million regional and local elected politicians must be fully involved in
finding concrete answers to people's concerns
On 11 September, the Bureau members* of the European Committee of the Region (CoR) debated the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on villages, cities and regions and the need to improve the functioning of the European Union. The Minister President of Germany's North-Rhine Westphalia region, Armin Laschet, and the European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič also participated in the online event.
Participants argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions concerning not only the EU's resilience, but also the effectiveness of its competencies and decision-making procedures in responding to major crises. Thousands of mayors, presidents of regions and councillors have served as Europe's safety nets and will be crucial actors in implementing EU and national recovery plans. The upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe** is a timely opportunity for a collective discussion of these issues where the input of regional and local authorities will be essential to meet the expectations of citizens.
"During the second wave of the pandemic, central governments and the EU once again are relying on local and regional authorities to deliver services, protect lives and save jobs. From managing the return to school, to coping with the pressures on health services, to securing jobs and supporting SMEs, regional and local authorities continue to be the first line of defence during this tragic pandemic" said CoR President Apostolos Tzitzikostas. He further added: "Closing national border is not the solution. Europe's response must include concrete mechanisms for cross-border regional cooperation on health and other public services. If we want to act effectively for our people and businesses, we must avoid bureaucratic silos or over-centralisation and encourage more pan-European coordination. The Conference on the Future of Europe is a good occasion to improve the functioning of EU democracy. The Committee is ready to team up with the German lander in order to bring forward the voice of the EU's one million locally and regionally elected representatives. Now is the time to ensure that, in addition to the national and EU authorities, regional and local authorities are recognised once and for all as one of the three dimensions of our European House of Democracy."
"To fight the corona virus and to shape the future after the crisis, we must work together in Europe at all levels. The regions play a key role in this. We have to find European solutions with regional responsibility. Just as the virus crosses borders, we must also act across borders to combat the virus", said Armin Laschet, Minister President of North-Rhine-Westphalia.
Participants stressed that the pandemic has and is still putting pressure on all levels of government to work together and act efficiently. Identifying the best level of government to design and implement EUpolicies – known as subsidiarity – while taking into account the financial and administrative impact – called proportionality – are the pillars of the European Commission's Better Regulation Agenda. These two pillars are used to boost openness and transparency in EU decision-making and improve the quality of new EU laws.
"Already before the pandemic, the von der Leyen Commission had renewed its commitment to Better Regulation and the continued need for evidence-based policy-making. Now, in a changed world, it is even more prescient. Providing opportunities to participate in policymaking, legal certainty and high protection standards for people and businesses alike is of the utmost importance to the Commission. This cannot be achieved at any one level. Rather, local, regional, national and European actors must combine their efforts. In this way we can ensure that we not only bounce back from the crisis, but bounce forward, building a green, digital and fair Europe. With that in mind, I appreciate the Committee of the Regions' recent contribution to our Better Regulation agenda, in particular through the creation of Regional Hubs and its support on consultations and selected evaluations", said Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission Vice-President for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight, during a video statement.
During the debate Bureau members highlighted that, providing technical feedback at an early stage on the implementation of EU legislation at local and regional level is key for success, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2018, the European Committee of the Region launched the RegHub network for gathering local and regional data on EU policy implementation through targeted consultations. It is well equipped to give meaningful contributions to reviews and evaluations of EU policies in response to COVID-19.
*The CoR Bureau is in charge of preparing the assembly's political agenda. It consists of two or three CoR members from each Member State. The Bureau traditionally meets every semester in the country holding the rotating Council EU Presidency. The
Bureau meeting was supposed to take place in Dusseldorf but was held online due
to the latest rising numbers in COVID-19 cases throughout Europe.
**The Conference on the Future of Europe is expected to strengthen citizens' participation in EU democracy beyond elections and ensure their voices are better heard and listened to. It was supposed to start on Europe Day, 9 May 2020, and run for two years but the COVID-19 crisis has led to delays. The German EU Presidency has committed to launch the Conference as soon as possible.
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