Islands, rural areas, cross-border and mountain regions need tailor-made measures to keep them attractive, tackle inequalities and thus counter-balance their geographic handicaps, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) states in an opinion drafted by the President of the Corsica Regional Assembly.
Regions with permanent natural or demographic handicaps, such as those with very low population density, islands, cross-border and mountain regions, rural areas and regions experiencing an industrial transition, cover the vast majority of the European landmass. For instance, mountain areas represent 29% of the EU's surface area, while islands are home to over 20.5 million inhabitants (4.6% of the EU’s population). Due to their specificity, each of these territories is particularly fragile and exposed to increasing social and economic disparities, which the European Union should pay particular attention to, as stated by its founding Treaties.
The President of the European Committee of the Regions, Vasco Alves Cordeiro, said: "The 8th Cohesion Report revealed that disparities in Europe are increasing, affecting territories beset by permanent natural or demographic handicaps in particular. Cohesion Policy has a vital role to play to promote economic, social and territorial cohesion in Europe leaving no territory behind. All EU policies with a territorial dimension need to be designed respecting the 'do no harm' principle."
The rapporteur of the opinion adopted on 1 December at the plenary session, Marie-Antoinette Maupertuis (FR/EA), President of the Corsica Regional Assembly, stated: "The European Union does not respect its founding treaty if it doesn't sufficiently take into account the constraints of territories like islands, mountains and rural areas. Their geographical condition implies additional costs for services like transport, energy, digital connectivity that need to be considered in order to not increase interregional disparities. Therefore, the Committee calls for the needs of these regions to be included in the development of the various EU policies with a territorial dimension, beyond Cohesion Policy."
During the debate, Younous Omarjee, Chair of the Committee on Regional Development of the European Parliament, said: "Article 174 of the EU Treaty is aimed at the very objective of cohesion policy, such as the implementation of the principle of solidarity aimed at achieving equality between all European territories. Much remains to be done, and the principles set out in Article 174 must continue to be promoted and reaffirmed, as the European Committee of the Regions is doing, in order to rethink the future of cohesion policy."
The CoR pointed out that the current efforts of the European Union to promote cohesion in the continent – like the Territorial Agenda 2030 and the new Long-term vision for rural areas – may not be sufficient. A growing rural-urban divide, as well as the decline of industrial areas, is also particularly worrying because it is contributing to political polarisation – the opinion suggests – and is fuelling people's feeling that their democratic rights are being denied, and is exacerbating their lack of trust in national and EU institutions.
Local leaders therefore call on the EU's institutions to make territorial impact assessments a core element of the EU policymaking process, particularly for policies like transport, energy, the single market and competition, as well as for the implementation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans adopted to accelerate the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Such an approach, the CoR argues, would better tackle inequalities and promote economic cohesion in Europe, respecting the so-called 'do no harm cohesion' principle recently proposed by the European Commission.
The CoR also encourages Member States to create one-stop shops at regional or local level for EU Cohesion funds, in order to facilitate the understanding of and access to these resources for territories with geographical and demographic handicaps, many of which suffer from a lack of workforce both in the public and private sector.
The day before the adoption at the CoR Plenary, on 30 November, the rapporteur Marie-Antoinette Maupertuis presented her opinion to the members of the Committee on Regional Development of the European Parliament. A video recording of the meeting is available here.
According to Article 174 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union, in order to "reduce disparities between levels of development of the various regions", the EU should pay "particular attention" to "rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions".
The 8th Cohesion Report was published in February by the European Commission. It shows both positive and negative trends in EU regions, cities and rural areas: less-developed regions have been catching up, but many transition regions have been stuck in a development trap. The report shows an increase in disparities, particularly within the Member States, which disproportionately affect territories with structural geographical handicaps. The CoR adopted its position on the 8th Cohesion Report in October.
Together with the leading European associations of cities and regions, the CoR is a founding partner of the #CohesionAlliance, whose mission is to affirm cohesion as a fundamental value of the European Union and a key objective for all its policies and investment. More information here.
Monica Tiberi – Spokesperson of the President
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