The members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Ana Paula Zacarias, Portuguese Secretary of State for European Affairs, discussed the political priorities of the EU presidency and their impact on a local and regional level. The debate took place during the CoR's February plenary session and highlighted the importance of involving local and regional authorities in the implementation of the next EU Budget and of the EU plans to recover from the COVID-19 crisis.
The representatives of the EU's regional and local authorities emphasized the integral role that local and regional governments are playing in managing the COVID emergency, highlighting that they will be key to facilitate a successful health, social and economic recovery from the pandemic. They expressed concerns on the level of involvement of regional and local authorities, as highlighted by a recent consultation conducted by the CoR and CEMR which has found that most local and regional governments only have little influence on national Recovery and Resilience Plans.
Both the CoR and the Portuguese presidency also underlined that, despite the importance of the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, other shared priorities, such as the successful implementation of the Green Deal and accelerating Europe's digitalisation, should be embedded in national recovery plans.
The President of the European Committee of Regions, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, said: "The Portuguese Presidency comes at a time of great importance. The pandemic continues to take lives, place pressure on public services and harm local jobs and economies. In the next months we must guarantee the effective implementation of the EU budget and deliver an ambitious recovery plan that concretely addresses people's needs. Together, we must strengthen our capacity to respond to public health crises and produce and distribute safe vaccines. Vaccination must take place simultaneously, through reinforced cooperation between all levels of governance in all Member States, regions, cities and villages. Your Presidency will also help launch the Conference on the future of Europe: we count on you to bring a strong regional and local dimension to this process, that needs to modernise the functioning of democracy and bring the EU closer to people."
Ana Paula Zacarias, Portuguese Secretary of State of European Affairs, said: "The pandemic has highlighted that local and regional leaders are the driving forces of local communities and play a key role in the response to the crisis. Your proximity to citizens and your understanding of the reality on the ground are vitally important to ensure that Europe gets through these challenging times in a spirit of solidarity, and leaving no one behind. Cities and regions play also an essential role in implementing nation-wide measures, such the much needed reforms and investments included in the upcoming national recovery plans."
"Yes, an internal market is needed but the EU needs to show the same ambition when it goes to achieving social progress," said Vasco Cordeiro, First Vice-president of the European Committee of the Regions and regional councillor of the Azores regional Assembly. He also added: "Emphasizing the role and importance of subsidiarity and multilevel governance in the way Europe works is not only, first and above all, about regional and local authorities. It's about what kind of European Union we want!"
The complementary nature of the Portuguese presidency's political priorities and the CoR's political priorities also became evident during the debate. Especially the 'Building resilient local and regional communities' priority, put forward by the CoR for 2020-2025, shares a lot in common with the priorities of the Portuguese presidency.
The close partnership between the CoR and the Portuguese Presidency will also be reinforced by the participation of Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, in an upcoming debate at the CoR's plenary in May, the planned external meeting of the bureau on the Azores Islands and the organisation of local dialogues in Portugal together with the members of the CoR Portuguese delegation.
The Portuguese presidency of the EU council, focuses on three main priorities:
- To promote Europe's recovery, leveraged by the climate and digital transitions
- To implement the Social Pillar of the European Union as a key element for ensuring a fair and inclusive climate and digital transition
- To strengthen Europe's strategic autonomy keeping it open to the world.
The priorities of the European Committee of Regions for 2020-2025 can be found here.
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