Sibiu County Hospital was strenghtened, and an additional 6.6 million Lei came from additional allocations from the county budget, donations from companies and individuals. Numerous anti-covid measures were taken, including separate circuits for patients and increased protection for staff. Sibiu also applied other measures, from home isolation norms to other lockdown measures for citizens from highly infected provinces. #SolidariPentruSibiu is a platform where the needs of the medical and social units in the county were communicated widely. #StamAcasa (StayingHome) was a slogan and campaign embraced by institutional, cultural associations and private citizens.

On the EPP CoR's website, Members and other EPP-led local and regional authorities shared new developments . Some of the latest contributions include Lombardia's three year investment plan; Vimsi's collaboration with Estonial national authorities on the use of European Solidarity Funds; Virovitičko-Podravska Zupanija, where Croatian business is being helped to best access liquidity by the municipality; Sofia, where the municipality has stopped charging rents on municipal properties and other all-encompassing measures; Espoo's 25-point package of measures to support companies as well as sports and cultural sectors; a long list of municipal decisions in the city of Nice and the Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur; and in Harghita, where the local council approved a significant increase of 650.000 RON for health facilities.

Some of the work done by the regional government of Catalonia during this crisis has featured in previous weekly updates. But it is difficult to capture the full variety of initiatives in the region. Fortunately, the regional government has sent in an overview of the work done in the interests of health, food production and distribution, public administration, public information, social-media and misinformation, policing, justice, citizens abroad, finances, entrepreneurship, workers, families, children, transport, culture and sport (among others). More information can be found here . It is, truly, evidence of the comprehensive response that a pandemic requires.

Saving local bookstores was the objective of an individual initiative in Catalonia brought to our attention this week. The cooperative SOM* (@som_cultura), a leading cooperative in the cultural and communication sector, has set up # LlibreriesObertes, an initiative enabling citizens to purchase books and other media from (smaller) local bookstores forced to close due to the lockdown. The goods can be picked up once the shops open again.

The pandemic is the second disaster to hit Krefeld in North Rhine-Westphalia in recent months. The first was a fire at the city’s zoo on New Year’s Eve. On both occasions, says Mayor Frank Meyer (PES), the community has shown its solidarity and ability to work together. Within days, aid organizations and associations were sewing masks, as were the tailors of the city’s theatre – and masks has been widely donated, including to refugees. A ‘gift fence’ in the city centre – where everyday items and food are left for the homeless – is one part of the ‘Krefeld solidarity’ campaign involving a range of social alliances. European solidarity also features: Krefeld is treating patients from the Netherlands and is in close contact with partner cities. A full account can be found on the PES group’s page dedicated to its members’ experiences during the crisis.

PES' CoR website continued to offer long insights, stories and footage from across Europe on a dedicated page with several new updates in the past few days. Castilla-La Mancha has detailed their plans at length, showing leadership in the number of tests performed, and great attention to its rural municipalities and more at risk citizens. Polish city of Częstochowa detailed its information actions, plus a number of measures related to transportation, functioning of city hall, social welfare, business aid and, of course, healthcare support including an additional million zlotys to the Municipal Hospital. The French department of Aude focused on sharing two best practices. First, the testing of a scheme allowing beneficiaries of the 'Active Solidarity Income' (Revenu de solidarité active (RSA) in French) to combine seasonal agricultural employment with their short-term allowance. Second, is the dispatching of IT equipment for students confined at home (an article with more information can be accessed here ).

Tuscany governor Enrico Rossi (IT/PES) shared a message on the pandemic, calling it "a general rediscovery, in the field of health but not only, of the sense of community and of the importance of territorial services". Local actions are wide and include economic measures, protective anti-contagion measures, assistance to elderly and disabled, combating violence against women, increased counselling services, schooling for 0-6 years old, culture and voluntary sector and many others. A long and in-depth summary was published on the PES' CoR website here. The region further shared a full list of actions that can be accessed at this link (in Italian).

