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COVID: Members speak - week 7 - Submissions  

​​More than 200 contributions from CoR Members and partners are available on the CoR website (mapped, or on a mobile-friendly webpage with the most recent stories on top), telling the story of how local and regional authorities went above and beyond to provide sensible and appropriate responses to the unprecedented covid pandemic.​

More than 20 of the new stories from last week are the result of a partnership between the CoR (COTER Secretariat) has partnered with the European Commission (DG REGIO) and  leading associations working in the field of cross-border cooperation in Europe: the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), the Mission Operationelle Transfrontalière (MOT) and the Central European Service for Cross-border Initiatives (CESCI), who are pooling resources together and publishing the many stories and experiences from Europe's borders in one place – the CoR's COVID 19 platform.

Many individuals in your communities may also be interested in sharing their experiences during the Covid-19 crisis. If so, you can point them to a survey launched on 12 May by the EU's Joint Research Centre, available here. The survey will help develop strategies to mitigate the impact of the crisis. The survey is currently available in 12 languages; the remaining official languages of the EU will follow shortly.

The administration of Bologna Mayor Virginio Merola, CoR Member (IT/PES), has created a specific webpage (in Italian) on which local information related to the emergency can be accessed. The city has tasked a committee of eight people (four men, and four women) to re-imagine the city after the emergency. Together with public-consultation measures, the objective is to re-invent the city for what will come after Covid, looking at climate change, a re-organisation of urban life, investment into digital and material infrastructure, a re-definition of cultural, tourist and sports policies, economic development, the quality of employment and self-employment, and the university and research activities.

In Luxemburg, the Municipality of Roeser, whose mayor is CoR Member Tom Jungen (LU/PES), shared the challenges faced in reorganising its services during this unusual times. They have created new shopping services for the vulnerable, 'Meals on Wheels' for individuals unable to purchase their own meals, social media activities for children and others. Returning to school is the greatest challenge, and will be tackled as of 25 May, when pupils will be rotate between being part of a 'school group' and an 'exercise group', in respect of appropriate covid measures. More updates and a video with Mayor Jungen can be accessed on the PES CoR's website.

In Aveiro, Portugal, where José Ribau Esteves (EPP) leads the Town Council, the town's 'Action Programme to Support Social and Economic Activity / Operation Anti Covid-19' foresees a plan to the value of €3 million. In early May, phase 2 of the same programme allocated additional resources and established new measures. More information can be accessed here (in Portuguese).

Jari Andersson, Member of Sastamala City Council (FI/EPP), shared two considerations on 'best practices' implemented in the pandemic. First, Finland switched to distance learning for kids. Teachers and individual schools have been left with considerable discretion over how teaching was organised in practice. Tasks and study packages began to be distributed via various remote connections. Students have developed a clear rhythm in their daily life over the course of their remote 'schooling'. Student-care staffi have helped students who were not initially reachable. One subjective perception: fear of technology appears to have fallen. Second, almost all city governments and councils, as well as municipal associations, quickly began to use electronic assembly platforms, adjusting administrative rules and regulations on legal powers accordingly. Voting was initially complicated and time-consuming, but these challenges are being overcome. A forecast: new applications and authentication methods will streamline the process, ensuring that online meetings become a new normal and also an effective means of convening meetings at short notice.

From economic and financial measures to educational and entertainment online services and solidarity campaigns, the Catalan city of Rubí has launched a battery of measures to alleviate the economic and social effects of COVID-19. Examples include an online information portal and an increase in emergency funds. The Gràcies Rubí Campaign helped gather donations and distribute free goods. City authorities shared a positive message of resilience, invoking the response to floods in 1962 floods as an example of the spirit and solidarity of the city.

On the EPP CoR's website, Armin Laschet, Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, shared that the region has provided intensive treatment to Italian and French patients suffering from #covid19. Support is also being provided to SMEs through loans, tax reduction, compensation for quarantine and grants.

A story of intra-city solidarity was shared by Mantua (Italy) and the Weingarten region (Germany). The latter collected €10,000 in a fundraiser for its sister city Mantua in northern Italy, which was struck by the coronavirus. The Bron-Weingarten partnership group, the Weingarten cycling association and the hikers of Via Liguria, who all maintain friendly connections to Weingarten's sister city, spontaneously took part in the campaign. The city of Weingarten, along with other major donors, contributed €2,000 to the relief effort. The money went to Caritas and to the Centro di Aiuto in Mantua, facilities that help people on the margins of society by providing including meals and food parcels. “This is true friendship and fraternal cooperation," said Pellegrino Sereni, President of the Mantova-Weingarten association.

