Europe faces great challenges and the cities and regions are often on the front line. Take the migrant crisis for example: on the ground, it is the cities and regions that must organize the initial response. In Catania, Athens, the Greek Islands and many other areas and countries, local and regional authorities have handled the reception of thousands of migrants under very difficult conditions.
I am convinced of the need to envision and rebuild Europe from the ground up. Local and regional stakeholders are among the best placed to assess the added value that the European Union brings to their citizens, and to communicate their wishes. This expertise and proactive force cannot be disregarded when contemplating the future of our Union.
We must work together at all levels and establish at which level decisions should be made and implemented, in the best interests of the citizens. This is the principle known technically as ‘subsidiarity’.
Just as the European level influences the local and regional levels, the local and regional levels can have a genuine influence on the Europe. Cities and regions must be fully involved in the drafting of EU policy and recognised as full-fledged stakeholders in Europe.
We must work together at all levels and establish at which level decisions should be made and implemented, in the best interests of the citizens. This is the principle known technically as ‘subsidiarity’, and is defended, at the European level, by the Committee of the Regions. However, those who wish to hijack this principle in order to dispossess the European Union of its powers in favour of the member states are mistaken. As I see it, we must bring Europe closer to its citizens, rather than weakening it. Crucially, this entails reinforcing the role of the cities and regions, in the interest of the Union.
Diversity in cities: a reflection of identity and the European project
There continues to be great economic and social disparity among Europeans. While physical security is fundamental to the wellbeing of European citizens, as the tragedies that have occurred in several European cities in recent years remind us, security must also be understood in its environmental and social sense.
Over one in five European citizens live households experiencing poverty or social exclusion. Urban spaces, in particular metropolises, are the most economically dynamic areas, but they are also the focus of the greatest inequalities. European cities have been hit harder by the crisis than rural areas, particularly in terms of unemployment.
Over one in five European citizens live households experiencing poverty or social exclusion
However, these figures must not lead us to forget the difficulties facing residents of rural areas, where access to public service often remains lacking. This is why the European Committee of the Regions supports balanced models of cooperation between urban and rural areas. The cohesion policy, alongside the “rural development” pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy, has proven its worth in fostering this balance, and we must therefore reinforce its influence on rural areas.
Threats to the cohesion policy
Budgetary negotiations are never simple, but the member states must agree on a European budget in the interest of their citizens. European women and men need a budget that protects them from the negative consequences of globalisation and promotes social and territorial cohesion, while also enabling them to face new challenges such as migration, climate change, the digitalisation of the economy and security.
The cohesion policy is a contribution to solidarity, essential to the strengthening of the European Union. With its management shared between Europe, the States, the regions and the cities, it is the policy best placed to provide concrete solutions to these new concerns and challenges. It is a forward-looking policy that works well.
By the end of the 2014-2020 budgetary period, this policy will have helped a total of 7.4 million unemployed people to find work, enabled 8.9 million Europeans to obtain a qualification, provided access to drinking water and the internet for millions of homes, supported 1.1 million small and medium enterprises, financed research projects, improved thousands of kilometres of roads and railways, and accomplished so much more.
It would be incomprehensible and dangerous to abandon a policy that supports European men and women so effectively. How can we build a Union without ensuring social, economic and territorial cohesion?
This is why the members of the Committee of the Regions call for a cohesion policy that encompasses all regions and continues to represent at least a third of the future European budget.
Cities: a laboratory for change
From an economic point of view, cities have the greatest resources in terms of research and innovation and are the most competitive. Almost all national capitals are the most developed cities in their respective countries.
Cities are also more energy efficient and present an opportunity to establish low carbon lifestyles. However, from the social point of view, even if improvements to public transport can reduce congestion, make companies more productive and connect deprived neighbourhoods; even if universities and training centres can assist in the integration of immigrants and refugees, promote innovation and bolster skills lacking in the labour market, cities remain unequal spaces.
And it is this situation that forces local stakeholders to seek new solutions. Some cities, such as Paris have iconic status, but everywhere I go I see the same desire to find new, pragmatic and innovative solutions among the stakeholders, municipalities, cities and regions.
In order to be a force for change, our local authorities must cooperate at a European level, exchange ideas and combine their strengths and talents. This is the aim of the Committee of the Regions.