ISSN 1977-091X

doi:10.3000/1977091X.C_2013.139.eng

Official Journal

of the European Union

C 139

European flag  

English edition

Information and Notices

Volume 56
17 May 2013


Notice No

Contents

page

 

I   Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

 

RESOLUTIONS

 

Committee of the Regions

 

100th plenary session, 11-12 April 2013

2013/C 139/01

Resolution of the Committee of the Regions on The future global approach to ending poverty and giving the world a sustainable future

1

 

OPINIONS

 

Committee of the Regions

 

100th plenary session, 11-12 April 2013

2013/C 139/02

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Synergies between private investment and public funding at local and regional levels

4

2013/C 139/03

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on A stronger European industry for growth and economic recovery

11

2013/C 139/04

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on EU Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty

17

2013/C 139/05

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on EU support for sustainable change in transition societies

22

2013/C 139/06

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Enlargement strategy and main challenges 2012-13

27

2013/C 139/07

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Unleashing the potential of cloud computing in Europe

35

2013/C 139/08

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Devolution in the European Union and the place for local and regional self-government in EU policy making and delivery

39

2013/C 139/09

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Enhancing and focusing international cooperation in research and innovation

46

2013/C 139/10

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Rethinking Education

51

 

III   Preparatory acts

 

COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

 

100th plenary session, 11-12 April 2013

2013/C 139/11

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived

59

EN

 


I Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

RESOLUTIONS

Committee of the Regions

100th plenary session, 11-12 April 2013

17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/1


Resolution of the Committee of the Regions on ‘The future global approach to ending poverty and giving the world a sustainable future’

2013/C 139/01

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

welcomes the Communication ‘A Decent Life for All: Ending Poverty and Giving the World a Sustainable Future’ and fully supports the aim of establishing an overarching framework for future global development policy that integrates socio-economic development and environmental sustainability and also addresses justice, equality and equity, peace and security;

2.

points to the benefits of a sustainable pattern of development; it offers a myriad of opportunities to boost growth, create new jobs, green the economy, improve human development services, enhance prosperity, reduce social exclusion and maintain the environment cleaner and healthier;

3.

believes that, although considerable progress has been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), much remains to be done; recalls that even in times of economic downturn 85 % of EU citizens believe that Europe should continue helping developing countries (1); calls for maintaining efforts towards reaching the MDG until 2015 and also supports the related process towards the development of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and reiterates its support to make 2015 the ‘European Year for Development’ to ensure the follow-up to the MDGs;

4.

shares the view that the Millennium Declaration remains relevant and has proven that problems can be tackled if efforts are concentrated and coordinated at the appropriate levels; believes that it is crucial to involve all key players, and in particular sub-national authorities both in developing and in donor countries, in the development and implementation of the necessary policies and programmes to improve their delivery and to contribute to sustainable development and inclusive growth;

5.

therefore agrees that the future framework should build on the strength of existing goals and targets and remain focused on eliminating the multiple dimensions of extreme poverty, while taking into consideration the shortcomings of the MDG and the crucial changes within the global landscape during the last decade, notably the growing importance of:

(i)

new stakeholders such as emerging countries, private sector, foundations, civil society organisations and in particular subnational authorities (2), as well as,

(ii)

increasing global challenges, including, security, environmental degradation, climate change and energy needs;

6.

agrees that goals set in the future should be limited in number and global in application, and should ensure ownership at all levels of government. Emphasises that, in order to remain understandable to the widest possible public, they should also be simple, clear and measurable;

7.

notes, however, that the nature of the poverty challenges in different countries vary considerably; as a consequence is convinced that shared and common goals do not exclude the need for specific policies and means respecting the specific context of a zone, country, region or sub-national area;

8.

believes that one important reason for partly missing the MDG are the social disparities and inequalities within many developing countries due to the lack of democracy and political accountability, as well as due to widespread corruption. The instability and insecurity in some countries hinder reaching the MDG; calls therefore on the EU to actively promote its fundamental values of democracy, human rights and the principles of rule of law through its development policy and recalls the important role of subnational authorities in identifying and addressing short-comings in implementing human rights, promoting democracy and fighting corruption;

9.

underlines the need to implement a global partnership for development, which involves all parties, is people-centred and uses a participative and inclusive bottom-up approach; calls on the EU lead by example and adopt a unified and coherent position which reflects the input and participation of all levels of governance;

10.

underlines that it is subnational authorities that provide the public with many of the services that are essential to meeting the millennium goals such as the health system, sanitation, education, transport and energy systems and water and waste management and that, consequently, these have a major impact on the future framework's results;

11.

with a view to peace and security, recalls that modern diplomacy is not expressed and practiced by national governments alone, and that in view of the need for dialogue, cooperation and coordination, there is a vital and growing role of city diplomacy. With this tool, local authorities can promote social cohesion, environmental sustainability, conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation;

12.

expresses concern that the European Union, according to recently published OECD figures, has reduced its overall development aid in 2012 (by 2.3 billion Euro or 4.3 % compared to the previous year). Even though the EU is still the world's largest donor, and the economic crisis in some member states is partly responsible for this reduction in aid, the CoR calls on the EU and the Member States to continué the efforts for the EU to reach its 2015 UN Commitment of allocating 0.7 % of gross national income to aid – with the recent cuts, the percentage stands at 0.43 % and only a few member states meet the 0.7 % target;

13.

recalls that subnational authorities increasingly conduct an autonomous active development cooperation policy and that although their overall contribution is far greater than their financial contribution, some have already set themselves the target of devoting 0.7 % of their resources to cooperation efforts with developing countries, while some have also set up own funding mechanisms to respond to specific needs;

14.

welcomes that ‘the role of local authorities in linking citizens with government and in ensuring broad-based and democratic ownership of countries' development agendas’ is internationally recognised in the Busan Declaration and more recently in the Rio+20 Outcome document where they are described as strategy developers, decision-makers and implementors of sustainable development policies;

15.

reiterates the message given in its opinion on the contribution of the EU's local and regional authorities to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 (Rio+20) (CdR 187/2011), namely that it would like to see a development and revival of the Agenda 21 work. The local Agenda 21, which was initiated after the Rio Summit in 1992, is a good example of a grassroots process that has produced good and lasting results in the form of both concrete measures and greater insight into, and increased involvement in, sustainability issues among society's players;

16.

recalls the CoR's active contribution to the Rio+20 conference, both in leading towards the Rio summit and as part of the EU delegation, showcasing what can be achieved through initiatives like the Covenant of Mayors and European Green Capitals; draws attention to the Memorandum of Understanding it has signed with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on this occasion to further generate synergies between the different levels and improve the implementation of the Rio+20 Declaration; will continue in this regard to participate as an observer in the EU Delegation to the relevant Conferences of the Parties;

17.

reiterates its vision that subnational authorities must be fully recognised as relevant governmental actors alongside national governments and UN entities in the institutional framework for sustainable development; calls in this context to create a standing committee for subnational and local governments either within the UNEP or the Intergovernmental High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development (HLPF);

18.

recalls that recognising their role, and to reinforce development aid effectiveness, in 2008 the European Commission called for the first time for the development of a holistic approach to local authorities as actors in development at global, European and national level; welcomes the Commission's efforts at EU level in this respect, and its intention to update this strategic shifting of its relationship with the aforementioned authorities through a specific Communication on Local Authorities in Development in Spring 2013;

19.

calls for future strategies, in particular in the EU, to take into account the potential of multilateral decentralised cooperation, including instruments such as the Portal of decentralised cooperation to map activities and best practice, and enable information exchange in order to match skills and capacities with needs, and the Assises of Decentralised cooperation for political dialogue, in addition to specific representative political assemblies for neighbourhood countries as ARLEM for the Mediterranean and CORLEAP for the East;

20.

commits itself to continued support towards better promotion and integration of European schemes such as the Covenant of Mayors and the European Green Capitals and similar schemes in other parts of the world and global programmes, such as the new UNEP Resource Efficient Cities initiative or the recently launched EU-China partnership for sustainable urbanisation and the Local Agenda 21 at a global level, and in particular in its relations with EU enlargement and neighbourhood countries;

21.

welcomes the European Commission's recognition of the goal of ‘moving towards sustainable, resilient cities’ as drivers for inclusive and sustainable growth; recommends that the future SDG include a concrete target for the sustainability of cities; calls on the EU to continue working on the key issue of sustainable urban living and to support cities and subnational authorities in their efforts to adapt to climate change and develop their resilience and disaster response and prevention capacities based on the necessary competencies and resources, since they are often the first line of response to natural or man-made disasters;

22.

instructs the President of the Committee of the Regions to submit this resolution to the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Council, the President of the European Commission, the Irish Presidency of the EU and the forthcoming Lithuanian Presidency of the Council.

Brussels, 12 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  Special Eurobarometer 392, October 2012.

(2)  The present resolution uses the term ‘subnational governments authorities’, as it is used in the UN context (where regions are rather understood as world regions). Within the context of the EU, this means ‘local and regional authorities’.


