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EU local leaders fact-finding mission at Polish/Ukrainian border highlights urgent need to help regions and cities assist refugees fleeing war's atrocities  

​​​The presidents of the political groups of the European Committee of the Regions gathered today in Rzeszów, Poland on a fact-finding mission to assess the needs of local communities and help shape measures to address the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

Common rules and fast-tracked access are needed to maximize the impact of €17 billion EU support package on the ground: this is the message delivered by leaders of the six political groups in the European Committee of the Regions at an emergency meeting near Poland's border with Ukraine on 6 April attended by Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions, Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Younous Omarjee, chairman of the European Parliament's committee on regional development, and Tetiana Yehorova-Lutsenko, chairwoman of the Kharkiv District Council. The meeting was hosted by the president of the Podkarpackie Region, Władysław Ortyl, and the mayor of Rzeszów, Konrad Fijołek.

Tetiana Yehorova-Lutsenko, Head of Kharkiv Regional Council, opened the meeting with these words: " I am here not just as a representative of Kharkiv regional council, but as a woman and mother of two children who spent many days in the basement when Kharkiv was attacked with missiles. Kharkiv has experienced what could not have been imagined in our worst nightmares; in the 21st century, we could not have imagined such a war. This is a war not just against the whole of Ukraine, but against Europe and the civilised world. "

Władysław Ortyl (PL/ECR), president of the Podkarpackie Region, said: " I am very glad that the members of the Committee of the Regions together with its president, came to Podkarpackie, to a region that directly borders with Ukraine. At the border crossing, they saw what the drama of war is. This is an unimaginable situation in the 21st century. From the very start of the war, Poles have opened their hearts, showed solidarity, brought every help possible to Ukrainians. All of Europe now needs to show such solidarity. I am glad that the appeal of the Polish group in the Committee of the Regions was widely echoed, and that support from the European level will also be given to brave Ukraine .”

Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions, said: " At the Polish/Ukrainian border, I met mothers and children forced to leave their homes to flee the Russian army's atrocities. I have also witnessed the huge work done by the Polish people and their Mayors and Regional Presidents to provide shelter. They deserve immediate and effective support. The EU’s €17 billion support package comes from five funding tools with different procedures and timings that put at risk its smooth implementation by local beneficiaries on the ground. Therefore, I proposed to Commissioner Elisa Ferreira to envisage together an 'EU Ukrainian Refugees Local Facility', not as a new fund, but as an operational tool to cut red tape and fast-track local leaders’ access to current funds in order to deliver the results expected by refugees and local communities.''

Younous Omarjee (FR / GUE/NGL), the head of the European Parliament's committee on regional development, said: " The European Council, as the Parliament, must start consider new and much more powerful responses, as we did with Covid crisis, because the macro-economic and social consequences of this war on the longer term will be huge, especially in relation to Cohesion objectives ".

The presidents were accompanied by members of the CoR's Working Group on Ukraine , which is led by the mayor of Gdańsk, Alexandra Dulkiewicz (PL/EPP). The meeting brought together governors of three Polish regions, two Polish cities, and local governors and mayors from the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.

The European Committee of the Regions launched an Info-Support Hub to match needs and offers of support: EU local and regional authority who want to offer help or need support can contact the hub.

The EU's member states this week gave the green light to changes in rules governing the disbursement of long-term regional development funding, to enable the use of these funds to address the needs of refugees. This flexibility means, for example, that schools and hospitals will be able to access money that was left over from the EU's budget for 2014-20, or that is available from the COVID-19 economic recovery package. Applications will also be received for activities that began on 24 February 2022, the date on which Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. European institutions estimate that the set of changes will make almost €17 billion available.

Other members of the European Committee of the Regions who attended were: Olgierd Geblewicz (PL/EPP), president of West Pomerania Region and president of the EPP group; Christophe Rouillon (FR/PES), mayor of Coulaines and president of the PES group; François Decoster (FR/Renew Europe), member of the Regional Council of Hauts-de-France and president of the Renew Europe group; Bernd Voss (DE/Greens), member of Schleswig-Holstein State Parliament and co-president of the Greens; Krzysztof Iwaniuk (PL/EA), mayor of Terespol, on behalf of the president of the European Alliance group; Pavel Branda , (CZ/ECR), deputy mayor of Rádlo; Antje Grotheer (DE/PES), vice-president of Bremen City Parliament and rapporteur on revised Schengen area governance; Anna Magyar (HU/ECR), member of the County Council of Csongrád Megye and rapporteur on enlargement; Adrian Ovidiu Teban (RO/EPP), mayor of Cugir City; Rastislav Trnka (SK/EPP), chairman of Košice Self-Governing Region; Marek Woźniak (PL/EPP), president of Wielkopolska Region; and Hanna Zdanowska (PL/EPP), mayor of Łódź.

A video of the meeting can be watched here.

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