Inadequate production capacities, long-standing inequalities between urban and rural regions, and lack of cooperation highlighted by local and regional leaders as lessons from the pandemic.The European Union must reduce its dependence on producers outside its borders by encouraging the return of production of critical medicines and of protective equipment to European soil, members of the European Committee of the Regions said on 7 May. The call for "strategic autonomy" is one of the recommendations contained in an opinion on experiences and lessons learned by regions and cities during the COVID-19 crisis.
The opinion also identifies greater cooperation between public authorities at the local, regional, national and EU level as a means of building up the Union's ability to prevent, manage and recover from health crises. The recommendations pay particular attention to the situation of rural regions, urging the EU to increase the flexibility of its budget and state-aid rules and to narrow gaps between urban and rural communities, particularly in terms of digital and transport infrastructure. Local and regional leaders also urged the EU to involve local and regional authorities more deeply in the development of new EU instruments, such as the Next Generation EU recovery plans and the food-crisis response mechanism.
The rapporteur on the opinion 'Experiences and lessons learned by regions and cities during the COVID-19 crisis' – Joke Schauvliege (BE/EPP), member of the Flemish Parliament – said: "This opinion came after a broad consultation and participation of the regions, civil society and experts in various fields and shows the broad need to learn serious lessons from the COVID19 crisis. For example, Europe must pay more attention to intense cooperation with the regional and local level and bring them to the discussion table as fully-fledged partners. The debate on the future of Europe is also the time to reflect on a broader vision of Europe, including the EU's competences in the field of health."
The CoR's reflections were requested by the European Commission's Secretary-General and will contribute to a report that the European Commission is preparing for the Council of the European Union, the institution in which national ministers from each EU country meet to adopt laws and coordinate policies.
The call for greater involvement reflects the CoR's long-standing advocacy of collaboration between different levels of government and alarm at the re-imposition of borders during the pandemic and the particular effect on border regions. But it also voices the fear that the EU's response to the pandemic is overly centralised and focused on cooperation with national authorities. Recommendations include a demand that cross-border cooperation should be part of all emergency plans and that interregional, cross-border contact groups should be set up to improve cross-border communication and collaboration between Member States and border regions.
At its plenary session, held online, the European Committee of the Regions also adopted a resolution on free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic (Digital Green Certificate) and the scaling up of vaccine production, including a call for a temporary waiver on the patents enjoyed by pharmaceutical companies. In addition, the Committee endorsed three opinions focused on the development of health infrastructure and health policies at the EU level that would advance the EU's efforts to achieve strategic autonomy and withstand health crises. Roberto Ciambetti (IT/ECR), President of the Veneto Regional Council, drafted an opinion on the European Health Union; Birgitta Sacrédeus (SE/EPP) of Dalarna Regional Council, was responsible for drawing up recommendations on the EU's pharmaceutical strategy and the role of the European Medical Agency; and Olgierd Geblewicz (PL/EPP), President of West Pomerania Region, proposed adjustments to the role of the European Centre for Disease Control and cross-border health care.
In its first Annual Local and Regional Barometer released in October 2020, the European Committee of the Regions found very significant differences in health-care provision across regions in the EU and also between regions in the same Member State. A survey conducted as part of the Annual Local and Regional Barometer found that Europeans trust regional and local authorities more than they trust the EU or their national government, and that they believe granting greater influence to regional and local authorities would have a positive impact on the EU's ability to solve problems. Health was the area where Europeans would most like to see regional and local authorities exercise more influence on decisions taken at the EU level.
European Committee of the Regions reports and studies: Annual Regional and Local Barometer (full report, and health impact in data, from October 2020); The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on regional and local governments (joint CoR-OECD survey, October 2020); Territorial Impact Assessment: the State of the Cities and Regions in the COVID-19 crisis (October 2020); Regional health policy responses to the COVID crisis (October 2020); Implementation of the Cross-border Healthcare Directive in the European regions (October 2020).
Local experiences: CoR Exchange Platform (Experiences of local and regional administrations during the first wave of the pandemic); Reinventing Cities (Eurocities report with dozens of examples of municipal actions, initiatives and projects).
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