OPINIONS

Committee of the Regions

100th plenary session, 11-12 April 2013

17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/4


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Synergies between private investment and public funding at local and regional levels’

2013/C 139/02

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

agrees that combining grants with Innovative Financial Instruments potentially provides an innovative approach through which overall costs and risks of projects/investments can be reduced, and calls on local and regional authorities to think imaginatively as to how these different ‘tools’ can be used to optimise the support to key investments on the ground;

underlines the key role played by the EIB as the EU's long-term financing institution in supporting PPPs within the EU, and in providing expertise and knowledge to the development and implementation of a range of InFIs at EU level, in co-operation with the European Commission;

welcomes the EUR 10 billion capital increase decided in 2012 which will allow the EIB to provide up to EUR 60 billion in additional lending;

welcomes the new ‘framework loans’ and ‘structural programme loans’ instruments introduced by the EIB. These instruments could prove critical for financing LRAs by allowing the funding of a portfolio of investments and thereby overcoming the barrier of the project size;

recognises there have been teething problems in the uptake of the InFIs in the Structural Funds programmes and identifies a number of factors that explain this low take up, including lack of awareness and understanding of the opportunities, need for a ‘cultural shift’ for management authorities away from grants towards financial instruments, and concerns around the complexity of the regulatory framework, including state aid legislation;

welcomes expansion of the scope of InFIs for 2014-2020 to all types of projects, to all thematic objectives and investment priorities covered by Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes, and to all CSF funds;

highlights the growing interest of LRAs in developing multi-regional funds in the context of macro-regional strategies with EIB;

requests the extension of the project bonds initiative (PBI) until 2020 and expansion of its scope to include other sectors than just trans-European networks, once an evaluation has been undertaken of the pilot phase;

recommends the European Commission to clarify the applicability of State Aid rules to InFIs;

Rapporteur

Rhodri Glyn THOMAS (UK/AE), member of the National Assembly for Wales

Reference document

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

Introduction

1.

asserts that despite growing optimism that the worst of the Eurozone crisis is behind us, there remain major challenges and obstacles to stimulating economic recovery across the EU, particularly in terms of availability of public and private finance to support key investments;

2.

argues that the EU has a key role to play in helping to restore confidence in the economy, by creating framework conditions to help mobilise the limited public and private resources available to stimulate key investments at the local and regional level, and address the ongoing shortfall in availability of finance and credit to SMEs, without which the aspirations to achieve Europe 2020 and the Pact for Jobs and Growth will fail;

3.

reiterates, as was set out in the opinion of the Committee of the Regions on Creating greater synergies between EU, national, and subnational budgets adopted on 31 January 2013 (1), the central role and responsibilities of local and regional authorities (LRAs) in the European recovery effort, given LRAs are responsible for a substantial share of public expenditure in Europe (16.7 % of GDP and 34 % of all public spending in 2011, and accounting for two thirds of direct investments during 2011 (2)), much of which is concentrated in key priority areas at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy (such as economic affairs, education, environment, housing and community amenities);

4.

highlights the growing importance of and interest in public private partnerships in financing projects (PPPs) (3) and innovative financial instruments (InFIs) (4) as a potential mechanism through which to help unlock key investments;

5.

welcomes, therefore, the role that the European Commission is playing to stimulate the use of PPPs and InFIs, by providing a policy framework that supports and encourages use of such instruments, and mobilising the EU budget to increase the available ‘public’ finance at LRA level;

6.

underlines central role of the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the growing public bank sector across the EU in supporting a coherent and comprehensive ‘policy driven’ investment environment;

7.

notes that despite its relatively small scale, the EU Budget and the EIB have a key leverage role in stimulating investments across the EU territory, in particular (though not exclusively) through the ‘Common Strategic Framework’ (CSF) Funds that are delivered and implemented at the territorial level (in many cases by LRAs), and which generate an important ‘multiplier’ effect on the economy;

8.

notes the ambition of the European Commission to potentially double the leverage effect of Structural Funds investments over the 2014-2020 to EUR 4.2 per EUR 1 invested by the EU, with initial indications that the share of ERDF taken by InFIs could increase from 5 % to 15 %;

9.

welcomes the continuation of the ‘revolving’ fund approach for CSF funds, which has the potential to create a ‘legacy’ fund at the territorial level; calls for consideration to be given to how a ‘revolving’ fund approach could be developed effectively for InFIs run through centrally managed programmes supported by the EU Budget (e.g. in COSME and Horizon 2020);

10.

welcomes the stronger political priority given to InFIs in the 2014-2020 Multi-annual Financial Framework and accompanying proposals; encourages LRAs (and Member States) to optimise this supportive regulatory framework – in particular through the strengthened and clarified rules for the CSF Funds delivered through shared management at the territorial level;

11.

agrees with the Special Report prepared by CEPS at the request of the European Parliament (5) that InFIs should not be seen as a panacea for all types of interventions at the local and regional level, underlining they are only suitable for projects with potentially profitable financial returns and that they should not be seen as substitutes for grants, but rather as means of enhancing the scope of the EU budget;

12.

agrees, furthermore, that combining (or ‘blending’) grants with InFIs potentially provides an innovative approach through which overall costs and risks of projects/investments can be reduced, and calls on LRAs to think imaginatively as to how these different ‘tools’ can be used to optimise the support to key investments on the ground;

Rationale, justification for, and benefits of PPPs/InFIs

13.

asserts that the rationale for PPPs and InFIs is motivated by a number of factors, beyond the potential key role such approaches may have in supporting the EU economic recovery. The core logic behind PPPs is potential to achieve shared benefits, common goals and objectives, in a way that would not be possible or desirable without the pooling of public and private interests. The logic behind InFIs is to provide a more structured support, establishing schemes with set rules and objectives, that can be used to target particular beneficiaries/groups (e.g. SMEs through micro-finance; R&D projects; urban development schemes);

14.

asserts that market failure provides an important rationale behind the public intervention logic, as a means to alleviate risk, incentivising private sector engagement, and enabling investments to take place that otherwise would not happen. This rationale is evident in InFIs aimed at providing SMEs with access to microfinance, for example;

15.

argues strongly, however, that market failure is not the sole or necessarily underlying driver for such actions, and that there may also be a wider public policy objective as the core rationale for interventions, such as focusing on long-term goals rather than short-term gain, focusing on environmental (e.g. clean energy) or social objectives (alleviate poverty, tackle social exclusion), albeit such investments may in turn lead to new markets and economic activity (such as development of renewable energy sector, urban regeneration etc.);

16.

calls on the European Commission to give greater clarity in the legislative and regulatory framework behind PPPs/InFIs to this public policy rationale, and to give greater clarity about the application of State Aids rules and public procurement legislation, which can act as barriers to participation by LRAs in such initiatives. Where there a clear public policy rationale is present, EU competition rules should not impede or act as a disincentive to such interventions being taken forward;

17.

underlines that the public sector is democratically accountable: in principle it takes a long-term view on viability of investments, focusing on ensuring core public objectives and values are respected, and lowering risk by providing a relatively safe-environment for private sector to invest; whilst private sector partners bring new finance, commercial awareness and expertise, innovative and entrepreneurial skills;

18.

notes that for private investors, including Pension Funds, one of the potential attractions of investing in PPPs/InFIs, particularly in the current economic climate, given the high uncertainty in financial markets, is that the public sector engagement can lower the perceived risk of the investment. Furthermore the involvement of the EIB/EU funding has the potential to lower perceived risk further, through ‘external’ verification of the quality of the planned investments;

19.

calls on the European Commission to explore further the potential for EU level action aimed at mobilising pension fund investments behind the EU recovery plan;

20.

asserts that as a consequence of the irresponsible financial investments that led to the financial crisis in 2008, and the drive over the past 3-4 years to reform the financial services sector in Europe, there is a clear recognition of the need to focus on long-term and sustainable investments, and avoid the abuses and excesses of the past;

21.

underlines, therefore, the core need to defend and respect public objectives and interest in public private partnerships; notes, however, that without private investors there cannot be a public private partnership, and that rules governing PPPs and InFIs must be developed in a way that incentivises participation by private partners;

22.

asserts that there is a strong move towards new models of ownership, aimed at delivering policy-driven investments to the benefit of citizens at the local and regional level, whilst respecting the need to achieve cost-based returns and long-term viability and sustainability rather than maximise short-term profit at all costs, building on a strong tradition of public banks in the EU which represents over 20 % of the EU banking sector (for example KFW and the network of regional banks in Germany; Caisse des Dépôts in France; and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti in Italy) (6);

23.

notes in this context the emerging Scandinavian model of agencies for financing LRAs: BNV (Netherlands), KommuneKredit (Denmark), Kommunalbank (Norway), Kommuninvest (Sweden), Municipality Finance (Finland). Though they very much differ in terms of the level of involvement of the respective central government and thus the level of control exercised by that government and the level of risk it assumes (7), they provide an interesting alternative route for the financing of LRAs' investments, including in partnership with the private sector: in the case of Finland for instance, Municipal Finance is 16 % owned by the State, 31 % by Finnish public pension funds and 52 % by the municipalities. Within Wales there is an emerging debate about the potential to create a publicly owned Wales Investment Bank;

Role of the European Investment Bank

24.

underlines the key role played by the EIB as the EU's long-term financing institution (and the world's largest multilateral borrower and lender – working with over 150 non-EU states) in supporting PPPs within the EU, and in providing expertise and knowledge to the development and implementation of a range of InFIs at EU level, in co-operation with the European Commission (including JEREMIE, JESSICA, ELENA and the RSFF facility; as well as technical support facilities such as JASPERS and JASMINE);

25.

underlines the value the EIB brings in terms of an investment based approach, the flexibility to tailor support and lending around individual packages, the ability to offer professional advisory support and technical expertise to public authorities, and to offer good terms to clients due its AAA rating on international financial markets;

26.

highlights the broad portfolio of EIB support available and range of different types of interventions including direct loans to projects (where in excess of EUR 25 m), intermediated loans through local banks, venture capital, microfinance schemes etc. and its policy-driven approach to investments, focusing on overarching EU priorities to develop SMEs, address economic/social imbalances, invest in the natural/urban environment, the knowledge economy, support to Trans-European Networks, and sustainable energy supply in the EU;

27.

notes that more than 90 % of EIB activity is focused on Europe but that it plays an important role in implementing the financial aspects of the EU's external and development policies, which is welcomed by the Committee of the Regions;

28.

highlights the growing importance of the EIB-funding since the late 1990s evidenced in the increased lending over the past decade, and in particular witnessed during the financial crisis of the past 4-5 years;

29.

