The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has a long and fruitful cooperation with the
Council of European Municipalities and Regions
(CEMR), which turns 70 this year. Many joint initiatives, consultations and activities have been developed by the CoR and the CEMR so far and many others are already in the pipeline. Just a few days ahead of the
19th European Week of Regions and Cities, which will take place from 11 to 14 October, we spoke with the President of Emilia-Romagna and CEMR, Stefano Bonaccini, on how local and regional governments take up the new challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate disruption and territorial inequalities.
President Bonaccini, after seven decades of work to empower local and
regional authorities in Europe, what would you say are CEMR’s main
Seventy years is a long time in politics and there is much to choose from.
In the early years, CEMR greatly contributed to the European project with
the promotion of town twinning. This movement was crucial to reconcile
people across the continent in the aftermath of the war. Today it is
estimated that there are over 20,000 twinning across Europe.
Protecting local democracy and autonomy was also crucial. CEMR’s advocacy
in this area culminated in the 1985
European Charter of Local Self-Government of the Council of Europe
. Today, the Charter’s 47 signatories all commit to respecting local
democracy and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is responsible
for evaluating the application of the Charter, in each Member State,
through a regular monitoring, country-by-country.
Over the years, we have extended our action to an increasingly wide variety
of areas, including issues of gender equality, the environment or
international cooperation. But in terms of achievements, I would cite two
Alongside other networks of local and regional governments, we have
successfully influenced negotiations on cohesion policy to ensure that
towns, cities and regions must be consulted when designing and delivering
EU funds. To bolster our efforts, we joined with other supporters of a
strong regional policy to form the #CohesionAlliance, launched by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) in 2018.
CEMR also recently achieved the recognition that national and European
associations of local and regional governments no longer need to appear on
the EU Transparency Register. Thus, municipalities, regions and their
representatives are no longer treated the same as private sector lobbyists,
but an integral part of Europe’s democratic governance.
The context has definitely changed over the past decades. What is the raison d’être of CEMR today?
European integration has allowed its member states to enjoy the longest
period of peace ever, but nowadays we are fighting other kinds of battles.
The pandemic has shown that our lives can easily change within days, but
also that local and regional governments play a key role, throughout all
types of territories, to respond to citizens’ basic needs and ensure
cohesion and safety in our communities in times of crisis.
CEMR reacted quickly, offering its members the space to exchange on how
local and regional governments were implementing social and protective
measures as the health crisis unfolded. We have closely evaluated the
devastating impact of the crisis on local and regional finances and raised
the alarm on their reduced capacities to invest in a more sustainable
But we still need to fight for their voices to be heard, both at the EU and
national levels. In a
carried out together with the CoR, we documented the poor level of
consultation of municipalities and regions’ representatives in the drafting
of the national recovery and resilience plans. We must take a strong stance
to affirm their right to be involved. Fortunately, we could count on the
support of the European Commission and the European Parliament, to amplify
our message. CEMR will continue to monitor the rollout of these plans over
the coming months.
Climate remains high on the EU’s legislative agenda (Fit for 55, social
fund, etc.): how are cities and regions contributing to advancing the
The fight against climate change is the other battle we cannot afford to
lose! Our territories are subject to more and more floods, as we saw this
summer in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. But there were also fires
in Greece, France, Turkey and in my own country Italy. Climate change is no
longer a challenge for tomorrow but one that affect our lives now.
President von der Leyen’s commitment in the
European Green Deal
is a clear sign that the EU is pushing to move forward on the green
transition. But without effective EU and national support for local and
regional governments, this will remain nothing but fine words. And here,
the EU must reflect on how to leave no territories behind, including
smaller and less connected territories with less human and financial means.
It’s not enough to allocate funds when a catastrophe arrives like the one
last summer. We need to work on a preventive facility to help
municipalities and regions adapt to climate change and be prepared to face
any extreme climate event. These are some issues where CEMR can work and
contribute to building the resilience against climate change.
To what extent can the Next Generation EU programme support cities and
regions to face such challenge?
Under the spending rules, at least 37% of EU recovery funds should address
there are plans to integrate more regions into the high-speed rail network
and to extend bicycle paths or zero emission bus networks. Citizens are
asking for more action on the ground and the recovery plans are a great
opportunity to meet their expectations!
Also, the digital transition. Italy’s recovery plan will allocate 25% of
the total budget to support the digitalisation of our public
administrations or to implement digital public services among many other
projects. But we will also aim to transform vulnerable territories into
smart and sustainable areas by investing in social housing or by
strengthening local social services.
Now that most of plans have been approved, we need to keep an eye on their
implementation. We need President von der Leyen to stick to her words when
she said that local and regional governments will be at the heart of our
Local and regional finances were strongly hit during the pandemic, what
is the state of play of local finances?
The pandemic has greatly harmed local budgets! While the crisis confirmed
the crucial role of local and regional governments, the impact on our
finances and capacity to invest in the long term has been devastating.
According to our monitoring of local finances, the “scissor effect” has
been confirmed with a sharp drop in revenue and a spike in spending, due
notably to the provision of social care, the purchase of protective
equipment and support to businesses, the tourism industry, cultural
activities and local associations. We have also seen a disparity in the
quantity and type support provided by national governments to towns, cities
We will follow closely the upcoming reform of EU economic governance,
advocating for an enabling framework for local and regional investments.
What will be the role of local and regional governments and their
associations in the future of Europe?
77% of Europeans
consider that local and regional governments and civil society should be
consulted on the use of Next Generation EU funds. This is a clear sign that
municipalities and regions must play a role in Europe governance.
Local and regional governments and their associations are the best-placed
to create the link between citizens and the EU institutions. That is what
this crisis has shown: it is only by working hand-in-hand – Europe,
national governments and municipalities and regions – that we can provide
solutions for people’s well-being. And I can assure you that we are ready
to mobilise citizens around the debates on the future of Europe: CEMR will
play its role in this democratic process.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to
strengthen cooperation with local and regional governments. Let’s seize
this chance to put municipalities and regions at the heart of the European