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Deeper contact with citizens calls for fuller cooperation between levels of government in the EU  
Citizens dialogue in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, in 2017

​Citizens dialogue in Gabrovo (archive)

Constitutional-affairs committees of the European Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament share lessons drawn from the EU's period of reflection on its future. 

Members of the European Committee of the Regions told the European Parliament on 27 November that local and regional authorities can help to strengthen European democracy, reinforce trust in the EU project, and reduce the attraction of illiberal politics. They called for a continued drive to find the right level of government at which to respond to the demands of Europe's citizens, with a proper and proactive application of the principle of subsidiarity, and said that the EU needs a bigger budget in order to achieve better results. 

The comments were made during a debate on the future of the EU between the European Parliament's Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) and the CoR's Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX). On the same day, AFCO adopted a report on the state of the debate on the Future of Europe, drafted by Ramón Jáuregui Atondo (ES/S&D).  

This was the first official exchange of views between the constitutional-affairs committees of the EU's two political assemblies and drew on lessons gleaned from 18 months of citizens' dialogues organised across the EU by CoR members, many whom invited MEPs to join them in meeting voters in a variety of formats. The meeting came six weeks after the CoR adopted an opinion on the future of Europe. Among other recommendations, Karl – Heinz Lambertz, the president of the CoR and co-rapporteur of the opinion, has called for a system of structured permanent dialogues to strengthen direct contact between that EU, citizens, and local and regional politicians. 

Karl-Heinz Lambertz (BE/PES), president of the CoR and a member of the Belgian senate, told members of the AFCO committee – including its chairwoman, Danuta Hübner (PL/EPP) – that the process of building European democracy has three dimensions – European, national, regional/local – and that local government is too often neglected despite the great potential that local and regional politicians have to translate Europe into the language of the citizens. Local and regional politicians are typically the politicians most trusted by the electorate, Eurobarometer studies consistently show. He said that the recent intense collaboration between members of the CoR and the European Parliament showed the value of strengthening cooperation and of working together in finding a more coherent and consistent way of associating citizens into the political conversation. President Lambertz also reiterated the CoR's call for the EU's member states to invest 1.3% of GDP in the EU budget, to ensure adequate implementation of EU policies. 

Barbara Duden (DE/PES), member of Hamburg City Parliament and chairwoman of the CoR's CIVEX commission, said that  transparency, democracy and the rule of law at all levels should be essential in all discussions on the future of Europe. 

She also underlined the need for members of the European Parliament and other EU decision-makers to accept the importance of improving cooperation between the different tiers of government, and expressed the CoR's wish for regular exchanges with the AFCO Committee, including meetings with the entire 120-member CIVEX Commission. 

Eight other members of the CoR attended the meeting on 27 November: Arnoldas Abramavičius (LT/EPP) of Zarasai Council; Anthony Buchanan (UK/EA) of East Renfrewshire Council; Roberto Ciambetti (IT/ECR), president of the Veneto Regional Council; Gusty Graas (LU/ALDE) of Bettembourg municipality; Jerry Lundy (IE/ALDE) of Sligo County Council; Anna Magyar (HU/EPP) of Csongrád Megye County Council; Isolde Ries (DE/PES) of the Saarland Regional Parliament; and Spyros Spyridon (EL/EPP) of Poros municipality. 

In their interventions, CoR members highlighted feedback generated by the citizens' dialogues, including calls for improved communication about the EU, stronger solidarity, and a sharper focus on policies that increase European citizens' sense of ownership over what the EU does. CIVEX members also said that economic growth, security and migration were policy areas of particular concern in their communities.

Mr Jáuregui Atondo, the AFCO rapporteur on the debate on the Future of Europe, identified the possibility of engaging local and regional authorities better in the EU's decision-making process as one of a set of issues that the EU should consider. Other MEPs to speak included Elmar Brok MEP (DE/EPP), who welcomed the deeper cooperation with the CoR and emphasised the need to respect regional identities, and Jo Leinen MEP (DE/S&D), who supported the idea of institutionalising dialogues with citizens.