notes that by mid-2000 EIB's annual lending had increased from ECU10 bn in 1998 to EUR 45 bn, jumping to EUR 79 bn in 2011 (peak year) to offset falling private investment during the crisis. By the end of 2011 the total value of ongoing, outstanding loans had increased by over one-third to EUR 395 billion; the EIB played a pivotal role in making capital available across the EU, and supporting investments in a number of struggling Eurozone countries, including Greece, Portugal and Spain;

30.

welcomes the EUR 10 billion capital increase decided in 2012 which will allow the EIB to provide up to EUR 60 billion in additional lending;

31.

underlines the value of having such an asset at the EU's disposal, able to respond flexibly and quickly to changing circumstances, to adapt and develop new support programmes accordingly; reiterates the importance in the current economic climate of having an EU Institution that undertakes policy-based investments, aimed at meeting core EU objectives, on the basis of ‘not-for-loss’ rather than ‘maximise profit’ approach;

32.

congratulates the European Commission and the EIB for developing a suite of InFIs during the 2007-2013 and firmly embedding the principle that EU funding has a clear role and added value to play through these InFIs, complementing and going beyond the traditional grant based; notes that by the end of 2011 a total of 592 InFIs had been developed in all Member States with the exception of Ireland and Luxembourg;

33.

welcomes the new ‘framework loans’ and ‘structural programme loans’ instruments introduced by the EIB. These instruments could prove critical for financing LRAs by allowing the funding of a portfolio of investments and thereby overcoming the barrier of the project size (normally the minimum loan amount is EUR 25 million);

34.

calls on the European Commission to explore extending this approach to the EU budget with financial instruments allowing a bundle of small projects to be ‘securitised’ (inter alia to issue project bonds, which the European Council agreed in its conclusions in June 2012, including a pilot phase project for the current financial framework as well as reference to the ‘Connecting Europe Facility’ as an example of where this could potentially happen during 2014-2020);

35.

welcomes the steps being taken to ensure a strong and close relationship between the EIB and Committee of the Regions, given the EIB's increasingly important role in supporting economic investments at LRA level;

Bottlenecks to use of public private partnerships and innovative financial instruments

36.

recognises there have been teething problems in the uptake of the InFIs in the Structural Funds programmes during the 2007-2013 period evidenced in the external evaluation report for the European Commission on the progress made in financing and implementing financial engineering instruments co-financed by Structural Funds;

37.

identifies a number of factors that explain this low take up, including lack of awareness and understanding of the opportunities, need for a ‘cultural shift’ for management authorities away from grants towards financial instruments, including approaches to risk, perceived complexity of instruments and methods of participation, and concerns around the complexity of the regulatory framework, including state aid legislation;

38.

notes specific concerns from cities and urban authorities with regard to development of JESSICA instruments during 2007-2013 programming period, centring on tensions between the management authorities for the programmes and the city authorities; welcomes, therefore, the greater clarity and scope within the draft regulations for 2014-2020 for sub-regional programming and ‘integrated territorial investments’, which should means cities/urban areas are better able to develop JESSICA schemes in the future;

39.

notes some views expressed in the evidence gathering phase that the EIB should take a stronger role, within its portfolio of investments, in supporting ‘riskier’ projects/initiatives;

40.

underlines the importance of supporting new and emerging technologies, including policy priorities such as the development of key enabling technologies in the EU (including the photonics sector for example); calls on the European Commission and EIB to ensure that PPPs and InFIs during 2014-2020 will give sufficient prioritisation to new and emerging technologies, as part of a longer-term investment perspective for Europe;

Simplifying, streamlining and enhancing instruments at EU level (including CSF Funds)

41.

notes that in the context of the 2007-2013 period a wide range of different thematic instruments have developed, in a confusing and ad hoc way, as different Directorates-General have sought to introduce new methods of finance;

42.

welcomes the efforts by the European Commission to streamline and simplify the range of InFIs available for the 2014-2020 period;

43.

welcomes expansion (8) of the scope of InFIs for 2014-2020 (as set out in Articles 32-40 of the draft Common Provisions Regulation) to all types of projects, to all thematic objectives and investment priorities covered by Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes, and to all CSF funds; looks forward to seeing strong widespread take up of these provisions, including in rural development and maritime programmes;

44.

welcomes in particular the removal of the prohibition of financing a project from more than one source and the possibility to combine several financial instruments, which should help facilitate financing of local and regional projects;

45.

welcomes the proposal to merge support for innovative SMEs in COSME (9) with the RSFF programme for SMEs under the Horizon 2020 programme, with an estimated potential leverage for investments in R&D of over €100 billion during 2014-2020, representing around 10 % of the gap towards achieving the 3 % GDP target set by the Europe 2020 Strategy;

46.

identifies a need for greater awareness at the local and regional level about the potential opportunities for support from the EIB, and calls on LRAs (including management authorities for CSF programmes) to take a more pro-active role in approaching the EIB, whilst also calling on the European Commission and EIB to undertake further awareness-raising activities to promote the existing and new opportunities available;

47.

suggests a series of joint conferences organised with the Committee of the Regions during 2013 and 2014, potentially within the context of the Open Days Week of the Regions, as one way of doing this; reiterates the importance of involving organisations like the European Association of Public Banks, KFW, and commercial banking sector, as well as business network organisations in such events;

48.

notes that a common concern for beneficiaries, in particular from the perspective of SMEs (notably micro-enterprises), is navigating their way around complex range of instruments to support investments;

49.

notes that for most SMEs their local bank is the port of call for advice and for funding, which means loan finance instruments (including those supported by the EIB and EU budget) must find an effective gateway to reach the businesses; calls for the Think Small principle to be applied more rigorously in the development of InFIs;

50.

notes that in those countries (e.g. Germany) where there is a strong public bank infrastructure, and policy-driven investment ethos, the linkages between EU policy developments, new instruments and integration into the existing portfolio of services provided to SMEs at the LRA level, are more clearly evidenced;

51.

calls, therefore, on Member States and LRAs, in particular in the context of the ongoing reforms of the EU economic governance structures, to undertake a more systematic review of how EU, national and sub-national financial/banking structures, can work more effectively together to focus support on SMEs and the creative/innovative value adding actors within the EU economy;

52.

highlights the growing interest of LRAs in developing multi-regional funds in the context of macro-regional strategies with EIB (e.g. in the Nordic countries). Such pooling of funds rather than separate regional isolated funds could increase risk spread and the leverage and multiplier effect of the funds involved;

Projects bond initiative

53.

welcomes involvement role of the EIB in the Project Bonds Initiative, aimed at helping private project promoters issue bonds to finance in infrastructure projects and attract capital market finance from institutional investors, including pension funds;

54.

requests the extension of the project bonds initiative (PBI) until 2020 and expansion of its scope to include other sectors than just trans-European networks, once an evaluation has been undertaken of the pilot phase (as requested by the European Parliament);

55.

calls for sharing of best practice at EU level to highlight the potential for LRAs to undergo rating agency evaluations, with the aim of reducing their risk status when seeking to attract private finance;

56.

reaffirms the request from previous Committee of the Regions opinions, for the European Commission to explore the possibility of facilitating the development of ‘citizen bonds’ and ‘social impact bonds’ (already used in the UK and USA) as further innovative financial instruments to support of EU objectives;

57.

welcomes the mainstreaming of ex ante assessments aimed at justifying the public intervention logic for projects using such financial instruments;

58.

recommends the European Commission to clarify the applicability of State Aid rules to InFIs, for example by developing standardised ready-to-use templates addressing such issues, whilst the European Commission and EIB could also enhance their technical assistance to LRAs on these matters;

Subsidiarity and proportionality

59.

notes that subsidiarity and proportionality considerations are not very relevant to this opinion, given it is not a response to a European Commission legislative or policy proposal;

60.

underlines however the importance of ensuring EU level interventions are undertaken on the basis of additionality/added-value principles, and welcomes the fact that this principle is enshrined in the new EU Financial Regulation with regard to rules applicable to financial instruments.

Brussels, 11 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  CdR 1778/2012 final.

(2)  DEXIA Crédit local and CEMR (2012), Subnational public finance in the European Union, July 2012.

(3)  The term PPPs is used throughout this report to refer to joint investment projects involving public/private partners and finance, and is understood in the context of a ‘project’ based approach, ‘one off’ investments between a public/private consortium.

(4)  InFIs is used throughout this opinion to refer to schemes or instruments set up to support a range of individual projects/actions, delivered through a ‘holding fund’ rather than a one-off project, e.g. JEREMIE or JESSICA. The term InFI is used in preference to the phrase Financial Engineering Instruments (FEIs) that is also widely prevalent in EU and academic literature in this field.

(5)  CEPS Special Report No 68 October 2012, page 1.

(6)  Public Financial Institutions in Europe, March 2011, European Association of Public Banks (EAPB).

(7)  The Kommunalbank in Norway is 100 % supervised and owned by the central government. BNV bank in the Netherlands is 50 % owned by the State and 50 % owned by local and regional authorities.

(8)  See articles 32-40 of the proposal for a Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) for the 5 funds covered by the Common Strategic Framework, i.e. the ERDF, ESF, CF, EAFRD and EMFF funds.

(9)  Previously falling under the Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) with two InFIs: the High Growth and Innovative SME Facility (GIF) and the SME Guarantee Facility (SMEG).


17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/11


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘A stronger European industry for growth and economic recovery’

2013/C 139/03

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

underlines that industrial policy needs to be one of the pillars of the European venture, treated as a genuine political priority on the same political footing as cohesion, infrastructure and agriculture;

believes that the European Commission must harness all the potential of the Lisbon Treaty in the area of industrial policy pursuant to Article 173 TFEU;

supports the European Parliament's proposal to set up a steering group in order to bring together European, national, and regional and local powers and the resources currently scattered across all levels and sectors;

draws attention to the fact that many local and regional authorities have already placed economic, social and environmental innovation at the centre of their development strategies: they have the networks and the experience to develop the innovation ecosystems which SMEs need to thrive;

proposes that project bonds be issued to finance SMEs, channelling regional investment funds towards SMEs and intermediate-sized enterprises and bolstering a European venture capital industry based on the regions;

suggests that the regional blueprints for innovation should develop into regional blueprints for innovation and industrial development.

