Finland takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a defining moment for the EU. The Union turns over a new leaf in light of the results of the European election: there will be new leaders at the helm of the EU institutions who will deal with major issues such as the next EU budget, as well as take responsibility for defining the content for the next EU programme period. This is a time for renewal.
These six months must focus on delivering for every citizen. Through the European Committee of the Regions we - the local and regional leaders - have a voice to contribute to setting the priorities for the incoming policies of the EU institutions. Cities and regions are at the heart of responding to the major societal challenges of the 21st century, whether it be climate change, job creation or community cohesion.
They must be partners in the co-creation of smart solutions to deliver the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which need to be mainstreamed into all policy areas, and at all levels of governance. The Finnish Presidency has prioritised sustainable growth: by working together with industry and universities, cities and regions are the powerhouses in driving forward innovation. By supporting SMEs, entrepreneurship and start-ups, local and regional actors are contributing to sustainable development.
That is what citizens are waiting for. It requires strengthening synergies between the various EU programmes, integrating the use of all public and private financing instruments, and increasing European partnerships based on regional smart specialisation strategies. It means maintaining the current leve of EU investment for cohesion policy for all regions and cities, rich and poor. Tackling regional disparity and supporting all regions is the ultimate sign of European solidarity. Without cohesion, we will have no Union. Without sufficient investment, regions and cities will be unable to help overcome our shared challenges.
Sustainable and inclusive growth needs sufficient local investment in education and innovation, including digitalisation and artificial intelligence. Digitalisation will play a crucial role in many societal challenges such as security and the fight against climate change. Cities and regions – with their businesses, universities and citizens – are the key to helping drive the digital transformation of the EU increasing cooperation and partnerships. Political leaders at all levels of government must come together and think local to make the changes Europe urgently needs.
The Northern dimension is also important not only for Finland, but for the whole Europe. It is becoming extremely central in terms of global trade routes and natural resources. It is also a stark reminder that we need higher ambition on climate change. The Arctic environment is already extremely vulnerable and this vulnerability will affect the whole planet if it is not tackled right now. We, local and regional actors, cannot stand still and wait. We are ambitious, inclusive and innovative. We are ready to deliver on climate action and demand a carbon-free Europe by 2050.
The Finnish Presidency can rely on European cities and regions to make the Presidency a success. Much can be achieved within the next six months by working and investing locally, together.
Karl-Heinz Lambertz Markku Markkula
President of the CoR First Vice-President of the CoR