Food, health, terrorism and crisis-response policies in focus as local and regional leaders consider ways to increase their communities' resilience.
The European Committee of the Regions' Commission for Natural Resources (NAT) met for the first time after the summer break to discuss sustainable tourism and the responses needed at EU level to face the challenges posed by the Coronavirus and its impact on local communities. At the meeting on 18 September, members also adopted opinions on the Farm to Fork strategy, on EU4Health, on rural revival and on the EU's civil-protection mechanism – all policies with the potential to help build resilient communities across the EU. Members of the commission also exchanged views on agro-ecology.
The Coronavirus – COVID-19 – remains a major concern for local and regional authorities across Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly demonstrates not only the added value of European and local agriculture and the importance of a food security system that draws mainly on supplies from Europe's rural territories, but also the necessity of improving cooperation in the health area and through the civil-protection mechanism.
The members of the NAT commission adopted the following draft opinions:
'Towards more sustainable tourism for EU cities and regions', drafted by Manuel Alejandro Cardenete Flores (ES/Renew Europe), Deputy Minister for Tourism, Regeneration, Justice and Local Administration of the Regional Government of Andalusia: Tourism generates jobs and wealth across the European Union. It can, however, also have a negative impact on the environment or on society, if not managed properly. In the COVID19-crisis, tourism was and still is one of the most severely hit economic sector with dramatic negative consequences. This opinion on "Sustainable Tourism" takes a look at both sides of this debate, showing ways out of the current tourism crisis towards a more sustainable and resilient tourism of tomorrow. "If Europe fails to lead the way with this change, the rest of the world will not do so. We need to implement a strategic framework for action for a more robust tourism that is committed to sustainable development." stressed the rapporteur. Adoption is planned at the CoR's plenary session on 9-10 December 2020.
'From farm to fork – the local and regional dimension', presented by Guido Milana (IT/PES), Member of Olevano Romano Municipal Council (Rome): The Farm to Fork strategy for sustainable food is a pillar both of the European Green Deal – a flagship initiative of the EU – and of the EU's recovery plan. The Farm to Fork strategy will cover every link in the food chain, from production to consumption. Guido Milana said: "The COVID-19 pandemic showed up some major cracks in our food system. The Farm to Fork strategy will be crucial to changing it in a way that is sustainable from an environmental, economic and social point of view. The inclusion of cities and regions is necessary to support producers and workers, help the many who cannot afford healthy diets, protect our environment, promote short supply chains and encourage better food distribution. Farmers and fishers will be crucial to meeting the ambitious targets we have set and we need to make sure no one is left behind." Adoption is planned in the plenary session of 9-10 December 2020.
EU4Health Programme drafted by Nathalie Sarrabezolles (FR/PES), Member of Finistère Departmental Council: "The EU programme EU4Health aims to strengthen Europe's health systems to respond better to future major cross-border crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Besides better protection against and management of crises by strengthening member states' health systems and delivering better care, the EU4Health programme also aims to improve health and foster innovation and investment. "The COVID-19 pandemic showed us a clear lesson: people needs a stronger European Health Union. The EU4Health programme is proof that we can do better to improve our readiness to face future health crises and to reinforce health systems in our territories. For this reason, the 82% cuts operated by the European Council in the EU4Health budget are completely unacceptable. As cities and regions, we call on the European Parliament to defend this priority that can make a difference in people's lives," Sarrabezolles underlines. The opinion is to be adopted at the CoR's next plenary session, in 12-14 October 2020.
EU Strategy for Rural Revival, drafted by Cllr Enda Stenson (IE/EA), Member of Leitrim County Council: The current pandemic has added dimension and urgency to the quest for rural revival in regions across the European Union. This crisis has exposed and exacerbated the consequences of a number of long-standing threats faced by rural areas. Firstly, prolonged depopulation has left rural areas deserted and feeling neglected by EU policies, said Mr Stenson. "The new long-term vision for rural areas must be transformed into a concrete policy framework. This Rural Agenda should propose a set of integrated policies that enable and empower rural communities to turn challenges into advantages; these challenges include decarbonisation, climate change, digitalisation, generational change, integration of new migrants and social innovation. I hope that the European Commission will react very quickly and implement the measures we have outlined to make sure that people can live, work and raise a family, with access to relevant services, in our wonderful rural communities," said the rapporteur. Adoption is planned in the plenary session of 9-10 December 2020.
Members discussed the priorities of the German Presidency with Ms Judith Conrad, Ministry of Agriculture, Germany. Department for Rural Development and with Mr Norbert Lins (DE/EPP), Chairman of the EP AGRI committee.
A Reinforced Union Civil Protection Mechanism drafted by Alberto Cirio (IT/EPP), President of the Piedmont Region: "The pandemic that the world has experienced changed our lifestyle and like in any extreme experience, it has shed light not only on the strengths and weaknesses of our health systems, but also on our capacity to respond to large-scale emergencies. The strengthening of the coordination capacities envisaged by the proposed modification of the European Civil Protection Mechanism are consequently strongly needed not only to intervene promptly and effectively when a crisis is underway, but even more so to mitigate the effects of a crisis promptly. The opinion of the CoR, of which I am proud to be rapporteur, moves precisely in this direction: to make this instrument even more effective and responsive to the needs of Europe, starting with enhancing the potential of the territories and local communities that compose it," Mr Cirio stresses. The opinion is to be adopted at the CoR's next plenary session, in October 2020.
Members exchanged views on the "Agro-ecology", an upcoming opinion to be drafted by Guillaume Cros (FR/GREENS), Vice-President of the Regional Council of Occitanie. The agro-ecological approach is relevant to the response to the challenges posed by the pandemic: it reduces the carbon footprint of agriculture, supports restoring natural and agricultural biodiversity, maintains or restores soil fertility, and increases the economic resilience of developing farms, in particular by encouraging short supply chains.
The NAT commission appointed Joke Schauvliege (BE/EPP), Member of the Flemish Parliament, to serve as its rapporteuron the "Experiences and lessons learned by regions and cities during the COVID-19 crisis" and Paula Fernández Viaña (ES/RenewEurope), Member of the Government of Cantabria, to be rapporteur on "A new approach to the Atlantic maritime strategy – Atlantic action plan 2.0".
The effects of COVID-19 in the EU's regions and the challenges faced by local and regional authorities as a result will be the subject of the first Annual Regional and Local Barometer, which the President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) – Apostolos Tzitzikostas, Governor of Central Macedonia – will present at a speech at the CoR's plenary session on 12 October. The Barometer draws on specially commissioned studies as well as other research to provide a detailed assessment of the crisis and of some of the major political and policy issues raised by the crisis.
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