Local and regional leaders warn that Europe will never reach its goals over the years 2021-27 without increasing resources to 1.3% of EU27's gross national income (GNI), a position shared by the European Parliament. They oppose cuts to the EU's cohesion policy and agriculture, and urge Member States and EU institutions to make new means available for cities and regions to invest in jobs, climate action and integration.
On 9 October the European Committee of the Regions – the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives – adopted its position on the European Commission proposals for the next EU long term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) which set expenditure ceilings for all EU policies for 2021-2027.
During his “State of the Union: the View of Regions and Cities" address the CoR's President, Karl-Heinz Lambertz stated, “We need an ambitious EU budget that gives regions and cities the means to deliver an ambitious Europe. What is certain is that we cannot do more with less which is why we all need to contribute a little more to the EU purse. There are budget constraints, Brexit and Member States who balk at contributing more though it is modest for a population of 510 million. But we must aim high because time is short. Crucially, we need the EU budget agreed by the next EU elections as time-wasting is creating uncertainty, just when Europeans need prospects for the future".
In the opinion drafted by Nikola Dobroslavić (HR/EPP), Prefect of Dubrovnik-Neretva County, regions' and cities' representatives welcome the results-focused approach of the new MFF and call for its timely adoption before the 2019 European elections in order to launch the new programmes without delay in the beginning of 2021. The Committee regrets that the Commission proposal seeks to transfer funding from programmes shared in partnership between EU, national and regional actors (shared management), towards programmes and initiatives managed directly by the Commission. "This transfer risks to promote a top-down Europe, deaf to the actual expectations of citizens, far away from the daily life of local communities", said the rapporteur. Alongside the MFF opinion, CoR members are examining the legislative proposals for each specific fund and have delivered their first change requests
The Committee welcomes the proposed increase of EUR 100 billion in funds for research and innovation through the new Horizon Europe Framework Programme, but is concerned that there is a risk that inequalities will grow between cities and regions that benefit from the programme and others who will suffer the consequences from a fall in cohesion funds.
"The steps taken to close the gaps between regions and promote access for all to Horizon Europe are insufficient to improve the level of scientific excellence in Europe as a whole and not just in a few large regions and cities.", said the CoR rapporteur on Horizon Europe, Christophe Clergeau (FR/PES), Member of the Pays-de-la-Loire Regional Council, adding that “synergies with other EU programmes should be built on the principles of coherence, compatibility, complementarity, co-construction and ecosystems. This will make it possible to share the choice of major objectives, to combine and rationalise resources, to ensure a clear division of roles, to design, finance and pilot projects together and to recognise the role of local collective initiatives." In this sense, cities and regions strongly oppose the fact that the option of transferring a share of cohesion policy funds to the Horizon Europe programme is systematically decided by the Member States and not by the managing authority concerned, which is often a region.
With regards to migration, in the opinion drafted by Peter Bossman (SI/PES), Mayor of the Municipality of Piran, the CoR gave a cautious and nuanced welcome to proposed reform of the Asylum and Migration Fund (previously called the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund). While recognising that greater "efficient and coordinated migration management" is "key", the assembly warned against "an excessive emphasis on border control" – the proposals suggest 40% of funds should be spent on countering irregular migration – at the expense of reform of the asylum system, management of legal migration, and efforts to improve integration. It criticised the political relegation of integration – demonstrated by the decision to drop the word "integration" from the fund's title – and insisted that one-third of the fund should be dedicated to legal migration and integration. The CoR was also critical of the continued marginalisation of cities and regions, noting that, even though "most short-term integration measures are the responsibility" of local and regional authorities, the Commission has not answered "repeated calls" for those "partially responsible" to manage the fund.
Local and regional leaders are seriously concerned about the proposed heavy cuts for cohesion policy and rural development (around 10% and 28% respectively). Inadequate funding would result in growing disparities across Europe, particularly affecting those regions that are facing demographic challenges. The Cohesion Fund and the European Social Fund, according to the CoR, would be the worst affected. Furthermore, the implementation of EU Structural and Investment Funds – the operational tools of cohesion policy – risks being seriously hindered by the proposed reduction for advance payments (pre-financing) as well as the increase introduced in the volume of matching funds requested to national governments and regions (co-financing).
Regarding the specific proposal for territorial cooperation, CoR members disagree with the proposed cut. The weakening of a popular programme as INTERREG would have, according to CoR rapporteur Marie-Antoinette Maupertuis (FR/EA), Executive member of the Corsican regional authority, a negative impact in a phase when Euroscepticism is on the rise.
CoR members also call for the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund to be allocated 1% of the post-2020 European budget, instead of the current 0.53%, increasing its funding by 6.8%. The rapporteur, Nathalie Sarrabezolles (FR/PES), President of the Finistère Departmental Council, welcomes the fact that the new regulation enables sustainable fisheries and maritime policy to be continued but regrets the insufficient funding and lack of ambition for a policy that is essential to the European Union's development.
Environment, climate and energy
According to the CoR, challenges such as environmental protection and climate change risk to be inadequately addressed by the new EU budget. This is due to the cuts envisaged for the Common Agricultural Policy, to insufficient emphasis on climate protection and adaptation within the LIFE programme, and to the low spending target proposed for the overall investment on climate actions (regional and local representatives want to replace the proposed 25% threshold with a more ambitious, 30%). "We welcome LIFE's 60% budget increase, worth €5.45 billion over seven years", said LIFE programme rapporteur, Marco Dus (IT/PES), Member of Vittorio Veneto Municipal Council, arguing that "We must however consider that clean energy programmes which today are under Horizon 2020 will be part of the future LIFE programme. Together with the European Parliament, we ask therefore for an even greater increase, up to 6,78 billion. We call for European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) to be also eligible as consortia, and demand that former Horizon 2020 projects retain the same funding coefficient under the new LIFE programme, which is 100% for cities and regions".
With regards to the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), in the opinion led by the Vice-president of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Regional Council, Isabelle Boudineau (FR/PES), EU regions and cities propose to simplify and improve the procedures for projects' validation. A pre-validation system should avoid local and regional authorities invest time and resources in the preparation of projects that do not have chances to be eligible for CEF financial support. As for the delicate issue of the corridors map, local leaders prepared a list of additional links that would require support by the new CEF. The list aims at rebalancing the current coverage and show how strong is the demand for improving connectivity in order to increase economic competitiveness, reduce CO2 emissions, boost territorial cohesion, as well as adapt EU's networks to the post-Brexit scenario.
Rights and values programme
In the opinion prepared by the Vice-president of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie Regional Council, Francois Decoster (FR/ALDE), the Committee supports the focus of the European Commission on human capital and common European values but call for a stronger attention to local communities. "Innovative forms of action must increase citizens' engagement and participation, in particular aimed at local and regional elected representatives.", said the rapporteur, stressing that: "A training and mobility programme for local and regional elected representatives as well as a network of Europe Contact Points based on the existing Austrian model would allow for better informing local politicians on European issues, enabling them to better respond to citizen's expectations and combat people's lack of engagement with European issues." In order to launch such initiatives, the Committee demands more funds for the programme, increasing the line for "Engagement and citizens participation" from the proposed 233 million to 500 million.
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