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Regions and cities can make the EU's 'new way of working' better  

Legacy of outgoing European Commission should be a fuller role for local and regional authorities from start to end of the policy cycle, European Community of the Regions says.

The European Commission should consider giving financial support to a feedback mechanism pioneered by the European Committee of the Regions, local and regional leaders said on 9 October, in a set of recommendations aimed at ensuring that the regional and local perspectives are reflected at every stage of the European Union's policy process, from conception to evaluation.

Other suggestions to the next European Commission president include giving the EU's assembly for local and regional authorities a chance to shape – rather than just review – the Commission's work programme and inviting experts from local and regional government to scrutinise EU regulations. These are all measures that would ensure the local impact of EU law is properly considered. The proposals build on the conclusions of an institutional task-force in 2018 and of a consultation process in 2019.

Olgierd Geblewicz (PL/EPP), president of the region of West Pomerania and leader of Poland's regional presidents, was the rapporteur for the opinion, which is called 'Better regulation: taking stock and sustaining our commitment' .

Mr Geblewicz said: "These are practical suggestions that seek to develop and sustain a central legacy of the outgoing European Commission: its pursuit of a better partnership with all levels of government in order to produce more effective and efficient legislation. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans truly understands the importance of working with regions and cities, and last year he advocated a new way of working for the EU. The CoR's proposals today indicate new and very specific ways of ensuring that the regional and local perspective is brought into the day-to-day working of the EU's decision-makers and executive."

He continued: "Our shared wish is to meet the strategic objectives of the EU in ways that recognise the great variety of situations and cultures in Europe. This effort to achieve the greatest possible unity and the greatest possible diversity while achieving effective policy results – 'subsidiarity', in one word – is a challenge and entails costs, but last year's task-force and this year's stock-taking exercise show that the effort pays dividends, in results and in politics. Historically, the EU has concentrated on gathering input from regions and cities when it drafts policies; but subsidiarity should also be about monitoring how legislation functions on the ground. We want to fill that gap, as well to strengthen other weak points in the policy process. We want to make sure that the partnership with the EU's regions and cities is not just a technical and legalistic exercise, but a principle that frames and enriches the EU's activities."

In March 2019, the European Committee of the Regions launched a Network of Regional Hubs for EU Policy Implementation Review , which, during a two-year pilot phase, is reviewing the impact of EU policy on local and regional governments in three areas: public procurement, air quality, and cross-border health-care. The project has already gathered feedback about EU public-procurement reforms from EU correspondents in 36 regional administrations in 16 countries, and from members of their networks. The resulting implementation review , published this July, fed into a CoR opinion , adopted on 8 October, that praised the EU's intentions but found significant shortcomings in the reforms' impact.

Mr Geblewicz said: "A project like our Regional Hubs mechanism takes time and money, but the effects should be high-quality and effective policy that respects realities on the ground, shows whether EU legislation is adding value, and eliminates some administrative formalities, restrictions and economic burdens. Vice-President Timmermans gave his political support to our initiative last year; we would like his successor, Maroš Šefčovič, to find funding to maintain and develop it, if the pilot phase is a success. This is about building up the capacity needed to make a lasting success of the Commission's 'better regulation' agenda. It also shows, once again, that the CoR can be a link between the EU and regional and local levels of government and a catalyst for partnership."

The opinion also calls for increased consideration of local and regional expertise in political and technical forums. It argues, for instance, that the number of experts on the Regulatory Scrutiny Board should be expanded, to "raise the Board's awareness of local and regional perspectives on EU legislation" and that the Commission's REFIT platform – another body that seeks to improve existing EU legislation – should include experts from the local or regional level.

As the opinion notes, the Commission's desire to achieve better and more efficient regulation clashes with a reality in which "regulatory density has increased, narrowing the margin for interpretation that should exist when implementing directives".

On 30 September, the European Parliament approved the appointment of Commissioner Šefčovič, currently Vice-President for the Energy Union, as Vice-President for Inter-Institutional Relations and Foresight in the 2019-24 term. During his hearing , Commissioner Šefčovič said that "we should better involve those on the receiving end of regulation and to go more for 'active subsidiarity', in order to do away with the common impression that everything is decided in Brussels."

He continued: "We will strengthen the means by which local and regional authorities can inform us of the burden experienced when applying new legislation, as well as of opportunities to alleviate it."

The European Committee of the Regions will continue consultations about how to ensure that local and regional input is incorporated into EU decision-making at a major conference in the Italian Senate on 22 November.


Andrew Gardner
Tel. +32 743 843 981