Local and regional decision-makers from all five political families in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), led by its President, Markku Markkula and First Vice President Karl Heinz Lambertz, engaged yesterday in a "youth citizens' dialogue" on populism and ‘cities of the future’. The two topics were chosen by young people from across Europe as a focus for their discussions with CoR members and the main European youth parties. The conclusions will feed into a CoR official contribution for the process of reflection on the European Union, launched by Donald Tusk, President of the European Council.
The dialogue took place in the context of the Youth Opinion Festival (YO!Fest) , the annual political youth-led gathering organised by the European Youth Forum, which brought together thousands of young people, including the trainees from the CoR who actively joined the debate on Europe's future. The event is a key highlight of " Europe Calling ", a year of events organised by the Dutch province of Limburg and the city of Maastricht to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht treaty - which paved the way for a deepening of European integration, including the creation of the CoR.
Addressing the young people, President Markkula said: " To restore citizens' trust in the European Union, regions and cities are depending on you – the young people! We are happy to engage with you in these bottom-up movements and it is encouraging to see that Europe still represents the best option in your eyes. But I also understand your worries about the lack of jobs, what is happening at our borders, and the state of the planet. I welcome your enthusiasm, which demonstrates that the EU citizenship – created, like the Committee of the Regions, with the Maastricht Treaty - is a part of your DNA in a way that my generation could only have dreamed of. We will make sure that your concerns and ideas are taken seriously and heard by the top EU leaders. "
CoR First Vice-President Lambertz insisted on the role that the young generation has to play in the debate about the future of Europe: " What we have learnt from the UK referendum was an urgent need to listen, in particular to our young people, in these debates. We must ensure that their voice matters ", he said.
Carina Autengruber , Youth Forum Vice-President, stressed that 2017 is an important year during which the new EU Youth Strategy will be shaped at EU level. She urged the CoR members to continue engaging with the young people so they can contribute to the success of the new Strategy.
Populism and ‘cities of the future’ were voted as the two most relevant topics for the debate with CoR members. Young people shared their views on the means to combat populism, including investing further in education, narrowing the poverty gap, delivering real solutions and communicating at the grassroots about current pressing challenges (e.g. immigration, climate change, energy poverty). Participants were also eager to reflect on how they envision the “cities of the future”, especially given the fact that, by 2050, it is estimated that about 80% of the world population will be living in urban areas. Inclusiveness, innovation, embracing new technologies, e-democracy, more self-government initiatives, sustainability and energy transition were among the main ambitions put forward by the participants.
To round off discussions with youth, representatives from the Yo!Fest will also actively take part in the CoR Plenary Session taking place on 9 February in Brussels on the occasion of a debate on the future of Europe and the ensuing adoption of a resolution on the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty . They have been given the opportunity to formally submit a "youth amendment" to the text so as to strengthen the CoR position from a youth perspective.
The CoR events in Maastricht kicked off with a visit to the Limburg's government building where the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992. As the Treaty provided for the creation of the CoR as a mean to provide local and regional authorities with a direct voice in EU affairs, CoR members took the opportunity of the visit to celebrate, take stock and reflect on Europe's future.
Welcoming the CoR delegation, King's commissioner for Limburg and CoR member Theo Bovens referred to the importance of the regions in the development of Europe: “For the first time, the Maastricht Treaty gave a role to the regions in advancing European integration. My experience is that regions can connect so much better than nations, and that international problems cannot be solved without looking at them from a regional perspective”. By way of example, he referred to the close cooperation between Aachen in Germany and Liège, Eupen and Hasselt in Belgium, in the field of cross-border police enforcement.
Annemarie Penn-Te Strake , Mayor of Maastricht, emphasised the fact that, “25 years ago, when the Maastricht Treaty was signed, the event gave rise to much optimism and positivism”, but that since then, “such optimism has diminished”. In this context she welcomed the “active role the CoR is playing in encouraging debates on the future of Europe”.
Notes to the editors
The CoR members who took part in the debate included:
- Tony Buchanan, Councillor East Renfrewshire Council, UK (EA)
- Luis Gomes, Mayor of Vila Real, Portugal (EPP)
- Rob Jonkman, Member of the Executive Council of Opsterland, Netherlands (ECR)
- Kata Tűttö, Representative of Local Government of District 12 of Budapest, Hungary (PES)
- Jean-Noël Verfaillie, Member of the Nord Departmental Council, France (ALDE)
The youth's concerns and ambitions about the future of Europe will feed into the CoR's recommendations to the European Council President Donald Tusk, who asked the CoR to draft an opinion on "Reflecting on Europe: the voice of regional and local authorities to rebuild trust in the EU" . The aim is to get a clearer perception of the reality from the ground in the context of the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome.
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