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Regional and local leaders share realities from the ground to guide European action  

​Climate crisis, war against Ukraine, green and digital transition top the list of concerns of representatives from cities and regions

The European Committee of the Regions has published its 2023 EU Annual Report on the State of Regions and Cities and had a debate on the most pressing challenges for cities and regions in Europe with Francina Armengol, president of the Congress of Deputies of Spain, and Pierre-Yves Dermagne, Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Economy and Employment.

The debate focused on the climate crisis, rising social inequalities, and the need to involve local and regional authorities to build sustainable policies in Europe that are closer to the direct concerns of citizens. The Committee of the Regions also adopted a resolution, informed by the 2023 EU Annual Report on the State of Regions and Cities, that acts as a first contribution for the Strategic Agenda of the European Union for 2024-2029.

Vasco Alves Cordeiro, President of the European Committee of the Regions, said: "In front of the many challenges and crises, more than a million local and regional elected representatives have delivered concrete solutions to citizens. Whatever the magnitude of the challenges, we are committed to leaving no one behind. Beyond crises management, we need to transform our societies, mastering the green and digital transitions, and the ensuring social, territorial and economic cohesion. The State of Regions and Cities can only be the state of its people. This is the Committee's first contribution to the next Strategic Agenda of the European Union and as the representatives closer to and most trusted by citizens, we have a responsibility to show the way forward."

Francina Armengol (PES/ES), president of the Congress of Deputies of Spain, said: "I am a convinced European. I cannot understand Europe without each and every one of its regions, towns, cities. To count on all of them is to count on the engines of Europe, it is to take into account the administrations that know the citizens best, because they are the ones that govern them more closely. The future of this common European project depends on making faster progress along this path, as well as committing to the five great challenges that Europe faces, and which cannot be reversed. These are, firstly, territorial cohesion and the fight against climate change, which we must lead with greater impetus, in view of future enlargements and the undesirable effects that the climate is having on our territories. It is also essential to fight against social inequalities which, unfortunately, have been accentuated by the pandemic, as have the mental health problems of our young people, as well as the need to progress towards equality between men and women, an objective that requires constant efforts to break all the conventions that are still in place, and, finally, the digitalisation of our economies, our administrations and our societies".

Pierre-Yves Dermagne (PES/BE), Belgium's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Economy and Employment, said: "The socio-economic future of Europe will be at the heart of the challenges facing the Belgian Presidency of the European Union. The work of the Committee of the Regions is contributing to this reflection. If Europeans are to approach the changes underway with confidence, we must ensure a fair transition that builds on the strengths of the regions and territories".

The CoR's resolution identifies the energy transition, climate action, food safety, economic development, democracy, enlargement and the reconstruction of Ukraine as areas where local and regional authorities play a critical role. It specifically highlights the challenge of 'left-behind' regions.

Contributions by the principal speakers of the six political groups in the European Committee of the Regions:

· European People's Party: Jelena Drenjanin (SE/EPP), member of Huddinge Municipality Council, said that there needs to be more recognition to the priorities of regions in national and European decision-making and called for greater attention to rural areas, regions in industrial decline and peripheral regions. "Boosting our recovery cannot work without setting the right targets bottom-up and in coordination with the territorial needs," she said, noting that the CoR-commissioned Eurobarometer survey found that 70% of local and regional authorities were not involved in the implementation of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), a key element of the EU's support for a post-COVID recovery. "We are witnessing that also with the Green and Digital transition."

· Party of European Socialists: Christophe Rouillon (FR/PES), mayor of Coulaines, and Peter Kaiser (AT/PES), member of the State Government of Carinthia, shared speaking time. Criticising the "purely accounting approach" to the EU of many national governments, Mr Rouillon said that "Europe is not just the Europe of emergency priorities and we are not an insurance company" and warned that without regions and cities "there will be no ecological and social transition". Mr Kaiser highlighted that one in four children in Europe are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, and brought sustainable development to the fore. He suggested others should emulate the "sustainability coalition" in his region, whose work is "anchored" by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

· Renew Europe: Jasna Gabrič (SI/RE), mayor of Trbovlje, focused on the enlargement of the EU, warning – as chair of the CoR cooperation group with North Macedonia – that "the European perspective gave people in this region hope for decades, but hope does not last forever". She continued: "Places within Europe which feel left behind are faced with disengagement and discontent in the long term. When the development trap is unaddressed, disengagement and discontent make citizens less likely to support European integration and values. Can you imagine what it does to those that have been stuck for decades in the accession limbo?" She called for more work at the sub-national level, with technical support for local and regional administrations to "allow us to help our partner cities and regions to build their capacities".

· European Conservatives and Reformists: Juraj Droba (SK/ECR), President of the Bratislava Region, emphasised the support provided to Ukrainian refugees by his country's regions and cities. "I hope that we will do our best efforts to become completely independent on the Russian natural resources," he said. In an intervention that also highlighted the COVID-19 pandemic and the lingering effects of the financial crisis, he called for a green transition that is practical and realistic. "This is why we reiterate the importance of nuclear energy for reaching the targets of the Green Deal," he said, adding: "The Green Deal cannot compromise or put at risk our industries, our small and medium enterprises in the rural areas."

· European Alliance: Karl Vanlouwe (BE/EA), member of the Flemish Parliament, said the CoR's report on the state of regions and cities showed that "Regions are the engine of Europe. No policy can deliver results without the meaningful involvement of local authorities. Lower levels of government benefit from greater citizen trust. It is incomprehensible that we still have a highly centralised EU." He highlighted that options for direct financing of regions and cities "are still very limited" in the European Green Deal, suggesting that the Flemish Blue Deal, to improve water management and tackle water scarcity, could serve as a case study.

· The Greens: Josef Frey (DE/Greens), member of Baden-Württemberg State Parliament and CoR rapporteur on the reform of the design of the EU electricity market, argued that the next CoR's Annual Report on the State of Regions and Cities should cover the significant potential and opportunities of the green transition for regions and cities: "We therefore call for informative one-stop shops on site but also simpler approval and grid connection procedures and targeted investments in cheap, clean, flexible and decentralised energy."

More information:

· The CoR's "Resolution on the State of Regions and Cities in the European Union and proposals in view of the next EU Strategic Agenda 2024-2029" can be found here. The debate can be re-watched on the website of the European Committee of the Regions.

· President Cordeiro had presented the 2023 EU Annual Report on the State of Regions and Cities on 9 October, at the opening of the European Week of Regions and Cities. The Week, which is co-organised by the CoR and the European Commission, is the largest event in the EU calendar. Full speech of President Vasco Alves Cordeiro: text and video.

· Entire EU Annual Report on the State of Regions and Cities and Factsheet.

· Regional and Local Barometer survey.

· Previous editions of the Report.​

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