The members of the European Committee of the Region's commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) discussed and adopted opinions on "Equivalent standards of living" and the "European Year of Rail 2021". At the meeting on 10 July, members also exchanged their views on the challenges for public transport in cities and metropolitan regions.
Recent trends have revealed a trend towards increasing disparities in economic development, employment and wellbeing between places and between people in Europe. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the existing economic, social and health challenges regions, cities and local communities face and has left them with reduced financial means to start their recovery, thus potentially reinforcing existing disparities.
In the draft opinion on "Equivalent standards of living as a joint challenge for all levels of government in Europe", rapporteur Bernd Lange (DE/EPP), underlines that greater attention should be paid to small and medium-sized towns, which are anchor points in sparsely populated areas and provide essential public services of general interest and critical infrastructure that significantly improves the attractiveness of rural areas. He wants to ensure that a high level of public infrastructure and public services are available in all Member States as well as all local and regional authorities. The rapporteur emphasises that living standards, quality of life and business development are highly dependent on the accessibility, affordability and quality of public services and infrastructure.
"I am pleased that we are talking about equivalent living conditions. Rural and urban areas are not in competition, we must not play them off against each other. We should rather work together at all administrative levels to promote a balanced territorial development in all Member States, regions and local authorities", said Bernd Lange, Head of Görlitz District Council.
One of the most important infrastructure priorities for economic, social and territorial cohesion is the availability of sustainable and affordable transport networks. In the draft opinion on the "European Year of Rail", rapporteur Jarosław Stawiarski (PL/ECR), puts emphasis on the differences of infrastructure and quality between Central and Eastern European countries and the rest of the EU, and calls for a coherent EU-wide strategy to encourage investment to reduce disparities and gaps in rail systems.
"Rail transport is one of the most sustainable, energy-saving and safest means of transportation. It should be emphasised that transport policy should focus not only on projects to expand the network with new railway lines, but also on the modernisation and improvement of the parameters of the current railway infrastructure", said Jarosław Stawiarski, President of the Lubelskie Region.
COTER members also had a first exchange of views on the "Challenges for public transport in cities and metropolitan regions" with the rapporteur and the European Commission. Members debated the role of local and regional authorities in shaping urban mobility of the future, tackling problems like air pollution, capacity constraints or congestion. The decarbonisation of public transport and possible co-financing with the EU as well as problems triggered by the COVID-19 crisis were also among the topics discussed. The outcomes of the debate will feed into the draft opinion prepared by Adam Struzik (PL/EPP), Marshal of the Mazovian Voivodeship, which will be adopted at the next COTER meeting on 24 September 2020.
The draft opinion on "Equivalent living standards" and the "European Year of Rail" will stand for final approval by all members of the European Committee of the Regions during their plenary session on 12-14 October 2020.
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