Rapporteur:

Claude GEWERC (FR/PES), member of the Picardy Regional Council

Reference document

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - A stronger European industry for growth and economic recovery

COM(2012) 582 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

welcomes the Commission's communication, which clearly emphasises the importance of industry.

General comments

2.

Industry accounts for 80 % of exports and private R&D spending and so continues to be Europe's spearhead where globalisation is concerned. It drives the entire economy, particularly in terms of jobs (employing 35 million people) and of its impact on service activities.

3.

Nonetheless, Europe's production capacity has declined recently, inequalities within the EU have become more entrenched and there has been rising concern about relocation and the competitiveness of European companies.

4.

The European Union was constructed around the European Coal and Steel Community. The current economic and financial crisis has reinforced the idea that the EU's prosperity and sustainability depends on its ability to maintain a solid manufacturing base by promoting a new industrial model – based on innovation and more substantial investment in new technologies - which unites it and reaffirms its place in the global economy. In order to achieve this, Europe - the cradle of the industrial revolution - has the economic, cultural, scientific and political tools needed to renew its industrial sector: a vast market of over 500 million people, a well trained and qualified workforce, the world's second most widely-used currency, strong companies which have established a presence in nearly every sector, a stable political framework, etc.

5.

Industrial policy therefore needs to be one of the pillars of the European venture, treated as a genuine political priority on the same political footing as cohesion, infrastructure and agriculture.

6.

This imperative is increasingly recognised, although it is not always supported by the Member States, as is borne out by the disproportionate cuts proposed by the European Council in the negotiations on the next Multiannual Financial Framework in sectors that are particularly important for industry, such as research and innovation (Horizon 2020) and trans-European infrastructure (Connecting Europe Facility).

7.

Believes that the European Commission must harness all the potential of the Lisbon Treaty in the area of industrial policy pursuant to Article 173 TFEU, particularly by opting to ‘take any useful initiative to promote … coordination (of Member States in the area of industrial policy), in particular initiatives aiming at the establishment of guidelines and indicators, the organisation of exchange of best practice, and the preparation of the necessary elements for periodic monitoring and evaluation’.

8.

Therefore supports the European Parliament's proposal to set up a steering group in order to bring together European, national, and regional and local powers and the resources currently scattered across all levels and sectors.

9.

This Commission has identified six priority action lines designed to strengthen industry so that it can make up 20 % of Europe's GDP: advanced manufacturing technologies, key enabling technologies, bio-based products, sustainable industrial and construction policy and raw materials, clean vehicles and smart grids. The communication is organised around four strands.

The Committee of the Regions:

10.

Shares the view that industry has become an urgent priority, which is why the Commission has drawn up short-term proposals to accompany the medium- and long-term proposals.

11.

Nonetheless notes that the problems besetting industry in many Member States are structural in nature; in order to address these root causes, industrial policy's design, governance and financing need to be overhauled completely and rapidly, and adequate institutional and financial resources allocated.

12.

Agrees that the creation of a business-friendly environment and investment in businesses as well as in their ecosystem are crucial in order to boost competitiveness and guarantee lasting growth. The main challenge for the competitiveness of European businesses lies in increasing productivity through effective sustainable management of resources, particularly human resources, by means of lifelong learning, innovation, internationalisation and sharing responsibilities and profits with workers rather than focusing solely on the cost of labour.

13.

Like the Commission, observes the impact of the financial crisis on the financing of the real economy, but notes that a set of measures cannot remedy a systemic imbalance.

14.

Would highlight the role of skills in developing and modernising European industry.

15.

Underscores the urgent need for action as regards the human, social and territorial dimensions of industrial change.

16.

Notes that the growth of the single market has not yet resulted in a stronger industrial base for the EU, and is astonished that currency parity is not included among the conditions for market access.

17.

Agrees that entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged, but points out that it is equally important to promote and recognise industrial professions.

18.

Calls on the Commission to enhance its powers of analysis and its support measures for businesses, by looking into the possibility of creating, as it has agreed for the agri-food industry, a new category of mid-sized enterprise somewhere between SMEs and large enterprises, employing between 250 and 750 workers and with a turnover of under EUR 200 million. This category could receive appropriate rates of aid, higher than those for large enterprises and lower than those for SMEs.

19.

Regrets that there is only a passing reference to the territorial dimension of industrial policy, when it is precisely at this level that Europeans live their lives, that new ways of life are invented, that infrastructure and trade platforms are put to use, that networks and cooperation groups are formed, and that people-to-people contacts build trust.

20.

Supports the pillars of a stronger industrial policy: investment in innovation, better conditions for access to the market and to capital, human capital and skills.

A.   FACILITATING INVESTMENT IN NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND INNOVATION

21.

Many local and regional authorities have already placed economic, social and environmental innovation at the centre of their development strategies: they have the networks and the experience to develop the innovation ecosystems which SMEs need to thrive.

22.

Advanced technologies for clean industry, such as sustainable raw materials, are naturally tied to an approach centred on industrial ecology, which favours recycling materials and controlling energy use.

23.

The sustainable construction and raw materials sector is also very localised as a demonstrator and in terms of earmarking public investment.

24.

Electric and hybrid vehicles can have a future, not least as part of a new approach to mobility: a new form of intermodality centred on train stations in particular. Beyond this, other ways of using electric vehicles are also worth considering, particularly in terms of new solutions for transport in cities, including peri-urban areas.

25.

This is one topic where a sectoral and a cohesion-based approach could come together: a close relationship between sustainable land use and industrial development.

26.

Calls on the Commission to bring forward the date of publication of the European Action Plan for the steel sector, currently scheduled for June 2013.

27.

Whether for the digital economy or responses to an ageing population, the regions are natural testbeds, where public and private initiatives come together.

28.

In all of these fields, Europe's strength is based in its culture of ‘living together’ and complexity. Globally, this will be a key aspect of economic development in the future.

The Committee of the Regions:

29.

Supports the strategy of localised smart specialisation proposed by the Commission, while highlighting the fact that it relates to all industrial sectors and must support change in those sectors throughout the European Union.

30.

Stresses the need to promote the development of projects involving public and private partners at regional level, enabling them to make a useful contribution to the EU's major strategic choices.

31.

Points out that this process must be based on EU-wide cooperation, working towards a Europe of innovation based on the regions.

32.

Reiterates its proposal for territorial pacts to organise the levels of cooperation involved in the project. Proposes that this process be covered by a single programming document, ensuring that at the regional level, national and local policies reflect EU sectoral and cohesion policies.

33.

Calls for investments linked to these single programming documents to be included within a set of loans issued by the European Investment Bank working to create new territorial ecosystems for economic and social innovation. This could be an excellent way to foster innovative solutions, provide demonstrators for companies and promote consortia in areas where companies need to establish new partnerships. These ecosystems would be public/private partnerships and would have to meet the duel objective of making companies more competitive and the public sector more efficient (thus helping to rationalise public spending).

B.   MARKET ACCESS

34.

The Commission has made enhanced access to the market in goods a key lever of industrial policy. Its proposals deal with extending the security, defence and medication markets and with standards, industrial property and developing entrepreneurship.

The Committee of the Regions:

35.

Agrees with the Commission on the importance of drawing up European standards applied by the EU and defended on the global market, so that innovative measures implemented by European companies (for instance with regard to the environment) do not penalise them, but instead are gradually applied by the entire global market. Suggests that the EU should provide itself with the means to negotiate on and ensure compliance with these standards in the area of the environment, industrial safety, prevention of occupational hazards and minimum social and working conditions, so that European products can compete on the globalised market on a level playing field.

36.

On a similar note, must agree with the Commission on the need to redress the fiscal and social disparities which create competition between European regions without driving wealth creation at EU level.

37.

The strategic areas on which the Commission is quite rightly focusing could completely change patterns of consumption such as production management, industry-services divisions and sectors and areas of activity as they are now, and ultimately a form of networked marketing of European industrial output. Readying EU companies for this new state of affairs is therefore a major challenge which is dependent on greater cooperation between them, the creation of consortia and in some cases public-private partnerships. It will be necessary to anticipate and support these initiatives geared towards adapting to new demands for which we will be partly responsible, so as to be active in the internal and global markets. Europe needs market engineering equal to its technological capacity.

38.

This market engineering must be one aspect of regional pooled platforms.

C.   ACCESS TO FINANCING AND CAPITAL MARKETS

39.

Although the situation varies from one Member State to another, debt capital market financing for businesses represents only 7 % of GDP in Europe, against 35 % in the US.

40.

The Commission notes that this is a source of vulnerability that should be remedied through a combination of public-sector support and a set of measures intended to allow easier access to capital markets.

The Committee of the Regions:

41.

Notes the need for a global approach to currency and financing. Forms of industry with longer trade cycles and lower rates of return are not attractive to capital looking for high, short-term returns. Investments made with the intention of quickly achieving high returns risk hampering the company's long-term development.

42.

Therefore calls for the EU to place industrial financing at the centre of its financial and monetary set-up.

43.

Proposes that project bonds be issued to finance SMEs, channelling regional investment funds towards SMEs and intermediate-sized enterprises and bolstering a European venture capital industry based on the regions.

44.

Reiterates its support for the promotion and introduction of ‘citizen bonds’ to foster local industrial development. Citizens' bonds could see EU supported projects benefit from additional finance from individual citizens or other public funds, investing in exchange for a guaranteed and fair return.

45.

Calls on the Commission to work on financial tools fostering cooperation within industry and across the EU.

46.

Reiterates its disapproval of the Commission’s proposal to make regional aid for businesses in the steel and synthetic fibre sectors incompatible in principle with the internal market.

47.

