The European Committee of the Regions' Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) met on 29 January, for the first time in 2021, to discuss about health and the experiences and lessons learned by regions and cities during the COVID-19 crisis. At the meeting, members also adopted an opinion on the Atlantic maritime strategy.
The meeting of the NAT commission started with a discussion on the EU's action plan for its maritime strategy for the Atlantic – an updated action plan for a sustainable, resilient and competitive blue economy in the European Union Atlantic area.
The CoR's rapporteur for the "Atlantic action plan 2.0" of the Atlantic maritime strategy is Paula Fernández Viaña (ES/Renew Europe), minister of the interior, justice and foreign action in the government of Cantabria. Ms Fernández Viaña advocated relaunching the creation of the Atlantic macro-region. "The macro-region will help us to face the future challenges and the double economic crisis caused by the pandemic and Brexit," the rapporteur said.
In its first edition, the Atlantic Action Plan was able to inspire a huge number of European projects, worth 6 billion euro in investments in total, aimed at creating a safer, cleaner and economically more developed Atlantic Ocean area. The update of the Action Plan –version 2.0 – will offer focus even more on the priorities under the Green Deal and the available new funding possibilities for regional projects and research.
"It is precisely the blue economy that can help us achieve the European Green Deal’s objectives. The blue economy is part of the solution. Because the two challenges we face today, one economic, the other environmental, are deeply intertwined," said Charlina Vitcheva, Director General of European Commission's directorate-general for maritime affairs and fisheries.
The opinion includes initiatives and proposals to boost economic recovery in the maritime area of the regions of Spain, France, Ireland and Portugal and calls for a "competitive and cohesive" macro-region with projects focusing on the capacity of the blue economy. "The Atlantic ports, which are strategically important for the backbone of the European transport system and which currently appear outside the core network of the Trans-European Transport Network TEN-T, must be included in it, and actions must be financed to enable the development of Motorways of the Sea," argued Ms Fernández Viaña.
The NAT commission also held its discussion on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the EU's cities and regions being at the front line in the response to the COVID-19 crisis and taking active measures in the diverse policy areas within their competences. An opinion on the impact of the pandemic, currently being drafted by Joke Schauvliege (BE/EPP), a member of the Flemish Parliament, will supplement the findings of the CoR's Annual Regional and Local Barometer, published in October 2020, with new data about how rural communities' needs and about their use of EU emergency funding.
The outlook opinion is an opportunity to bring forward concrete suggestions and recommendations from regions, cities and rural areas to the EU level, in order to improve the response capacities of the EU in future health crisis. Including a local/regional dimension to the national and EU-level response and recovery strategies would make these more effective by taking into account the local circumstances and different realities on the ground.
During a health debate with Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), local leaders will share experiences from the ground.
"ECDC welcomes the European Commission’s legislative proposal to reinforce our Centre’s role and capabilities in addressing surveillance, preparedness, early warning, risk assessment and response, and international collaboration", says ECDC Director Andrea Ammon. "The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that serious threats to health from communicable diseases are inherently cross-border and early lessons underline the importance of strong national and international cooperation and coordination with partners at EU and global level. We look forward to following the discussions related to these legislative proposals, also in the European Committee of the Regions."
The members of the NAT commission discussed the following working documents:
· Roberto Ciambetti (IT/ECR) – European Health Union: Reinforcing the EU’s resilience
· Olgierd Geblewicz (PL/EPP) – Regulation for tackling cross-border health threats and legislative proposal for changing the mandate of the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC)
· Birgitta Sacrédeus (SE/EPP) – A pharmaceutical strategy for Europe and legislative proposal for changing the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA)
The opinions are to be adopted at the CoR's plenary session on 5-7 May 2021.
· Annual Regional and Local Barometer
· Maps in support of the Council Recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the EU/EEA
· On 25 January, the European Commission proposed an update of the coordinated approach on free movement inside the EU, to strongly discourage non-essential travel, while avoiding border closures or blanket travel bans. The updated approach includes stricter measures for those coming from high-risk regions, which will be identified via an updated colour code map. The Commission proposed to add ‘dark red’ to the existing colour-coded map provided by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) to indicate areas where the virus is circulating at very high levels. The new methodology has provoked strong criticism in some regions. It is now up to EU Member States whether to agree on the Commission's proposal.
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