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Response to the State of the Union speech by President Ursula von der Leyen  

​by Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions

The European Union cannot succeed without regions and cities. It is local and regional authorities that are bringing the EU through the COVID-19 pandemic. It is cohesion between regions that is the heart of European solidarity. It is the engagement by regional and local politicians that will deliver the more ambitious targets for climate change announced yesterday. I am confident President Ursula von der Leyen will build an even stronger partnership with our Committee as it is the one million regional and local elected politicians who are Europe's safety net, who are key actors in managing the pandemic and who will be crucial actors in fostering our recovery.

Learning from the COVID-19 crisis

Europe's regions and cities continue to be on the front line in the fight against COVID-19. Through our Committee, the 350 regions and 90,000 municipalities in the EU already called for a stronger European Health Union in March. We are building communities which are not just resilient in the face of the virus, but are adapting to the societal changes of digitalisation and migration, and creating new opportunities for young people. But let's not forget the key lesson from the COVID-19 crisis: it is no longer enough to build our European Union with Member States alone: making regions and cities part of the "change by design" is a pre-condition for success. 

A new climate in Europe

The new 55% 2030 climate target is an important stepping stone to making the EU climate neutral by 2050 because we know the urgency of the climate emergency and feel it  in our communities. We support greener, more sustainable policies because we know the benefits: our communities are embracing this challenge and are being re-paid with more local jobs, and an improved sustainable way of living. Regions and cities were at the heart of calls for the EU's Just Transition Fund. We need to be the brains behind its implementation so no region is left behind.

A new budget for Europe

We welcomed the EU member states' agreement this summer on a long-term budget and a recovery package. We now urgently need a swift agreement in the discussions with the European Parliament, to ensure that we can continue implementing programmes and projects without interruption and launch new initiatives without delay.

There can be no excuse for delay at what is a crucial moment for the EU and a traumatic one for many of ours citizens. The outstanding issues should be resolved in a way that leads to a braver, greener and fairer EU and that involves regions, cities, and citizens on all issues that require action in local communities. 

Putting cohesion back into the heart of the European Union

It is deeply regrettable President von der Leyen did not directly refer to regions and cities or to the value and importance of the EU's cohesion policy. This was a speech founded on European values and cohesion is a fundamental EU value. This means cohesion between countries, between regions and cities, between metropolitan and rural areas, between local authorities either side of borders. The response to the pandemic has demonstrated that better cooperation between local, regional, national and EU authorities is not just desirable, but life-saving. The crisis has widened gaps between regions, both within member states and across the EU. Before COVID-19, cohesion policy was helping narrow many of these gaps; in the recovery phase, cohesion policy is more vital than ever.

Strengthening democracy starts in regions and cities

This speech claimed to show what is possible when we trust each other and trust the European institutions. Local and regional authorities are more trusted than national governments in every EU Member State and more trusted than the EU in most Member States. We are the foundations of European democracy that is underway across Europe. It is underway in Germany with the local and city mayor elections last weekend. It is underway in Italy with the regional elections this weekend. It continues with the Czech Regional Assemblies the weekend after.

What is the state of the EU's regions and cities?

We can never understand the state of the EU, without understanding the state of its people and the territories they are living in. The European Union is not just a union of Member States, it is also a union of regions and cities. That is why next month we will publish a new Annual Regional and Local Barometer. On 12 October at our next plenary, we will be honoured to address President von der Leyen, drawing on a wealth of evidence about the effects of the pandemic on the health, economies, and political attitudes of the regional and local communities that make up the European Union.

 

Contact:

Michele Cercone

Tel. +32 498 982 349

michele.cercone@cor.europa.eu