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Cities and regions are at the heart of Europe’s carbon-neutral and digital transformation  

​EU’s assembly of cities and regions places inclusiveness in Europe’s Digital Agenda and multi-level dialogue as the only way to reach Europe’s energy and climate targets

Under the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, this week Bucharest hosted two high-level events with a strong presence of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR): the Digital Assembly 2019 and the 12th SET Plan Conference. EU cities and regions have put inclusiveness at the centre of Europe’s digitalisation strategy, warning that effective multi-level dialogues are the only way to deliver the EU’s energy and climate targets as well the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

The Digital Assembly 2019 – the EU’s top forum that takes stock of the achievements of the Digital Single Market (DSM) Strategy, has given support to the CoR claim that the future DSM must have inclusiveness in its centre. In Bucharest, the CoR presented the “Digital Europe for all” paper – a series of proposals by the CoR’s President,Karl-Heinz Lambertz and First Vice-President, Markku Markkula- that contributes to the renewal of the European Commission’s mandate in the field of the Digital Single Market for the next five years.

As a keynote speaker at the Digital Assembly’s closing session, First Vice-President Markku Markkula (FI/EPP), said: "The digital revolution starts local. We need to ensure that Europe’s digitalisation is fully inclusive and doesn’t leave any community behind. It is of key importance that digital and sustainable solutions are affordable and available for all. We must also connect the internet of things to the fields of transport, energy efficiency and the circular economy in order to interlink Europe’s digitalisation to the completion of the EU’s energy and climate targets and the Sustainable Development Goals."

Amongst the CoR’s “Digital Europe for all” proposals is the development of a local Digital Economy and Society Index to better encapsulate the variety of ‘digital situations’ of Europe’s cities and regions. The CoR’s proposals for the digitalisation of the single market will now be put forward to the incoming Finish Presidency of the EU Council and be part of the discussions on the Digital Europe Programme , firstly proposed in June 2018.

In Bucharest, the Chairman of the Tipperary County Council and CoR member Michel Murphy (IE/EPP) received one of the first Wifi4EU vouchers of EUR 15,000 to install free Wi-Fi in his community. Wifi4EU is a fresh EU scheme to provide Wi-Fi free access to local communities.

From 12 to 14 June, Bucharest also hosted the 24th meeting of the CoR’s Commission for Environment, Climate change and Energy (ENVE) . In collaboration with the European Commission, the Association of Romanian Municipalities and the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU, the CoR contributed to the organisation of the SET Plan conference . Vice-President Markkula emphasised that Europe will not be able to reach 2050 carbon-neutrality, nor deliver the UN's Sustainable Development Goals , without a close and structured partnership between the European Union, academia, businesses and the national, regional and local governmental levels.

"Better involving sub-national levels in developing National Energy and Climate Plans is crucial, and the timing of the incoming Finnish EU Presidency is critical in this regard. The work of our Romanian colleagues on the implementation of the Clean Energy Package needs to be continued, notably as regards the integration of the Energy Union into Member State’s national policies and more specifically into the National Energy and Climate Plans. We need to make sure that a sufficient level of energy and climate ambition is engrained into each and every one of these plans. Only through structured multi-level dialogues involving local and regional authorities but also businesses and civil society will Member States effectively reach a clean energy transition", declared First Vice-President Markku Markkula at the SET Plan conference closing session.

“During the Finnish EU Presidency our cities and regions want to showcase how the local Energy and Climate plans are drafted and implemented. The CoR can and will use different instruments in encouraging the forerunners from all parts of EU to take the lead in implementing UN SDGs” , he concluded.

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Under the title ‘Making the energy transition happen locally’, the SET Plan conference has looked at the strategies needed at local and regional level to accelerate the sustainable energy transition and analysed currently available investment options to harness the potential of businesses to create low-carbon innovative economies at the local and regional level. Delegates have assessed local challenges and solutions towards the integration of different energy systems and the concrete ways through which the SET Plan contributes decarbonising local economies.

The European Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan) aims to accelerate the development and deployment of low-carbon technologies. It seeks to improve new technologies and bring down costs by coordinating national research efforts and helping to finance projects.

In the Digital Europe for All roadmap , signed by the CoR President Karl-Heinz Lambertz and First Vice-President Markku Markkula, the CoR presents its suggestions to the next European Commission, amongst others:

  • Develop a European network of Digital Innovation Hubs linked to regional smart specialisation strategies.
  • Use different EU funding instruments, including structural funds, to reinforce the rollout of Digital Innovation Hubs and high-speed broadband connectivity in all EU regions.
  • Develop regional digital skills alliances with the education and training sector to match the digital needs of local businesses.
  • Use the revision of the public procurement directive to promote the easy rollout of smart services in close association with the Digital Innovation Hubs; make optimal use of collective purchasing arrangements and work with the European Investment Bank to make collective purchasing easier.
  • Launch a call to choose smart model villages and regions in each Member State combined with dedicated training and mainstreaming actions.
  • Use new digital solutions at local level for a permanent dialogue with citizens on matters ranging from cyber security to digital public services.
  • Provide a European voucher scheme for e-government audits for 700 small and mid-size cities whereby experts in local government would provide a 15-day consultancy service to the city council.
  • Introduce a set of meaningful indicators that can measure the progress made at local and regional levels and publish a regular report on the state of play of the local/regional dimension of the Digital Single Market.

The Digital Assembly 2019 is a forum for stakeholders to take stock of the achievements of the Digital Single Market Strategy, draw lessons and to exchange views on the contours of a future digital policy. The event is also a great opportunity to showcase how digital is transforming our societies and economies, and how it can help bring positive change to our lives. It is co-organised by the European Commission and the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.


Lauri Ouvinen

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