The own-initiative opinion aims at :
taking stock of the ongoing debates in many Member States about how to achieve equitable standards of living;
looking at how these efforts are linked with the EU Cohesion Policy instruments and strategies; and
making recommendations on how to better link both national and European efforts.
Special emphasis will also be given to overcoming the urban/rural divide and to address demographic change with a concerted effort of cohesion policies at all levels of government.
In the Presidency Conclusions of the German Presidency of the Council on the occasion of the informal meeting of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning and Territorial Development and/or Territorial Cohesion on 1 December 2020, the Ministers thanked the CoR for the opinion on „Equivalent standards of living as a joint challenge for all levels of government in Europe” (COTER-VII/004) and invited the CoR to initiate a dialogue how the coordination of EU policies and initiatives with a territorial dimension can be improved.
Further to the informal ministerial meeting and for the first time ever, the Council of the European Union adopted on 14 December 2020 specific Council Conclusions on urban and territorial development. These Council Conclusions also explicitly welcomed the opinion of the CoR on Equivalent standards of living.
The European Commission provided its comments to the policy recommedations included in the opinion in its 92nd Follow-up report to the Opinions of the European Committee of the Regions.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
– expresses its concern about the growing economic, social and territorial inequality within and between EU Member States. Recent developments in Europe have shown that the disparities between places and between people are increasing in terms of economic development, employment and well-being. These disparities can be seen at all levels, and have reached critical proportions;
– points out that the COVID-19 pandemic in the Member States is exacerbating the existing challenges, and that the economic and social consequences and the resulting prerequisites for recovery vary greatly between regions;
– stresses, therefore, that the objective of territorial, economic and social cohesion, as set out in Article 174 TFEU, must continue to be a high priority for the European Union and that all EU policy areas must contribute to this cross-cutting objective;
– calls on the Member States to further develop national cohesion policies and dovetail them with efforts at EU level, in close cooperation with local and regional authorities and in accordance with the partnership principle and multilevel governance;
– calls on the European Commission to take the same approach as national governments and entrench the goal of equivalent living standards at EU level, putting Article 174 and Article 349 TFEU into effect;
– calls for a European long-term strategy on territorial development, taking into account interactions between agglomerations, urban areas and rural areas;
– considers that the goal of equivalent standards of living should also be taken into account in the thematic focus of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), as well as the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD);
– calls for stronger links between the new Territorial Agenda 2030 of the EU and the new Cohesion Policy 2021-2027 in order to provide Cohesion Policy with a territorial strategic guiding framework to achieve a Green and Just Europe where no territory would lag behind.