The European Union's local and regional leaders gathering in Sweden's northernmost town Kiruna have today adopted a declaration which calls for the EU institutions to take account of the specific situation of remote areas in the EU budget and highlights the role of cohesion policy in ensuring sustainable place-based development in all corners of Europe.
The Kiruna declaration on achieving the green, just and fair transition with and in all European regions points out that remote areas, especially in the Arctic, are especially vulnerable to the impact of the climate crisis. Green and digital transitions pose them particular challenges when it comes to demographic development, the necessary upskilling and reskilling of workforce and the capacity to attract investments and people for additional quality jobs. At the same time, many remote areas have unique natural resources and know-how that can make them leaders in green transition: in the Swedish Norrbotten region, for example, rare earth metals that are crucial for electric vehicles have been discovered, and fossil-free steel manufacturing with hydrogen is already being experimented.
Local and regional leaders underline the fundamental role of the EU's cohesion policy as the main EU investment policy that supports sustainable place-based development across all territories of Europe and helps unlock each territories' unique potential, guaranteeing that no region or person is left behind. The specific situation of remote areas and areas with geographic and demographic handicaps should also be taken into account during the mid-term review of the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 and in the debate on the EU's future budget cycle.
Vasco Alves Cordeiro, President of the European Committee of the Regions, said: "I can relate to Kiruna's particular situation since I come myself from the Azores, where we have different needs than the ones you would find in capital cities. Northern Sweden proves that remote areas often lead by example, despite the challenges linked to the infrastructure, access to services and demography. The Kiruna declaration reiterates our call for a strong Cohesion Policy that is beneficial for all Europeans, making the best of the unique potential of each region and city. We are inviting all regions in the European Union to join the Cohesion Alliance and show how their specific geographic situation can become an inspiration for the green and digital transition to achieve sustainable development."
Anders Knape (SE/EPP), head of the Swedish delegation in the European Committee of the Regions and Member of Karlstad Municipal Council, said: "I am very pleased that during the Swedish Presidency of the EU we are now given the opportunity to highlight the important work being done here in northern Sweden to face the green and digital transition. The Kiruna declaration is not the starting point for this work but an important reminder that we who are closest to our citizens also have many of the solutions. The green transition cannot happen without the involvement of municipalities and regions. It is only when the EU, Member States and the local and regional level work together that sustainable change can take place."
Glenn Berggård, Vice Chair of the Executive Committee of Norrbotten Region, said: "Companies in Norrbotten are decarbonising the impossible, making fossil-free iron ore and steel. At the same time, the opportunities with the green transition highlight the importance of EU cohesion policy in sparsely populated areas. More smart public investments are needed to diversify the economy and to create inclusive and sustainable societies in the European Arctic. The Kiruna declaration calls on EU to take into account the specific conditions in areas with geographical and demographic challenges. This acknowledges our unique challenges and gives us support for sustainable development."
Mats Taaveniku, Chairman of the Kiruna City Board, said: "Kiruna holds some valuable keys that can contribute to solve the climate crisis, the green industrial transition in EU as well as to make EU more independent and self-sufficient globally in a more unstable world. However, we in Kiruna also have challenges which need to be solved together with our local, regional, and national community to make some of these resources available in the transition. The Kiruna declaration is very valuable in our work. It shows the support and understanding from the European Committee of the Regions, and in time hopefully also from the European Commission, and thus will influence EU policies to support sparsely populated areas so that we can contribute to the green transition in a more equal level within EU."
The European Committee of the Regions' Bureau draws up the institution's political programme and oversees its implementation. It consists of the President, First Vice-President, 27 other Vice-Presidents (one for each Member State), 26 other members and chairs of the political groups. The Bureau meets before each plenary session and two times a year in extraordinary meetings in the EU country holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU. The meeting in Kiruna was organised together with the Swedish Association of Local and Regional Authorities, Norrbotten Region and Kiruna municipality, and opened by Erik Slottner, Sweden's Minister for Public Administration.
The European Committee of the Regions has been involved in designing the Just Transition Fund (JTF), which is key for the northern Swedish regions to support the green industrial transition. Sweden will receive roughly EUR 150 million from the Just Transition Fund over the current funding period, which becomes EUR 300 million with national co-funding. The region of Norrbotten, where Kiruna is located, is one of the three Swedish regions that receives funding from the JTF, along with Västerbotten and Gotland. In Norrbotten, the JTF programme supports initiatives for fossil-free steel production, hydrogen production and research. The northernmost Swedish regions also benefit from a specific additional allocation under cohesion policy for sparsely populated northern regions. The cohesion funds have been essential for regions in the European Arctic to overcome structural challenges and invest in business development, societal transformation and sustainable development.
In order to advocate cohesion as a fundamental value of the EU and plead for a strong Cohesion Policy beyond 2027, the CoR and the leading European associations of regions and cities founded the #CohesionAlliance. On 16 March, the Alliance kicked off the reflection process on the future of cohesion policy launching two new calls for contributions:
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