The European Network of Cities and Regions for the Social Economy (REVES) has sent in a wealth of examples of good cooperation between local and regional authorities and social-economy enterprises during the crisis. The following cases come from them:

In Italy, Assifero, the national membership association of Italian grant-making foundations and private institutional philanthropy, has helped to launched the platform " Coronavirus: System philanthropy ". The portal collates the initiatives of foundations, philanthropic organisations, companies and individuals (donors of more than €100,000) with the aim of making them part of an enhanced networked system accessible to all. The platform also aims to map the short- and medium-term needs of non-profit organizations arising out of the emergency situation, through a survey that you can find here . The portal is not a fundraising tool.

Based on national legislation adopted in Italy at an early stage of the crisis, several cities and regions adopted Memoranda of Understanding with representatives of social economy / third-sector organisations. The agreements foresaw public contracts for the delivery social and health-care services by third-sector organisations with the aim of ensuring, where possible, remote services and new services to cope with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. In this way, social-economy players should sums equivalent to the amounts for contracts signed prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Concerns about the supply to vulnerable persons – such as the elderly, people with underlying health conditions, pregnant women, and people in quarantine – prompted a major coordination effort in the Lazio region of Italy. The regional authorities brought together the regional association of municipalities, business federations (representing amongst others supermarkets and the food distributors), associations of consumer cooperatives, and major third-sector platforms (including volunteer associations), with all of them signing a Memorandum of Understanding. The result was that people in need had a more user-friendly means to choose food, while food was collected and distributed more easily, via volunteers. Importantly, volunteers were given badges that assured them preferential access to all participating points of sale.

The Swedish region of Östergötland has set up a new web-based service to match the needs of local companies and organisations (including in the public sector) and, thereby, to support each other through the crisis. Examples include companies with the capacity to take on assignments that were not part of their traditional business, or companies looking for staff. The information on the website is open to everyone, including the unemployed.

During the crisis, many staff in the health and social services have needed accommodation close to their workplace. Securing accommodation is a challenge that requires not just finding rooms, but also lawyers and cleaners. In France, a range of (platform) cooperatives and associations from sectors such as accommodation and IT came together with foundations, lawyers, cleaning services and others to set up Etikbnb, a platform that matches needs and offers of support.

France Barter , a platform cooperative providing enterprises with the possibility to purchase through an exchange of goods and services (i.e. without engaging cash flow), offered free membership until the end of April 2020. The city of Paris encouraged local enterprises to use this opportunity.

In Belgium, the cooperative Smart announced that it will assume the payment of the fixed-term contracts of its entrepreneur-employees endangered by the Covid-19 crisis and, from its solidarity fund, the payment of expenses related to cancelled orders. Smart is a cooperative that provides services and social protection for independent workers, by mutualising resources and the provision of entrepreneur-employee status.

The Brussels-Capital Region, together with a number of civil society organisations and (social economy) enterprises, has established a participatory initiative that aims to produce at least 100,000 protection masks for nursing personnel/caregivers. Among those involved are a work-integration enterprise, Travie, that pre-cuts the tissue and a platform cooperative (Urbike) whose volunteers collect the tissue by bike and sew the masks. Social enterprises will also benefit from all measures that the region puts in place to support enterprises.

Also in Belgium, the Collège of Cocof (the French Community Commission in Belgium) in early April opened up a 25-room Brussels hotel for female victims of domestic violence. This scheme complements others already in place in Brussels to provide refuges, and is based on an agreement between the municipality and the Centre for the Prevention of Conjugal and Family Violence (CPVCF). Reports suggest that, across Europe, the lockdown has been marked by an increase in violence at home. The Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Wallonia, the Brussels-Capital Region and Cocof have created a task-force on domestic violence as well as an inter-ministerial conference on women's rights.

A website to look for for initiatives in Brussels is Solidair, which was set up by a group of citizens with the objective of providing visibility – in a participatory and easy accessible way – to existing solidarity initiatives in different fields, to create links, and to mobilise mutual help. Initiatives range from help for elderly, families, refugees, medical personal, artists and other groups to support for local enterprises (including (small) catering firms, neighbourhood restaurants and cafés, etc.). A specific example is L'Ilot, an association that helps the homeless secure housing, jobs, and a place in society.

As elsewhere in Europe, in Brussels and many other Belgian cities, neighbourhood committees are active in organising mutual help between neighbours (such as grocery shopping for elderly, babysitting, preparation of food, exchange of books and games). Platforms such as HOPLR and municipal websites have helped to put people in touch with each other.