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Interventions from delegates of local and regional authorities at the March plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe  

On 11 and 12 March, the fourth meeting of the plenary of the Conference on the Future of Europe took place et the European Parliament in Strasbourg. A total of 88 recommendations from the European Citizens’ Panels no 1 which covers three of the nine topics of the Conference (a stronger economy, social justice, jobs; education, youth, culture, sport; digital transformation) and no 4 which covers two (EU in the world and migration) were debated. Citizens from Ukraine were also given the floor.

One week after the adoption of the Manifesto of regional and local authorities for European democracy at the European Summit of regions and cities that sets out how 1.2 million local and regional politicians see the future European Union, delegates from local and regional authorities proposed both by the European Committee of the Regions and by territorial associations and other regional and local stakeholders intervened in both in working groups and in Plenaries on these five topics.

EU in the World

Ukraine dominated discussions in the 'EU in the World' plenary. Apostolos Tzitzikostas (EL/EPP), President of the European Committee of the Regions and Governor of Central Macedonia, spoke about the "terror" and destruction unleashed by the war, highlighting the response of regions and cities and how this experience should inform the European Union's approach to foreign policy and crisis management. In his speech​, he emphasised that "A future European foreign policy needs to look beyond the capitals and offer a special role and adequate resources to the regional and local level," and he and voiced his support for "increased strategic autonomy of the EU".

Mark Speich (DE/EPP), secretary of state for federal, European and international affairs for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, voiced support for efforts to reduce the EU's dependence on Russian oil and gas, saying "we have to cut off the lifeline of Putin's war machine". However, he insisted that a "support mechanism" would be needed for "those regions that will bear the cost".

Education, Youth, Culture and Sport

In the working group and the plenary session on education, youth, culture and sport, Kieran McCarthy (IE/EA), member of Cork County Council and president of the European Alliance group, emphasised the potential of the EU's New European Bauhaus project, which attempts to connect the European Green Deal and communities by rethinking the way in which we live together. This has, he said, "so much potential to really make a difference to blend" together cultural elements such as art, architecture, film, music, storytelling and literature.

"United in diversity is more important now than ever before with the tragic and inhumane events in Ukraine. It also symbolises a European Union rich with many different cultures, traditions and languages. A richness which we need to nurture, promote and safeguard", Mr McCarthy further stated.

During the plenary session, different speakers underlined the need to promote the sense of European belonging and identity and to secure these values for the future of Europe. Emil Boc (RO/EPP), Mayor of Cluj-Napoca, pointed out that education and culture are the "foundations of our European way of life" and "best antidote to intolerance, ignorance, racism or violence". "Education and active citizens build strong democracies. Lack of education, ignorance and passive citizens pave the road for dictatorship and authoritarian regimes", he warned.

Mr Boc also underlined the need to take strong action at EU level to reduce regional disparities in education and to tackle the issue of brain drain. "No-one in Europe should be forced to leave his city or region for economic reasons", he stressed.

A stronger economy, social justice and jobs

In the plenary on "A stronger economy, social justice and jobs", participants highlighted the need for a stronger economy in light of the war in Ukraine. The impact that sanctions in Russia will have on the European economy will show that the EU needs to strengthen and create a more sustainable economic model. Sustainable energy should therefore be the focus to become more independent from external energy suppliers. Christophe Rouillon (FR/PES), Mayor of Coulaines, underlined the importance of a human and social dimension in the energy transition and that "we have to make sure that the EU is more independent. We don’t want to be reliant on Chinese or Russian energy in the future."

He also emphasized that "territorial cohesion is part of the EU's DNA. Countries that have joined the EU in the past 20 years have improved their living standards due to the European cohesion policy. We need to encourage local employers to have a more social policy towards their employees to set common values for children, young people and elderly in the future." Citizens and politicians debated that local businesses should work together more on a European level and share their expertise to improve productivity and ensure a fair work life balance with reasonable work conditions.

Digital transformation

During the plenary session on digital transformation, Roberto Ciambetti (IT/ECR), President of the Council of the Veneto Region, underlined that the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war in Ukraine are showing the need to protect EU citizens from the spread of fake news. "I am not talking about censorship but looking at verified information", he clarified. Mr Ciambetti also called on the EU to promote personal data protection from third countries interferences: "We absolutely need to make sure that our sensitive data is not managed by multinationals or third countries that could use them for business purposes or to increase political instability in our countries".

The need for clear rules for big tech companies, the call for the access to stable and fast internet connection all around Europe – including in rural and disadvantage areas -, and the proposal to regulate teleworking with a "human centric approach", were the other main topics highlighted by the citizens and politicians during the plenary debate.

Migration

The massive flow of refugees from Ukraine was also a central topic in the working group on migration, whose rapporteur is Cees Loggen. Speaking on behalf of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, Mr Loggen – a former member of the CoR – welcomed the "unprecedented decision by the EU Council to trigger a Temporary Protection Directive for the first time since it was adopted in 2001". He added, however, that the refugee crisis "highlights that the current EU asylum system needs to be completely overhauled", and that "building capacity at the local and regional level is key".

More information, webstreaming links and pictures can be found here.

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