Considers that, given the current economic and social crisis, public investment is essential as part of an overall strategy for growth. Supports in this context overall reform of the state aid regime in order to achieve greater simplicity, transparency and flexibility. The focus of the European Commission's policy on state aid must also be shifted towards a more economics-based approach that takes into account the real level of risk of state aid affecting intra-Community trade and the real distortion of competition in the internal market. This shift goes hand in hand with the need to take greater account of the quality of public spending and, in particular, for European rules on macroeconomic surveillance to include a specific category for public investment in infrastructure and innovation in relation to public administrative expenditure.

48.

Proposes that a sub-category be envisaged within the framework of the Basel II agreements, to force banks to invest in the low-carbon economy, breakthrough technology and socially responsible enterprise.

D.   PEOPLE MUST PLAY THE PIVOTAL ROLE

49.

The Commission points out that priority must be given to job creation and notes that a competitive and effective industrial policy must be based on a dynamic labour market, since professional mobility is a key variable in this process.

50.

It points out that in times of economic slowdown, internal flexibility can be an effective way to keep up employment and reduce adjustment costs.

51.

Lastly, it notes that countries in which the labour market has coped best with the crisis have one feature in common: strong social dialogue. The CoR therefore calls for the social partners to be involved more closely in industrial policy and specifically affirms its support for the European Parliament's proposal for a directive to improve the information and consultation of workers, anticipating and managing restructuring.

52.

proposes investing in skills and vocational training to support structural change and anticipate needs in terms of jobs and skills.

The Committee of the Regions:

53.

Agrees that managing skills is key to the success of industrial change in the EU and a countercyclical policy measure.

54.

Highlights the obstacles that need to be overcome in order to achieve this: young people are not interested in careers in industry, further and vocational education are not managed or developed adequately or in line with new developments, there is no Europe-wide approach or place for debate on industrial prospects and strategy and matters that should be addressed in social and territorial dialogue are handed over to committees of experts.

55.

Asserts that change is not accidental: it is a fundamental part of the industrial transition with which the EU has to cope.

56.

Proposes that forward-looking management of skills and change should be viewed as a crucial component of industrial strategy at every level.

57.

Notes that increasing the number of small and medium-sized enterprises that export to non-EU countries will require an improvement in IT and language skills; urges the Commission to further investigate the deficits of smaller enterprises in the Member States in these areas.

58.

Affirms that the local level has a role to play in coordinating the dynamics of jobs/training and industrial transition.

59.

Reiterates in this context its support for preserving the Globalisation Adjustment Fund in order to improve national and local governments' ability to contain the impact of the crisis and help put active labour market measures in place for workers affected by restructuring. It also believes that the Globalisation Adjustment Fund should go hand in hand with a change adjustment fund to promote the development of skills and industrial transition. Initially, part of the Structural Funds and Horizon 2020 expenditure could be earmarked for change adjustment. It also stresses the need for social players operating in businesses, states and regions to intervene proactively as early as possible before restructuring takes place, in order to prevent it or, at least, to reduce its impact on jobs or adjust the transitions imposed by overcapacity and to make the necessary changes in good time.

60.

Suggests that the European Union should organise local events to get young Europeans interested in industry.

E.   GOVERNANCE

The Committee of the Regions:

61.

Agrees that in the interests of industry, European and national policies need to be better coordinated.

62.

Stresses that social and territorial dialogue needs to be placed at the centre of these dynamics at every level.

63.

Calls for a resource network to be set up for this purpose, in order to fuel democratic debate on the future of industry.

64.

Endorses the involvement of the regions in the roll-out of the smart specialisation strategy.

65.

Suggests that the regional blueprints for innovation should develop into regional blueprints for innovation and industrial development.

Brussels, 11 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/17


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘EU Guidelines on State aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty’

2013/C 139/04

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

agrees that state aid for rescue and restructuring should not keep firms with no prospects for the future from exiting the market, with effects contrary to the principles of a ‘highly competitive social market economy’, which would be harmful to free competition as well as to consumers and taxpayers. Such aid may, however, be useful to help structurally profitable firms to overcome a period of instability, protect jobs and preserve industrial knowhow, and maintain the economic fabric of a region;

proposes that de minimis thresholds for notifying state aid for the rescue and restructuring of firms be introduced;

proposes that the maximum period for rescue aid measures be increased to six months, renewable once for a further six months;

is in favour of requiring specific compensatory measures in the case of exceptional contributions by public authorities, including a ban on payment of dividends during the restructuring period;

suggests that the durability of operations clause in Article 57 of the current general regulation on the structural funds be applied by analogy to state aid. That article provides for recovery of aid where the investment is not maintained for five years, or three years for SMEs;

believes that the maximum amount of aid for the rescue and restructuring of any one firm, which was set at EUR 10 million in 2007, should be increased to EUR 15 million to take account of inflation and other relevant factors (such as the impact on GDP and on unemployment).

Rapporteur

Christophe ROUILLON (FR/PES), Mayor of Coulaines

Reference document

Communication from the Commission –

Community guidelines on state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty (OJ C 244, 1.10.2004, p. 2)

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General comments

1.

emphasises that the revision of the guidelines on state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty forms part of the overall reform modernising EU policy on state aid. In that context, the demands put forward in the CoR's opinion on the overall reform (1) apply by analogy, the most important of them being the following: significant simplification of the rules; improvement of their practical implementing measures and speeding up or cutting back on procedures; and focus on those cases with a substantial impact on the internal market;

2.

stresses the importance of state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty to local and regional authorities, not only because of the significance of such aid for territorial, economic and social cohesion, but also because local and regional authorities are major grantors of this type of aid;

3.

as a result, despite the fact that the European Union has exclusive competence in relation to state aid rules and that the principle of subsidiarity does not therefore apply, the involvement of local and regional authorities in the revision of these guidelines is beneficial from the point of view of economic and social reality and democratic legitimacy, as well as being in line with the principles of multilevel governance;

4.

recalls, indeed, that in so far as local and regional authorities are responsible for employment policy and for supporting firms undergoing restructuring, they also participate actively in efforts in terms of education, vocational training, making careers more secure and revitalising labour market areas which address the need to anticipate and provide support concerning restructuring;

5.

welcomes the European Commission's decision of 28 September 2012 to extend the 2004 guidelines for a second time and to undertake a second consultation on their revision in spring 2013. That extension and further consultation should make it possible to carry over the principles of the overall state aid reform and to involve all stakeholders more fully in the revision. A first consultation, which took place over a very short period of time between December 2010 and February 2011 (2), received responses from only 19 Member States, nine organisations and no local or regional authorities. The Committee of the Regions therefore requests that it be formally asked for an opinion as part of the second consultation that is due to take place in 2013, so that it can put forward an agreed position on behalf of European local and regional authorities;

6.

also believes that the extension of the current guidelines will make it possible to draw lessons from the impact of the crisis on state aid policy on the rescue and restructuring of firms in difficulty. In that context, is surprised that the Commission's report on the 2012 update of the state aid scoreboard (3) does not clearly show how the volume of state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty has changed, and that the analysis of the impact of the crisis on state aid is limited to aid in favour of the financial sector. By way of reminder, the Commission distinguishes non-crisis related state aid, which amounted to EUR 64.3 billion (0.5 % of EU GDP) in 2011, and aid in favour of the financial sector, which reached EUR 714.7 billion (5.7 % of EU GDP) in 2011;

7.

in any event, considers that the possibility of public intervention to support firms in difficulty must not be restricted to times of crisis. Since 1994, the rescue and restructuring guidelines have proved their worth in various economic contexts, with their aim being to set out a European framework that allows, under strict conditions, the preservation of jobs and of economic, social and territorial cohesion. The aims of the guidelines, as set out in 1994 and repeated in 1999 and 2004, therefore remain relevant;

8.

therefore reiterates its opposition, previously expressed in 2004 (4), to the goal of a quantitative, undifferentiated reduction in state aid as a proportion of GDP (which is mentioned in point 3 of the current guidelines);

9.

agrees that funding must be explicitly earmarked for restructuring so as to develop innovative and competitive business activity. State aid for rescue and restructuring should not keep firms with no prospects for the future from exiting the market, with effects contrary to the principles of a ‘highly competitive social market economy’, which would be harmful to free competition as well as to consumers and taxpayers. Such aid may, however, be useful if its purpose is to help structurally profitable firms to overcome a period of instability, protect jobs and preserve industrial knowhow, maintain the economic fabric of a region, carry out public service tasks (where relevant) or even preserve a competitive market structure, so as to avoid a situation of monopoly or oligopoly, as well as to allow firms that carry out an activity of strategic importance to the European Union to overcome temporary situations of global competitive stress;

10.

believes that the rules on state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty are an essential tool with which the European Union can address the challenges of globalisation. In that context, restates its support for maintaining the Globalisation Adjustment Fund, which can help improve the capacity of states and regions to handle the impact of the crisis and can help put active labour market measures in place for workers who are suffering as a result of restructuring;

11.

emphasises, however, that social actors within firms as well as states and regions must become involved proactively as far in advance of a restructuring as possible, so as to reduce the effects of restructuring on employment, where possible, or to adapt to the transitions that are made necessary by overcapacity and make adjustments;

12.

calls for the European Commission's inter-service task force to become involved in relation to restructuring. The Commission has highlighted the effectiveness of the task force in matters concerning the car industry, in respect of which it was particularly active in giving advice on the use of resources (providing technical assistance, cutting delays, giving advice on the most efficient use of resources, undertaking monitoring and preparing reports);

13.

therefore wishes to see this task force given a firmer and more formal legal basis to allow it to perform tasks in an effective and legitimate manner;

14.

believes that the task force could be the starting point for putting together a new platform for exchanges, coordination or even negotiation between the European Commission and stakeholders, particularly the social partners at various levels, to make it possible to deal with state aid issues reasonable and realistically;

15.

in that context, reiterates the need to establish new forms of governance in line with developments in industrial policy;

