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Europe needs a “winter of solidarity” to cope with skyrocketing energy prices, local leaders warn  

The European Committee of the Regions' commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER​) debated on local and regional experiences in facing the current energy crisis during the meeting on 23 November. Members also adopted the opinion on "Putting people first, securing sustainable and inclusive growth, unlocking the potential of the EU's outermost regions", drafted by Pedro de Faria e Castro (PT/EPP).

​​Soaring energy prices affect all Europeans, in particular the most vulnerable. Electricity prices have risen by 35% in the last year. Eurostat estimates that about 35 million EU citizens were unable to keep their homes adequately warm in 2020. Local and regional authorities as owners of buildings and public services including schools, hospitals, social housing facilities and often energy companies, are heavily hit by the crisis. Higher energy prices are slowly jeopardising their capacity to provide adequate services to their citizens, with the risk of widening social inequalities.

COTER members shared with the European Commission experiences from their communities and highlighted increasing, unprecedented gaps in regions' and cities' budgets. Many of them are struggling to keep public buildings heated, in particular schools and hospitals, keep public transport affordable and support citizens who cannot manage to pay for their energy bills. Additional costs for heating of public buildings are also putting the path towards climate neutrality at risk, making new investments more important than ever to guarantee an ecological and just transition. In the absence of adequate support, some of the energy-saving measures currently in place risk becoming unaffordable on the longer term.

The Mayor of Cluj Napoca Emil Boc (RO/EPP) and Chair of the COTER commission, said: "We need a winter of solidarity in order to have a successful European spring. Solidarity is the biggest weapon we have at our disposal against Russia's criminal and illegal aggression of Ukraine. Cities and regions all around Europe are experiencing the impact of rising energy prices in their bills. However, we are not asking the EU to divert money from cohesion policy investments. We ask for fresh money that could be spent on the ground to help our citizens."

During the debate, the European Commission pointed out the “limited room for maneuver” given by cohesion policy resources that could be spent to help citizens and SMEs paying their energy bills. The impact of using cohesion money in this matter, to be approved by the European Parliament and Member States, is estimated at between 40 and 300-400 euros per capita depending on the level of regional development, the European Commission clarified, referring to resources from 2014-2020 programmes that have not been spent.

Local and regional representatives adopted by unanimity the a draft opinion on the sustainable and inclusive growth of the EU's outermost regions, which welcomes that the European Commission followed the CoR's recommendation to adapt the EU strategy for the outermost regions in view of the severe consequences of the pandemic. However, COTER members stressed that the war in Ukraine is putting additional pressure on these vulnerable regions and is undermining the post-health crisis recovery. They therefore urge the concerned Member States to support their outermost regions in building administrative capacity and in boosting skills development to fully benefit from EU programmes. CoR members underlined that a sustainable blue economy is one of the major sectors to foster outermost regions’ economic growth and encourage the entrepreneurship. Five million European citizens are currently living in these territories, Adoption of the opinion is scheduled the CoR’s plenary in February 2023.

The rapporteur Pedro de Faria e Castro (PT/EPP) will present the draft opinion during the meeting of the European Parliament's Committee of Regional Development (REGI) on 30 November.

During the same REGI meeting, CoR rapporteur Marie-Antoinette Maupertuis (FR/EA), President of the Corsica Regional Assembly, will present the draft opinion on “Enhancing Cohesion Policy support for regions with geographic and demographic handicaps”, such as islands and remote areas. The draft opinion is expected to be adopted at the CoR Plenary next week.

More information on how to follow the REGI meeting can be found here.

Finally, members of the COTER commission appointed Nathalie Sarrabezolles (FR/PES), Councillor of the Finistère Departmental Council, as first commission’s Vice-Chair, and Arianna Censi (IT/PES), Minister for Mobility of Milan, as 2nd Vice-Chair.

They also appointed Magali Altounian (FR/RE), Member of the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur Regional Council, as rapporteur on the European Cross-Border Mechanism 2.0, Michiel Rijsberman (NL/RE), Member of the Council of Flevoland, as rapporteur on the “Do no harm to Cohesion” principle, and Thomas Ha bermann (DE/EPP), District Commissioner of Rhön-Grabfeld, as rapporteur on the regional and local viewpoint on the Mid-term review of the EU Multiannual Financial Framework.

A recording of the COTER commission meeting is available here.

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