How Cohesion Policy could continue to effectively tackle social and economic disparities between regions and support their green transition, while giving to territories the means to overcome major and unpredictable crisis: these were the main topics discussed by European local and regional leaders in Sibiu, Romania, on the occasion of the external meeting of the commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR).
The meeting followed a high-level conference organised by the CoR together with the Ministry of European Investments and Projects of Romania, with the support of Sibiu County Council, which enabled an unprecedented exchange between national, regional and local authorities on the impact of Cohesion Policy and investments.
The proposal for a review of the current long-term budget 2021-2027 of the European Union, put forward on 20 June by the European Commission, highlights once more the need to reaffirm the paramount role of Cohesion Policy in promoting investments at the local level and improving citizens' life. During the meeting in Sibiu, the CoR kick-started its work to shape the next Cohesion Policy cycle after 2027. The President of the CoR, Vasco Alves Cordeiro (PT/PES), and the Chair of the COTER commission, Emil Boc (RO/EPP), led a first discussion with CoR members on how to strengthen the EU's regional policy in the coming decade. The exchange of views was built also on the outcome of the debate between COTER members and national representatives during a conference – entitled "Cohesion, our fundamental value for the future of Europe: regions and cities for a strong recovery and just transition" – held the day before in Sibiu. The recommendations will feed into the opinion on the future of Cohesion Policy of which President Cordeiro and COTER Chair Boc are co-rapporteurs. The opinion is scheduled for adoption in the CoR Plenary in November, ahead of the publication of the 9th Cohesion Report by the European Commission.
President Cordeiro said: "We came to Sibiu to discuss the most important policy for the European Committee of the Regions: Cohesion Policy. It is important as it touches on a pillar of the European project. It helps to make Europe move forward as a whole since it ensures that the benefits of the single market are spread to all cities and regions. Sibiu is a good example of how European Union funds from cohesion make a real difference for the city and the region. For the future, we want to give a new impetus to Cohesion Policy. Only a strong Cohesion Policy with the political narrative that cohesion must be underpinned by all EU policies can ensure that citizens feel a strong sense of belonging to the European project. Cohesion Policy does noes not just have funding. It has programming, partnership and policy."
Emil Boc, COTER Chair, Major of Cluj-Napoca and former Prime Minister of Romania, said: "Cohesion Policy has already been in place for a long time, and, as such, it is already a tried-and-tested investment policy. Positive changes have been made over time in how the Cohesion Policy is implemented and moreover in the reduction of disparities among the EU regions. The new Cohesion Policy post 2027 needs to be bold, to bring about the changes that are needed but at the same time to keep what is functioning well from previous periods."
During the meeting, local and regional leaders also called on the European Union to increase its financial support to regions with a strong automotive industry. It was underlined that these regions are among the most affected by the transition towards a 'net-zero emissions' economy and that it is important to develop a European strategy that ensures that the transition is not only environmentally but also socially sustainable.
The rapporteur, Sven Schulze (DE/EPP), Minister for Economic Affairs, Tourism, Agriculture and Forestry of the Federal State of Saxony-Anhalt, said: "For a just transition in our automotive regions, we need a cross-border mechanism at the European level. The transformation of the automotive industry must not have a negative impact on prosperity in the regions. Thirteen million jobs are directly or indirectly affected. Therefore, not only budgetary measures are needed, but also a common transformation strategy. Business and science-driven cluster initiatives must be supported across Europe. It is not too late for the European automotive industry to remain globally competitive. But for that to happen, we need to start now – and take all citizens with us". The draft opinion was adopted by the COTER commission and will be voted by the CoR Plenary in October.
The COTER meeting was hosted by the CoR members Daniela Cîmpean (RO/EPP), President of Sibiu County Council, and Adrian Ovidiu Teban (RO/EPP), Mayor of Cugir.
In Sibiu, local and regional leaders assessed also the European drone strategy through the related opinion drafted by Władysław Ortyl (PL/ECR), President of the Podkarpackie Region. Drones can serve local and regional authorities by contributing to sustainable and integrated mobility in cities and regions, reducing pollution and congestion and increasing mobility safety for local communities. The rapporteur of the draft opinion adopted by the COTER commission said: "The strategy recognises the need for action at every level, both regional and pan-European. The fact that the role of local governments in building a drone future is highlighted confirms that the European Commission takes a holistic approach to the topic. Although the European Commission recognises and points out the role of local governments, it was necessary to emphasise and clarify this role, which I did in my opinion on the strategy. The opinion expands on the recommendations mentioned in the strategy. I am convinced that our opinion will contribute to highlighting the importance of the task facing local governments in terms of preparing for a new reality with a greater role for drones at local level."
Moreover, COTER members asked the European Commission to table a new proposal to finally set up a European Cross-Border Mechanism (ECBM), a tool that has the potential to make life of citizens, workers and industries in border regions easier. The current proposal, backed by both the CoR and the European Parliament, is currently blocked by Member States. It is estimated that 30% of the European population lives in border regions. An opinion on the topic, drafted by Magali Altounian (FR/Renew Europe), President of the Europe commission of the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur Regional Council, was adopted during the meeting.
Both opinions are scheduled for vote and adoption at the CoR Plenary session in October.
The CoR also appointed Marie-Antoinette Maupertuis (FR/EA), President of the Corsica Regional Assembly, as rapporteur of an opinion on the current and future challenges of cross-border cooperation with countries neighbouring the EU.
A video recording of the press conference held on 22 June in Sibiu can be watched here.
A background document on the conference "Cohesion, our fundamental value for the future of Europe: regions and cities for a strong recovery and just transition" is available here.
Pictures of the Conference and the COTER meeting are available here.
Matteo Miglietta – European Committee of the Regions
Tel: +32 470 89 53 82
Anca Ghigulescu – Sibiu City Council