16.

believes that if procedures giving stakeholders involved in state aid a hearing before the European Commission so that they can explain their concerns in relation to restructuring were to be introduced, competitors that would risk to be adversely affected by the state aid would also need to be heard;

17.

asks the European Commission to establish a data-base to be made public on-line and containing comprehensive information on all public aids at EU, National and Regional levels; this initiative could increase the transparency when implementing aid schemes and has a twofold objective: diminish the administrative burden and increase the political accountability over public aids;

Definitions and scope of the guidelines (part 2)

18.

is in favour of maintaining the current definition of a firm in difficulty (points 10 and 11), which has proved its value in practice since 2004 and which makes it possible to privilege the grant of aid at the earliest possible stage, the amount of which is therefore proportionately less than aid given to firms whose medium-term viability is in jeopardy;

19.

nonetheless considers that clarification is needed regarding the interaction between the mechanism for state aid for services of general economic interest (SGEI) and the guidelines on state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty. It is unfortunate that the EU framework for state aid in the form of public service compensation (2011) (5) states that ‘Aid for providers of SGEIs in difficulty will be assessed under the Community guidelines on state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty’ (point 9). In practice, this means that a firm in difficulty which could be viable with SGEI compensation would, under this provision, be subject to state aid for rescuing and restructuring firms in difficulty - despite the fact that this scheme is administratively unwieldy and involves state aid. The Committee therefore recommends that point 9 of the EU framework for state aid in the form of public service compensation be amended;

20.

is opposed to the idea of limiting the scope of the guidelines to firms that are in formal insolvency proceedings, given that there are very substantial legal risks involved in rescuing insolvent firms, that successful rescues are the exception, particularly for SMEs, and that in any event, it is always most effective to deal with firms' difficulties in advance of collective proceedings;

21.

believes that the distinction between rescue aid and restructuring aid can be kept as it is (points 15 and 16);

22.

proposes that de minimis thresholds for notifying state aid for the rescue and restructuring of firms be introduced. Such a measure would make it possible to exclude in advance aid that does not distort competition. It would also make a substantial contribution to reducing the administrative burden on the Commission, the Member States and local and regional authorities. The specific de minimis thresholds for state aid for the rescue and restructuring of firms could, for example, be set at a guarantee amount of EUR 200 000 for SMEs and EUR 500 000 for other firms. If necessary, aid for rescuing and restructuring could come under the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) in the case of SMEs. This would enable public authorities to respond swiftly to the difficult situations facing these companies which, owing to their limited size, have little or no impact on competition and trade in the internal market;

Rescue aid

23.

calls for the maximum period for rescue aid measures, currently set at six months (point 25), to be extended. Experience in practice shows that this time period is often too short in view of the complexity of drafting a plan for continued operation, particularly when that plan involves the purchase of the firm. It is also necessary to take account of the time needed for the Commission to examine restructuring plans, which can take several months and sometimes as long as a year between notification of the aid and the Commission's decision. Therefore proposes that the maximum period for rescue aid measures be increased to six months, renewable once for a further six months;

Compensatory measures

24.

believes that the Commission should take greater account of the negative effects of compensatory measures in the form of asset sales. As things stand, the beneficiary of the aid can be obliged to divest assets than are essential for its future development. Compensatory measures can also have a negative effect on competition where they are likely to cause a restriction of supply on the relevant market. Therefore calls for a case-by-case assessment, on the basis of a market analysis that focuses on the real distortions of competition; suggests that compensatory measures in the form of asset sales should be concentrated on market segments where there is overcapacity;

25.

believes that more focus should be put on behavioural compensatory measures that relate to the firm's management or strategy choices, such as bans on expenditure for expansion and acquisition, advertising bans and so on, when considering compensatory measures;

26.

is in favour of requiring specific compensatory measures in the case of exceptional contributions by public authorities, including a ban on payment of dividends during the restructuring period. That is not only a moral necessity, but would also prevent any possible transfer of the financial costs of restructuring from private capital to the state;

27.

suggests that the durability of operations clause in Article 57 of the current general regulation on the structural funds be applied by analogy to state aid at national, regional and local level. That article provides for recovery of aid where the investment is not maintained for five years, or three years for SMEs. A firm that has been subject to a recovery procedure after transferring its operations cannot benefit from structural funds in future;

28.

considers that it should be possible to include the shareholdings of the firm's subcontractors or employees when calculating the firm's own contribution insofar as they are clearly separate from any form of aid and demonstrate that the firm's actors have confidence in the viability of their firm;

Contribution by the beneficiary

29.

agrees that the principle of a contribution by the beneficiary remains essential to make firms act responsibly. Believes, however, that the current thresholds (point 44) for medium-sized enterprises (at least 40 %) and large firms (at least 50 %) are hard for firms in difficulty to achieve and do not take account of the specific financial characteristics of different sectors. Therefore suggests that the Commission replace the current thresholds with a range, with a minimum rate of 20 % for medium-sized enterprises and 30 % for large firms, to give itself sufficient discretion to deal with the situation of the firm in question;

Maximum amount of aid for the combined rescue and restructuring of any one firm

30.

believes that the maximum amount of aid for the rescue and restructuring of any one firm, which was set at EUR 10 million in 2007, should be increased to EUR 15 million to take account of inflation and other relevant factors (such as the impact on GDP and on unemployment);

Counterfactual analysis

31.

believes that the counterfactual analysis provided for in the current annex to the guidelines does not seem appropriate given the need for very rapid action. In the very short period available to put together a rescue and/or restructuring operation, scientific modelling of the various possible scenarios cannot be treated as having priority over the expectation among customers, suppliers, financial partners and employees for rapid solutions. Therefore proposes that the annex to the guidelines be deleted.

Brussels, 11 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  CdR 1528/2012.

(2)  http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2010_restructuring_aid/index.html

(3)  COM(2012) 778 final, 21.12.2012.

(4)  CdR 518/2004 fin.

(5)  OJ C 8, 11.1.2012, p. 15–22.


17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/22


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘EU support for sustainable change in transition societies’

2013/C 139/05

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

shares the Commission's view that the EU should mobilise in a comprehensive, targeted and long-term response to support reform in transition countries with a view to stabilisation and the achievement of real, sustainable change and lasting democratic structures;

points out that local and regional authorities, which have wide experience of policy development and implementation in the delivery of essential public services should play a key role in the process of sustainable change in transition societies;

notes that the following barriers exist to the full realisation of the potential of local and regional authorities in the partner countries: lack of financial autonomy and limited fiscal scope; low level of development of local democracy, transparency and citizen participation; limited knowledge of financial aid available to local and regional authorities under EU programmes; lack of capacity for participation in the EU programmes and projects;

emphasises the possibility created by the Committee of the Regions of support instruments for EU policy in neighbouring states, i.e. a platform for cooperation between local and regional authorities in the form of ARLEM and CORLEAP;

recommends that participation in TAIEX programmes be extended to local and regional authorities in interested countries;

intends to support training of LRAs from transition countries to improve local capacity building. The CoR will start a dialogue with the European Training Foundation and other interested stakeholders on this question;

notes that the Committee is working closely with the European Commission on drawing up an atlas of decentralised cooperation and that it holds an annual conference on decentralised cooperation.

Rapporteur

Maciej KOBYLIŃSKI (PL/PES), Mayor of Słupsk

Reference document

Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - EU support for sustainable change in transition societies

JOIN(2012) 27 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General comments

1.

welcomes the Joint Communication of the Commission and the High Representative on EU support for sustainable change in transition societies, which analyses support to date and puts forward a proposal for improving EU support to partner countries in transition, i.e. countries undergoing major political, social and economic reforms;

2.

shares the Commission's view that the EU should mobilise in a comprehensive, targeted and long-term response to support reform in transition countries with a view to stabilisation and the achievement of real, sustainable change and lasting democratic structures. This is particularly important as transition processes are not going to be always successful immediately and carry the risk, in case of failure, of precipitating crises and threatening the stability of the country or the entire region;

3.

stresses that events occurring in the EU's neighbouring countries, such as the violent social disturbances and political changes in the Arab countries in 2011, have a direct impact on the EU Member States. In the light of this, the EU's neighbours which are in the process of transition require closer attention and in particular full commitment from the EU countries and institutions at various levels;

4.

welcomes the more precise and targeted approach to the use of support instruments for transition societies, based on their specific needs, circumstances and political, economic and cultural characteristics;

5.

stresses the need to involve local and regional authorities in measures to support sustainable change in transition societies;

6.

repeats the view, expressed in opinion CdR 732/2012, that creating local ownership and promoting democracy at grass-roots level require trust in the political system and in its representatives. A decentralised structure results in more effective institutions with greater legitimacy and is the most important way of bringing the authorities and the public closer together. Open decision-making processes that respect the subsidiarity principle help to establish democratic principles among the general public, which paves the way for a pluralistic and tolerant society;

7.

points out that non-state partners and local and regional government play an essential role in the effective implementation of policy for the promotion of democratic governance, human rights, economic and social wellbeing and peace and stability in a way which is conducive to sustainable social, economic and political reforms as well as reforms in environmental protection and regional integration;

8.

emphasises that local and regional authorities have an important role to play in the process of exchanging experience and bringing together the different models of transition, as they have valuable knowledge and experience in areas of importance to the partner countries, e.g. implementing cross-border cooperation projects. Local and regional authorities should thus be recognised as key players in enlargement, neighbourhood and development policy;

9.

confirms the main points of its opinion on the European Neighbourhood Policy review (CdR 198/2011) (1);

10.

welcomes the proposal that the EU step up its dialogue and coordination with other non-state partners, including local authorities.