Torres Vedras in Portugal has adopted an Extraordinary Municipal Support Programme comprising 39 temporary measures to protect families, social organisations and enterprises. They include €2.4 million in tax relief for local businesses, €1.5m for cross-cutting measures, and exemptions and cuts in rent and rates for businesses. Families in social housing are exempt from rent for four months (March-June); direct financial support for housing emergencies is available for families until September; low-income families have been given vouchers with which to buy essential goods; water rates have been reduced; under-privileged schoolchildren have access to free meals until schools re-open; and a pool of computers and tablets has been created to ensure access to the internet for schoolchildren. The city has increased its annual support for creative and cultural organisations by 25%, and is providing financial support to other organisations in the social economy. Ana Umbelino, a local councillor, talks more about some of the solidarity projects in English in a video that can be viewed here.

Also in Portugal, Viana do Castelo has implemented a set of measures in collaboration with the Municipal Civil Protection, ULSAM, the District Civil Protection Commission and the Alto CIM Minho. A total of 26,000 gloves, 56,000 surgical masks, 700 p2 masks were distributed by the Private Institutions of Social Solidarity (IPSS) in the municipality and 400 gowns have been delivered. Solidarity has been shown by many organisations; for example, the Internal Volunteer Bank, which has 54 municipal employees, distributing meals and baskets to needy families. Some schools have remained open for children of health professionals, security forces and fire-fighters. The municipality has also offered significant economic relief and assistance, and adopted new digital tools (such as the 'Viana Market', with already one thousand registered sellers). The 'Viana à Esplanada' programme will promote new spaces, with no fees, for merchants.

Similarly, Ricardo Rio (PT/EPP), Mayor of Braga, has announced that the city will allow local shops, restaurants, and cafes to expand and offer their services on the city's streets for the next few months. The 'Open Door' system has the backing of local businesses, the local Chamber of Commerce and Urbac, a group formed by local restaurants in the wake of the virus.

Covid-19 has had a profound effect on Ireland's economy, according to a report by John Daly, an economist with the three Regional Assemblies in Ireland. His work, which draws on data on Ireland's exposure and resilience at the local, regional and national level, finds that Ireland has moved from being one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe with near full employment, to a point where the unemployment rate is now forecast to peak at 22% in the second quarter of 2020.

In Poland, the city of Mosina identified the needs of private businesses by carrying out a survey, offered tax relief and took a range of other economic measures. Since 30 March, the municipality has developed a special service for seniors with the help of volunteers, the Caritas of the Archdiocese of Poznań and the Centre for Senior Initiatives. The municipal e-marketplace enables B2B purchases and makes it easier to find consumers, while the city's cultural and sports institutions has been offering a range of free content online.

Free masks for all is one of the major actions taken by the eastern Hungarian town of Nyíradony to contain the spread of the virus. The elderly and the most vulnerable were the first recipients but, within a matter of days, the local authority was able to give washable masks to everyone. The town has also created an aid fund; donations to it – from individuals, NGOs and local business – are being used to provide the needy with food packages and disinfectant.

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the municipality of Roeser in Luxembourg immediately re-organised its administration, and established social solidarity and schooling as two priorities. It extended its existing 'meals on wheels' programme and, with community support and volunteers (including Scouts), it organised shopping deliveries for the need. The mandate of the town's arbitration board, which normally only mediates in neighbourhood disputes, has been extended to include family disputes. The town now offers activities for children on social media, but the biggest challenge for the community is the return to school planned for 25 May. Classes will be divided in two, with each group – each with at most 10 children – occupying separate rooms in the morning. Finding sufficient space is one issue; another is to ensure separate supervision and separate rooms for the two groups in the afternoons, in day-care centres.

The EEAC Network has brought together leading governmental advisers to discuss the pandemic and what it will mean for the sustainable development and environmental agendas. Their recommendations are available online. EEAC was formed by environment and sustainable-development advisory councils from across the continent.

Finally, as the emergency period eases, it is worth reading an interview (in French) to Renaud Muselier, President of Regions of France, and of the Southern Region, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, on actions carried out by regions to manage the emergency, but also to prepare for the post-crisis period.

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