The opinion answers to the referral of the President of the European Council Donald Tusk on 8 November 2016, asking the CoR to bring into the debate on the future of Europe the input of local and regional authorities. The referral mentioned the need to "show political leadership in order to rebuild trust in the European project" and wished to receive a real perception of the reality from the European grassroots level.
Though the opinion was adopted in late 2018, its impact in the same year can be deemed relevant, as its preparation took almost two years of political debates and consultations of citizens, LRAs and their associations. Political work and communication activities have been carried out in parallel.
By the adoption of the opinion, through the campaign "Reflecting on Europe" over 176 CoR members had organised Citizens' Dialogues in which over 40.000 participants took part in person or digitally. More than 22.000 citizens have taken part in the discussion through an online survey and over 540 local and regional authorities responded to a survey on the future of Europe. Debates on the future of Europe were held in CoR Commissions and Plenaries; a study commissioned by the CIVEX Commission to the London School of Economics (LSE), encompassing a consultation of relevant stakeholders, including all CoR members and alternates, local and regional authorities, regional parliaments and LRA associations at national and European level was carried out.
The main findings of the opinion have been presented twice to the AFCO Committee of the European Parliament: on 10 October, on the occasion of the Interparliamentary Committee Meeting between the European Parliament and national Parliaments, and in the Joint AFCO – CIVEX debate that took place on 27 November.
On 4 December 2018, the opinion was delivered to the European Commission Secretary General, who attended the CoR Bureau meeting and on the next day to the President of the European Council .
On 14 December 2018, the President of the CoR and the President of the EESC presented a proposal on "Bringing the EU closer to its citizens: The call for an EU permanent mechanism for structured consultations and dialogues with citizens". They proposed to build upon the experience developed in the Committees and in other EU institutions by establishing an EU permanent structured consultation with citizens, cities, regions and civil society organisations during the next EU institutional cycle (2019-2024), which would be managed by an EU inter-institutional working group.
The "Reflecting on Europe" campaign was acknowledged in the report on the main findings of the different consultations at EU and Member State level submitted to the European Council in December 2018. In its conclusions of 14 December 2018, the European Council welcomed the holding of citizens' dialogues and citizens' consultations and considered them an "unprecedented opportunity to engage with European citizens, which could serve as an inspiration for further consultations and dialogues".
The debate on the future of the European Union continued in the 8th European Summit of Regions and Cities on 14-15 March 2019 in Bucharest, organised by the CoR together with the Romanian delegation to the CoR and the Romanian presidency of the Council of the EU. The Summit - attended by about 1000 delegates, including 640 elected politicians - was thematically framed by the three key concepts of the CoR's "Reflecting on Europe" opinion (democracy, solidarity, proximity) and discussed a wide range of concerns and ideas of local leaders about the future of Europe through four plenary sessions and six thematic debates. he Summit Declaration "Building the EU from the ground up with our regions and cities", adopted by the Bureau on 14 March 2019, forms the backbone of the CoR’s next steps and strategic orientation towards its next term of office (February 2020 to February 2025).
See also pages 8-26 of the follow-up report to the opinions adopted by the European Committee of the Regions during the plenary session of October 2018, drafted by the European Commission: https://cor.europa.eu/en/our-work/Documents/Opinions/83rdfollow-upreportECOct_2018.pdf
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- Acknowledges the importance of listening to citizens' and local and regional authorities' concerns and meeting their expectations, in terms of an EU project built on more solidarity, cohesion and proximity;
- Signals that despite the fact that over two-thirds of respondents are convinced that their country has benefited from being a member of the EU, there is a widespread frustration with the EU, as the Union is often perceived as too remote and not trustworthy. At the same time, many people still feel that they do not know what the EU is and what it is doing. This is leading to a significant gap between people's expectations and the EU's ability to deliver. There is a lack of perceived benefit in tackling local issues, also partly due to weak communication, as well as misleading narratives and vocabulary used when addressing citizens and poor involvement in the decision-making process;
- Underlines the strong call of local and regional representatives to be fully involved in the definition and implementation of the EU project and for empowering EU action through the proper application of the subsidiarity principle; is reassured by the final report of the Task Force on Subsidiarity and Proportionality which stresses a new understanding of "active subsidiarity";
- Reiterates in this respect that anchoring EU policies locally makes a difference to people's lives;
- Considers it essential to build our union from the bottom up: the way forward for a democratic revival of the EU is possible through a grassroots engagement;
- Insists that facilitating citizens' participation in EU policies and co-creating a permanent dialogue with people beyond 2019 is crucial to for increase increasing the democratic legitimacy of the EU and to for bringing Europe closer to its citizens;
- Stresses the necessity need to ensure room to manoeuvre for cities and regions with a European post 2020 budget that meets ambitions and uses flexibilities to act and invest.