Support for the establishment of conditions for successful transition

11.

welcomes the recognition of the key role of civil society and of broad public support for, and commitment to, the processes of reform, successful transition and political dialogue, which local and regional authorities and NGOs play an important part in shaping;

12.

points out that local and regional authorities, which have wide experience of policy development and implementation in the delivery of essential public services such as public health, education, waste and water management, local entrepreneurship, transport and infrastructure, the environment and natural resources, and agriculture, should play a key role in the process of sustainable change in transition societies;

13.

notes that local and regional authorities carry a responsibility for the development and protection of genuine democracy, civic education, transparency and respect for human rights which is just as great as that of national authorities;

14.

reiterates the recommendations it made in 2011 in its Declaration and Resolution (2) on the southern neighbourhood (Mediterranean countries), namely that it is very important to include the local and regional levels of government in the EU action towards the region, since democracy-building and democratic transition begins first and foremost at the grassroots level and cannot be imposed from above. Local ownership and commitment to working for the local community, from cities and local government to civil society, are of great importance for maintaining democratic stability which is strongly rooted in society;

15.

recommends that greater emphasis being placed on achieving good governance and strengthening governance at sub-national level as well as multilevel governance. The Committee has presented multi-level governance as coordinated action by the European Union, the Member States and local and regional authorities, based on partnership and aimed at drawing up and implementing EU policies (3). The achievement of effective multilevel governance in the EU's neighbouring countries undergoing transition may be achieved by providing their local and regional authorities with direct access to financing from EU programmes;

16.

points out that the local and regional authorities of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe which are EU Member States are in many cases examples of the effective realisation of systemic, political, social and overall economic transition processes. The achievements of these countries, but also the problems some of them have encountered, may provide inspiration and help to develop appropriate models for the conduct of reforms in transition states. Hence the need to consider the local and regional authorities of states which acceded to the EU in 2004 and 2007 as major players in the process of exchanging experience with partner states;

17.

points to the need for the participation of local and regional authorities in work at national and international level for the establishment and implementation of policies to support sustainable change in transition societies;

18.

stresses the importance of local and regional authorities in the context of external relations, as local government plays, and should play, an important role in this area;

19.

highlights the needs and requirements of local government in transition states, to which they would like to draw the attention of national governments and European and international institutions; calls on the European Commission to involve sub national levels of government in the discussions with the national governments of transition countries;

20.

notes that the following barriers exist to the full realisation of the potential of local and regional authorities in the partner countries: lack of financial autonomy and limited fiscal scope; low level of development of local democracy, transparency and citizen participation; limited knowledge of financial aid available to local and regional authorities under EU programmes; lack of capacity for participation in the EU programmes and projects. Of course these factors apply to differing degrees in different countries. Reducing these barriers requires support: reforms of public administration, including local and regional authorities; further development of citizen participation in the shaping of policy and partnership at local level; exchanges of experience and development of cooperation with EU counterparts in areas of importance for local and regional authorities; capacity building for participation in EU programmes and projects;

21.

points out that, if the EU wishes to improve administrative capacity in European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) states, which is a crucial issue for most of them; local and regional authorities must be involved in this policy. Developing the capacity and training of local and regional authorities in transition countries is of key importance here, as politicians and representatives of local government can, with improved skills and knowledge, contribute to the shaping of effective, open and transparent government;

22.

emphasises that, by cooperating with local and regional authorities in enlargement and neighbourhood policy countries, the Committee of the Regions has the opportunity to promote the objectives of this policy. Working groups and joint consultative committees, CORLEAP and ARLEM play an essential part in this cooperation.

Support instruments

23.

welcomes the attempt to improve the system of incentives and constraints by more precise and effective setting of conditionalities;

24.

points out that incentives and conditions for enlargement and neighbourhood policy states and the allocation of funding and support should be closely linked with progress on reforms, including decentralisation and the involvement of local and regional authorities in governance at the appropriate level of the decision-making process;

25.

emphasises the possibility created by the Committee of the Regions of support instruments for EU policy in neighbouring states, i.e. a platform for cooperation between local and regional authorities in the form of the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) and the Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP);

26.

points out that ARLEM makes an important contribution in many areas to deepening cooperation between the EU and the Mediterranean countries, particularly with regard to urban development, local water management, renewable energy and small and medium-sized enterprises. It has helped to raise public awareness of Mediterranean cooperation and to give practical expression to this;

27.

also highlights the potential of CORLEAP, whose main priorities for action are reform of public administration, tax decentralisation and territorial cooperation, questions of special importance for transition states which are in the process of building sustainable, effective and credible governance at all levels;

28.

welcomes the emphasis on the importance of the Civil Society Facility (CSF) as a vital element of the newly established mechanisms for neighbourhood policy states;

29.

draws attention to the need for ongoing EU support for the role and position of national local government associations in partner countries as the collective representatives of the voice of local authorities. Institutionalising and developing the capacity of associations of LRAs in transition countries will strengthen local democracy and multilevel governance;

30.

calls for the establishment of contact points for local and regional authorities in EU delegations in partner countries, where the need for support is most urgent;

31.

points out that many European local and regional authorities have been involved in decentralised cooperation projects with their counterparts in partner countries for many years. In order to facilitate this cooperation, bring together projects financed by the EU local and regional authorities in one place and identify new projects, the Portal of Decentralised Cooperation for Development, developed jointly by the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions, has been in operation since December 2011;

32.

points out that twinning and TAIEX programmes, which have been widely deployed by the EU to bring partner countries closer to the EU, are good examples of practical and focused instruments;

33.

recommends that participation in TAIEX programmes be extended to local and regional authorities in interested countries. What is important is the development of twinning and TAIEX projects between local and regional authorities in the EU and partner countries. This will be reflected in the improvement of governance in the partner countries and greater awareness of the importance of multilevel governance structures, both in the EU and in European Neighbourhood Policy countries;

34.

intends to support training of LRAs from transition countries to improve local capacity building. The CoR will start a dialogue with the European Training Foundation and other interested stakeholders on this question;

35.

will look into the possibility of involving transition countries in programmes similar to the Local Administration Facility, which is a TAIEX programme currently available to candidate and potential candidate countries, aimed at disseminating knowledge of the EU and its procedures.

The role of cooperation at local and regional level

36.

stresses the need for further efforts to involve local government both in the EU and in the partner countries, as a component of the dialogue with these countries;

37.

stresses the need to recognise the decisive role of local and regional authorities both in the EU and in the partner countries in the drafting of policies and strategies to support sustainable change in transition societies;

38.

points to the need to support all forms of exchange between local and regional authorities from the EU and the partner countries: town partnerships, technical cooperation and capacity building. Transition countries must have access to EU instruments for the establishment of sustainable partnerships between local and regional authorities;

39.

stresses, in line with its opinion CdR 198/2011 (4), the importance and specific value of social contacts between EU and neighbouring country local authorities. The important thing is to involve the third sector and social groups to complement formal cooperation between local and regional authorities. This needs special instruments as an important component of neighbourhood policy;

40.

emphasises that, thanks to cooperation with local and regional authorities in the enlargement and neighbourhood policy states (e.g. working groups and joint consultative committees, CORLEAP and ARLEM), the Committee is actively contributing to EU support for sustainable change in transition societies and helping to promote the objectives of the communication;

41.

notes that the Committee is working closely with the European Commission on drawing up an atlas of decentralised cooperation and that it holds an annual conference on decentralised cooperation.

Brussels, 11 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  European Neighbourhood Policy review, opinion of the Committee of the Regions, 14-15 December 2011 (CIVEX-V-023).

(2)  Declaration of the CoR presidency of 7 March 2011 on the events in the Southern Mediterranean. Resolution of 12 May 2011 on Dealing with the impact and consequences of the revolutions in the Mediterranean.

(3)  White Paper of the Committee of the Regions on Multilevel Governance, own-initiative opinion of the Committee of the Regions of 17 and 18 June 2009 (CONST-IV-020).

(4)  European Neighbourhood Policy review, opinion of the Committee of the Regions, 14-15 December 2011 (CIVEX-V-023).


17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/27


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Enlargement strategy and main challenges 2012-13’

2013/C 139/06

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

highlights that the aim of the enlargement process is to overcome the division of Europe and to contribute to the peaceful unification of the continent. Politically, EU enlargement has helped respond to major problems and has consolidated democracy, human rights and stability across the continent. Economically, enlargement has helped to increase prosperity and competitiveness, enabling the enlarged Union to respond better to the challenges of globalisation;

wishes to make it clear that one of the CoR's major political priorities is to ensure the success of the enlargement process. For the Committee of the Regions, the role of local and regional representatives in the enlargement process is fundamental;

actively tries to facilitate the task of the local and regional authorities in the enlargement countries in order to prepare them for their future responsibilities in the European Union, to obtain recognition of their role and to establish and develop contacts and cooperation with their EU counterparts;

the EU should encourage candidate countries to make sure that the delegated powers reflect the level of responsibilities to be assumed when applying the community acquis at local and regional level; at the same time, these responsibilities should be supported by proportional financial means. Without these, LRAs remain powerless to properly implement reforms;

stresses therefore that the enlargement countries have to continue to develop their respective governance models;

underlines the very positive experience of the Local Administration Facility (LAF) programme, coordinated together with the DG Enlargement, TAIEX office of the European Commission, which help increase understanding on what the EU stands for at the regional and local level;

Rapporteur

Luc VAN DEN BRANDE (BE/EPP), President of the Flanders-Europe Liaison Agency

Reference document

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament: Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2012-2013

COM(2012) 600 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

Political context and significance of enlargement for local and regional authorities and the CoR

1.

emphasises that this opinion must be seen in the context of the historical commitment of the CoR to the enlargement process. It will develop the CoR's political message on the EU's enlargement strategy towards the countries of the Western Balkans (Croatia, Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo (1)), Turkey and Iceland;

2.

highlights that the aim of the enlargement process is to overcome the division of Europe and to contribute to the peaceful unification of the continent. Politically, EU enlargement has helped respond to major problems and has consolidated democracy, human rights and stability across the continent. Economically, enlargement has helped to increase prosperity and competitiveness, enabling the enlarged Union to respond better to the challenges of globalisation;

