Austria takes over the EU Presidency at a time when the stakes are high for the future of the European Union. It is not only the stuttering Brexit negotiations the Austrian Presidency must contend with during its 6-month Presidency, but the future EU budget after 2020, the impasse on migration and begin preparations for the change in the European Commission and European Parliament next year. For local and regional governments and their citizens, the decisions made during this period will shape the future direction of our Union.
Through nearly 200 local dialogues the European Committee of the Regions have held in cities, regions and towns across Europe, citizens are asking for more cohesion, more solidarity and more proximity. The European Union needs to be united in its determination to create jobs in every corner of Europe and foster territorial cohesion.
If Europe is to demonstrate that it can protect people, it needs to become more competitive delivering equally on its promise of both economic and social progression. For regions and cities, this means setting an ambitious EU budget that reduces regional disparities, supports major digital and transport infrastructure projects, re-trains more people so they can return to the labour market, integrates migrants, boosts innovation; and tackles climate change.
To achieve this it needs to give regions and cities the right means. This is why our Committee together with over 5,000 supporters representing 97% of the EU population, the Cohesion Alliance launched in October last year, demands that cohesion policy – EU regional policy – continues to make up one-third of the EU budget for all regions, rich and poor. We all agree that Europe is facing new challenges, but the proposals to cut cohesion policy by 10% and centralise funds takes Europe down the wrong road undermining the ability of regions and cities to deliver a local Europe led by solidarity.
The Austrian Presidency has placed subsidiarity – the principle that decisions should be taken closest to its citizens – as a key objective, something that is most welcome. The EU needs to show it can change and can reform within, which means improving the quality, effectiveness and impact of its laws. Regions and cities are responsible for delivering 70% of EU legislation and understand their benefits, but are sometimes worried about their density and complexity. The European Commission launched a Task Force on Subsidiarity bringing together national parliaments and local and regional authorities whom were represented by our Committee. The Task Force recommendations offer a new way of working to improve the level of engagement of every level of government and the EU institutions. It is not about less Europe, but a better functioning Europe. We hope these important ideas are taken on-board in the shared effort to create a better, more effective and cohesive European future.
The European Committee of the Regions – the EU’s assembly of 350 local and regional leaders, including an active and strong Austrian delegation of 12 members and 12 alternates – is fully committed to working with the Austrian EU Presidency in helping bridging the gap between the EU and citizens, to improve legislation and create a common, stronger Europe that leaves no one behind.
Karl Heinz Lambertz