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Local and regional authorities are key actors to promote equality in the European Union  

​​​In the framework of the debates that feed into the Conference on the Future of Europe, members of the CoR commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs – CIVEX – discussed on equality as a building block of European democracy. They argued that local and regional authorities play an important role in building up an inclusive democracy and equality because they are the level of governance closest to citizens and can have an influence on these issues. The CIVEX commission also adopted an opinion on better EU law-making emphasising that the territorial dimension of EU policies must be bolstered and that local and regional authorities should be involved in every stage of the EU decision-making process, notably by using the RegHub implementation reports as a tool for examining the legislative proposals.

Two days after the European Citizens Panel of the Conference on the Future of Europe gathered in Strasbourg to discuss "European democracy, Values and rights, rule of law and security" , the EU value of equality was debated by CoR members of the CIVEX commission. The debate "equality as building block of European democracy" focussed on how local and regional authorities can promote inclusive democracy in their constituencies, allowing their citizens to enjoy equal opportunities and participate fully in public life, feeling safe and free from fear of any kind of discrimination.

The potential of LRAs to improve the functioning of democracy by making it more inclusive is significant, as they interact with their constituents on a daily basis, in places where their everyday life happens and where, ultimately, equality of all citizens is enforced or neglected. In this respect, the cooperation with civil society organisations and the involvement of young people are important assets.

Joaquín Almunia , former member of the European Commission, member of the CoR High Level Group on European Democracy who was speaking at the debate, commented: "Social exclusion affects one out of five citizens in the EU. This is the main driver for inequalities in our societies. The EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights are very explicit about our values, one them being equality. But, so far, EU policies are not very relevant in this regard. The lack of inclusiveness is at the origin of a negative feedback loop, between social exclusion and political participation. The lower are the levels of political participation, the worse are the quality standards of our democracies. I would like the Conference to support that the EU must strengthen its capacity to act in those areas, notably by better associating local and regional authorities."

Leonie Martin , President of Young European Federalists – JEF Europe, added: "The idea of the EU being a union of values has been harmed in recent years. The Conference is therefore the necessary opportunity to commit to a Rule of Law mechanism and Fundamental Rights to protect rights of anyone, in particular minorities. But there are other angles of striving for equality in the Conference too: How can we for instance speak of equality when during European elections, one citizen can vote by mail ballot, and the other cannot? JEF Europe wants equality for all, in a Conference for all and is happy to support regional authorities in achieving that goal.”

Speaking about gender equality, Concepción Andreu Rodríguez (ES/PES) , President of the Regional Government of La Rioja, CoR rapporteur on "A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025" , said: “For a long time women have been a token presence in legislative assemblies. Politics in Europe is still in the hands of men and we need to change it. Let us change the focus, legislate and work for equality. No one can stay out of democratic processes, let alone women. We therefore call on the European Commission to facilitate women’s access to regional and local electoral processes”.

The CoR, through the mobilisation of its members in the Conference on the Future of Europe and beyond, can facilitate and encourage initiatives aiming to promote inclusive democracy and the principle of equality, as well as the exchange of best practices. Local and regional authorities should be recognised as strategic partners in the design, implementation and monitoring of the various strategies, thus bringing to light local and regional differences and contributing to the adoption of appropriate measures. In this respect, the CoR has launched together with the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) and the city of Gdańsk, the first Paweł Adamowicz Award, to be given to a city leader, civic leader or organisation working at local or regional levels to promote freedom and solidarity, equality and non-discrimination. The award ceremony will take place at the CoR's December plenary.

Since the Conference is a unique opportunity to rethink and reform the way EU legislation is made, the CIVEX members also adopted during the meeting the draft opinion "Better regulation: Joining forces to make better laws" . CoR rapporteur Piero Mauro Zanin (IT/EPP), President of the Regional Council of Friuli-Venezia Giulia said: "Local and Regional Authorities know that recovery and growth is too often undermined by administrative and regulatory burdens. LRAs and the CoR can actively contribute to a “Better regulation” system through simplification. Better regulation must incorporate multi-level governance: the involvement of all authorities with legislative power, responsible for implementing EU rules. This is a prerequisite for high quality legislation. Including strategic foresight into the policy-shaping process will be fundamental, and it will be also useful to further strengthen the RegHub network. Its consultations create an environment for the exchange of good practices, making RegHub a better regulation instrument itself".

The opinion proposes ways to put this territorial approach into practise by involving the CoR, like the continuation of the work of CoR rapporteurs of the CoR in the F4F Platform , the collection of input from local and regional authorities such as with the network of RegHubs that could be activated for directives and regulations on which consultations and reviews have been organised in order to support the implementation of these texts. Moreover, the CoR considers that the Commission's public consultations should be publicised more widely, including through the LRAs' with a view to collecting requests and input from end users of pieces of legislation that have territorial impact like National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs) and the Green Deal objectives. The opinion will be adopted in CoR Plenary on 1-2 December.

Background:

The CoR adopted opinions on the five communications published by the European Commission under the Union of Equality:

- Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, rapporteur: Concepción Andreu Rodríguez, adopted in October 2020

- EU anti-racism action plan 2020-2025, rapporteur: Yoomi Renström (SE/PES), adopted in May 2021

- EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation, rapporteur-general: Jácint Horváth (HU/PES), adopted in February 2021

- LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025, rapporteur: Kate Feeney (IE/Renew Europe) tabled for adoption at the plenary session in October 2021

- Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities rapporteur-general: Daniela Ballico (IT/ECR), adopted in May 2021

Latest CoR opinions on democracy and fundamental rights:

- European democracy action plan , rapporteur Aleksandra Dulkiewicz (PL/EPP), adopted June 2021

- Strategy to strengthen the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the EU, rapporteur Jean-Luc Vanraes, (BE/ Renew Europe), adopted in June 2021.

The CoR as EU body has adopted a gender strategy in 2018 that is being updated on regular basis.

In March 2018, the CoR Bureau adopted a “no male-only panel policy for own, hosted and co-organised events and conferences.”.

In the opinion A Union of Equality: Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, the CoR “ asks the EU institutions, including the Committee of the Regions, to adopt codes of conduct favouring the participation of women and men on equal terms with regard to composition and leadership positions, with the ultimate aim being gender parity between CoR members."

In the Strategy for a gender balance in Members’ participation in the CoR, the CoR Bureau recommends “ (…) to take account of gender balance when nominating members and alternates in order to reach gender parity at the level of the membership as a whole."

Contact:
Marie-Pierre Jouglain
mariepierre.jouglain@cor.europa.eu
Mobile: +32 473 52 41 15

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