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Marseille Summit - Day 1 - EU’s cities, regions need to help Ukraine “now, not in 10 or 20 days”  

​​​​​​ Medical and food supplies needed urgently, Ukrainian aid coordinators says as EU’s bank promises money within days and EU cities and regions pledge support.

The European Summit of Cities and Regions opened on 3 March with a first-day agenda dominated by the war in Ukraine and by issues critical to developing the European Union’s resilience. There was universal solidarity for Ukraine, with pledges of humanitarian aid to the citizens of Ukraine refugees and support for Ukraine’s local and regional administrations. The urgency of the situation was underscored, in a direct call from Kyiv, by the Ukrainian Association of District and Regional Councils, which called for humanitarian aid “now, not in 10 or 20 days”.

The summit, which brings together governors and councillors from across the EU as well as leaders of EU institutions, was preceded – on 2 March – by the adoption of a declaration by the European Committee of the Regions, co-organiser of the summit. The summit itself, co-organised with the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, will result in a manifesto that will feed into the EU's year-long reflection on its policy priorities as well as its democratic functioning, the Conference on the Future of Europe. Issues ranged from support for cities and regions outside the EU to strengthening the EU’s ability to withstand any future pandemic.

Speaking from a besieged Kyiv, Yurii Andryichuk, coordinator of humanitarian aid at the Ukrainian Association of District and Regional Councils, said: “We have problems in Mariupol and other cities, but we are going to stand strong”. Mr Andryichuk continued: “We need your assistance. If possible, we need it quickly, now, not in 10-20 days. We have opportunities to coordinate with all regional and municipal councils”, to bring in aid, and to send aid “to all 24 regions”.

Aleksandra Dulkiewicz (PL/EPP), mayor of Gdańsk, which is twinned with the besieged port city of Mariupol, said that local and regional authorities in Ukraine were asking for medical support and food supplies in particular. “Our Ukrainian colleagues are extremely well organised,” she said.

Within the EU, cities and regions are now helping one million refugees, 600,000 of whom have entered via Poland. Mayor Dulkiewicz said that support “will be desperately needed” to support orphanages and children evacuated from Ukraine. The particular plight of children was also identified by Emil Boc (RO/EPP), mayor of Cluj-Napoca and former prime minister of Romania (2008-12), who said that there are 18,000 children among the 50,000 Ukrainians now in Romania. (Another 70,000 who crossed the Romanian border are in other EU countries.)

Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank, said that the bank intends to “provide immediate liquidity support to the Ukrainian authorities, by disbursing close to 700m euros” from re-directed credit lines. If approved tomorrow (4 March), “the Ukrainian authorities will start to receive these funds on their bank account” within three days. In the longer term, he pledged, the bank “will help to rebuild whatever the Russian army knocks down and help put in place the new critical economic and social infrastructure needed”.

Apostolos Tzitzikostas (EL/EPP) President of the European Committee of the Regions and Governor of Central Macedonia, condemned “what is happening near our eastern borders in Ukraine”, calling it a “human tragedy caused by an invasion, ordered by a ruthless regime that has lost sense of reality. A regime that is scared. Scared of democracy. Scared of freedom… This is the moment to stand as one with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”

Similar concerns and sentiments were expressed by other speakers, including: Renaud Muselier, president of the Region Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur; Clément Beaune, France’s secretary of state for European affairs; Jacqueline Gourault, French Minister for Territorial Cohesion and Relations with Local and Regional Authorities;Carole Delga, president of the Regions of France; Martine Vassal, president of the Métropole Aix-Marseille-Provence and Bouches-du-Rhône Departmental Council;Benoit Payan, mayor of Marseille; and André Viola, head of the French delegation to the European Committee of the Regions. Representatives from Marseille and the south of France particularly highlighted the city’s and region’s history as a refuge for those fleeing conflict.

“We can no longer allow ourselves to depend on Russian energy supply”, said Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission. “Our most important task, as public authorities, is to provide security to our citizens. There is one man who is threatening us. Putin’s war is not just a war on Ukraine; it is a war on our values, on our way of how we think we need to live together. So standing together to confront him, to stop him, is the most essential task we have collectively today.”

In the second plenary session of the day, Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, said cohesion funds would be used to help soften the impact of the war in Ukraine. But she also emphasised long-term challenges that must be addresses by the EU’s cohesion funds – the EU’s regional-development policy – and in particular highlighted the “development trap” into which regions of southern Europe are falling, in part because of a lack of innovation.

A red thread of changes necessary to strengthen the EU's resilience at the local and regional level ran through the nine parallel roundtables held during the day. They were:

  • External relations: In two separate roundtables – on a renewed Mediterranean Partnership and on enlargement – speakers and participants emphasised the importance of forging long-term relationships, as is the case with Ukraine, with cities and regions, with a particular focus on bottom-up efforts to improve governance and local democracy. Speakers at the two roundtables included the president of United Cities and Local Government, a member of the European Parliament, and local and regional leaders from Albania, Bosnia, Croatia France, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia,
  • Health: A roundtable on ‘ Boosting health resilience’ found general agreement, drawing on the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, to give the EU greater powers to ensure that the Union is better prepared for a future crisis. Speakers included representatives from the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the French government, hospitals, and vaccine producers as well as the governor of the Ionian Islands' Region.
  • Economy: The economic recovery package put together by the EU because of the pandemic came under scrutiny in the “Cities, regions and recovery plans” roundtable. For the recovery to be a success, cities and regions must be given a greater say – a problem repeatedly highlighted by regional leaders from France, Italy and Spain and a representative of maritime regions.
  • Digital: The overarching message from a roundtable entitled ‘Digital makings of resilient communities’ was that 'digital' issues should be embraced as a new dimension of European cohesion, on equal footing with social, regional and territorial cohesion. Politicians from regions and cities in Bulgaria, Finland, France, and Germany shared the platform with representatives of the European Parliament, the European Investment Bank, and of digital industries.
  • Climate: A young climate activist -- Anuna de Wever Van der Heyden – joined the mayor of Warsaw and officials from the United Nations and the French foreign ministry at a roundtable on “Anticipating, preventing, adapting: Territories and climate risks”. A shared conclusion was that local and regional authorities should have a greater role in the design and implementation of social, climate, environmental, energy and digital policies in areas that fall under their competences. There were also calls to give regions and cites direct access to EU funding.
  • Territorial development: Changes and challenges linked to demography, connectivity, industry, tourism, and urban-rural gaps are driving the emergence of new models of development in Europe. Speakers at the roundtable included the leaders of the Community of Madrid, the Assembly of European Regions, Italian Conference of Regions, Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies, as well as the president of the PES group in the CoR and the director of ESPON.
  • Rural EU: In a session devoted to the EU’s efforts to support a rural revival, speakers highlighted the key changes needed to revitalise rural communities and narrow the urban-rural gap. Speakers came from regions in Spain and France, national governments in France and the Czech Republic, and the European Parliament.
  • Border regions: In a roundtable entitled “ Cross-border cooperation by 2050”, speakers set out a long-term picture of how the EU’s border regions can develop and identified obstacles that the EU should work to remove. Cities, regions and organisations represented on the podium came from Belgium, France, Poland, the Association of European Border Regions, and the European Parliament.

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