3.

points to the need for a decentralised information and communications policy on the enlargement process, particularly in order to strengthen both civil and political dialogue between the European Union and the enlargement countries;

4.

wishes to make it clear that one of the CoR's major political priorities is to ensure the success of the enlargement process. For the Committee of the Regions, the role of local and regional representatives in the enlargement process is fundamental;

5.

stresses that the prospect of EU accession brings with it political and economic reforms in the candidate countries and provides the citizens of those countries with new opportunities that are much-needed, especially in these times of crisis;

6.

points out that enlargement policy must remain credible and must enjoy public support, both within the European Union and in the (potential) candidate countries. To create lasting bonds between citizens and the EU, it is of crucial importance to involve citizens both of the enlargement countries and of the current member states in the process. The support for European integration in the enlargement countries is a key resource. The European institutions should not take this support for granted but try to tap into this resource in order to improve public legitimacy for the EU as a whole;

7.

is aware that the political and social reforms currently being carried out in the enlargement countries cannot be introduced by force, but only by respecting diversity and genuine decentralisation;

8.

actively tries to facilitate the task of the local and regional authorities in the enlargement countries in order to prepare them for their future responsibilities in the European Union, to obtain recognition of their role and to establish and develop contacts and cooperation with their EU counterparts;

9.

wishes, through its external relations strategy, to promote political dialogue and economic and/or cultural cooperation between local and regional authorities of candidate and potential candidate countries and those of the EU. The Committee of the Regions represents an important meeting point and a useful forum for these actors in the EU framework;

10.

notes that in its progress reports, the European Commission only draws limited attention to reforms that provide a new legal framework for regional and local authorities in these countries. The EU should encourage candidate countries to make sure that the delegated powers reflect the level of responsibilities to be assumed when applying the community acquis at local and regional level; at the same time, these responsibilities should be supported by proportional financial means. Without these, LRAs remain powerless to properly implement reforms;

11.

is of the view that the integration of new Member States into the EU can only succeed if they are able to apply the existing body of EU law at all levels of political and administrative organisation (including the way in which these provisions are implemented), bearing in mind that the municipalities and the regions have a key role to play in the administration of EU programmes and funds. The role of regional and local authorities should not, therefore, be limited to the implementation of measures and decisions taken at national level, nor to the dissemination of information about the enlargement process to citizens;

12.

emphasises that the multi-level governance approach, based on the subsidiarity principle, and including partnership between, and ownership of all levels of government, is a key element of European integration and any assessment of the enlargement process should therefore examine whether the process promotes multi-level governance. This applies not only to future cohesion and regional policy, but also to building the Single Market, the future environmental climate change and energy policies, the future common agricultural policy and maritime policy, the Stockholm programme, the neighbourhood policy and not least the building of the Europe 2020 strategy and the seven flagship initiatives in partnership by means of territorial pacts;

General comments

13.

is pleased to note the sharper focus in the European Commission's Enlargement Strategy 2012-2013 on good governance criteria, such as the rule of law, an independent judiciary, an efficient public administration, the fight against corruption and organised crime, the development of civil society and free media;

14.

welcomes the Commission's in-depth analysis and overall assessment but would like to see clearer suggestions on how to overcome shortcomings with regard to implementation of the acquis;

15.

again stresses that the role of local and regional representatives in the enlargement process is highly important and therefore encourages enlargement countries to maintain their decentralisation and regionalisation efforts; this also makes decentralised information and communication policy easier, as well as civil and political dialogue between the European Union and the people of the enlargement countries;

16.

stresses therefore that the enlargement countries have to continue to develop their respective governance models, not least by improving the responsibilities of regional and local authorities and through the promotion of genuine partnerships between different levels of governance, but also between different countries and regions;

17.

feels that it is necessary to build up the capacity of regional and local institutions in the legislative, financial and administrative spheres so that they can best make use of existing pre-accession assistance and be ready to implement the acquis communautaire in a sustainable way;

18.

regrets that despite its repeated recommendations, the Commission has not yet provided a full assessment of the state of the implementation of multi-level governance principles in the enlargement report; is aware that there is no acquis chapter dealing with decentralisation in countries wishing to join the EU but suggests to develop a set of parameters in this regard, which could provide orientation to the countries undertaking reform;

19.

is furthermore disappointed that the social dimension features insufficiently in the enlargement process and calls on the Commission to pay attention to the necessary social reform in the candidate countries, in addition to economic reform;

20.

reiterates its recommendation to the Commission that it go into greater detail in its future enlargement strategy reports about the regional and local self-government situation and point out the need for regionalisation and decentralisation reform more clearly to the enlargement countries, encouraging them to establish independent, sub-national levels of government;

21.

underlines the very positive experience of the Local Administration Facility (LAF) programme, coordinated together with the DG Enlargement, TAIEX office of the European Commission, which help increase understanding on what the EU stands for at the regional and local level;

22.

believes strongly in the need to respect the principle of good neighbourly relations among EU Member States, candidate countries and other countries and the role and importance of developing cross-border and regional cooperation between these countries;

23.

considers that the protection of minorities and respect for human rights, which form part of the values that are the foundation of the European Union, must remain essential elements of the EU accession process;

24.

in this respect, stresses the importance of the cooperation with the Council of Europe and in particular its Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, on the basis of all relevant texts such as the European Charter of Local Self-Government;

Country-specific policy recommendations

Croatia

25.

welcomes Croatia's accession to the EU on 1 July 2013, as set out in the Accession Treaty;

26.

welcomes the fact that the Parliamentary elections held in December 2011 took place in a pluralistic environment and were administered in an efficient and transparent manner, but notes that improvements are still necessary with regard to maintenance of the voters’ list with a view to local elections and the election of Croatia’s members to the European Parliament scheduled for spring 2013;

27.

reminds Croatia of its pledge to address its ongoing bilateral and regional problems in the spirit of good neighbourly relations and by the implementation of legally binding international agreements, including the one on succession issues;

28.

underlines that the administrative capacity necessary to implement and monitor public administration reform requires further attention, in particular at local level. Further efforts are needed with a view to the role of local and regional administrations in the future management of the Structural Funds;

29.

is pleased with the progress that has been made on the decentralisation process, but notes that this process is too heavily controlled by the central government;

30.

calls on the Commission to continue to monitor, evaluate and support the developments at sub-national level and the progress made in decentralisation even after Croatia's accession to the EU;

31.

points out that attention needs to be focussed on pre-emptive measures aimed at tackling corruption at the local level, particularly in public procurement procedures;

32.

points out that further challenges remain in terms of reducing health and regional inequalities and in terms of inclusive rural development;

Iceland

33.

welcomes the fact that Iceland's political institutions are stable, with high-quality Local Self-Government, which is anchored in the country's rich democratic tradition. This has been furthered recently with a new law of January 2012 that stipulates even more thorough consultation between the government and municipalities;

34.

welcomes the adoption of several important measures, taken to strengthen local government finances, in light of the 2008 economic crisis but points out that despite these positive developments, the capacity for economic policy formulation and coordination still needs to be further improved at local and regional level. The distribution of finances from the central to the local level also requires stronger coordination;

35.

welcomes the fact that the new Constitution was put to an advisory referendum on 20 October 2012 and passed by two thirds. The constitution includes for the first time a section on local government;

36.

warmly welcomes the setting up of a Joint Consultative Committee with the CoR, following the good cooperation with the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities and, furthermore, underlines that it will continue its support for capacity building at local level, for instance, under the Local Administration Facility (LAF) programme;

37.

would welcome if Iceland's accession negotiations could be concluded in due course and the result be put to the Icelandic people for decision based on accurate information on the final accession deal that will have been agreed between Iceland and the EU;

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

38.

welcomes the continuation of the process of decentralisation of government, a key element of the Ohrid Framework Agreement and the adoption of the programme for implementing decentralisation and local self-governance for 2011-2014 and the corresponding action plan;

39.

points out that progress in meeting the objectives of decentralisation need to be accelerated, and that the financial sustainability of municipalities remains the main challenge. Although the proportion of VAT transferred to the municipalities was increased to 4 %, this is not enough to enable the municipalities properly to fulfil the tasks conferred on them;

40.

underlines that the mechanisms available for addressing the significant disparities in the delivery of public services are limited, and that rural and small municipalities are especially disadvantaged;

41.

is concerned at the lack of the administrative and managerial capacity needed to implement the EU acquis. This can be seen, inter alia, in the implementation and enforcement of environmental legislation at both national and local level. In the area of water quality, very little progress can be reported;

42.

points out that limited progress can be reported in the area of regional policy and coordination of structural instruments. Management of IPA programmes needs to be improved in order to ensure full and timely absorption of EU funds;

43.

would stress the importance of maintaining good neighbourly relations and finding a mutually acceptable solution to the issue of the country's name;

44.

recommends that public authorities at the various levels of local government cooperate with civil society organisations, which need to be bolstered and secure greater independence from political influences;

45.

wishes to express its concern about the political and ethnic polarization in FYROM, which risks jeopardising the stability of the country and the momentum necessary for political reforms;

Turkey

46.

points out that the consultation period for the new Constitution has fostered an amount of debate with local civil society and local citizens which is to be welcomed, but is concerned that the lack of transparency regarding the question how these debates were fed into the drafting process and which parts were published on the internet, which has made it very difficult for Turkish citizens, as well as international actors (including the CoR), to keep up to date with developments;

47.

regrets the lack of progress in devolving power to provinces and local government and is concerned by some reports that elected local governments or mayors are subject to intimidation or politically motivated legal prosecution. City councils (which were designed to encourage citizens' participation in local government) have not been used effectively in most cities. Additionally, the fact that in 2011, decree-laws recentralised powers in areas such as land use planning and urban renewal, are signs that the process of decentralisation is not seriously being addressed. Whilst the Turkish government has spent some time reforming the public administration, this has not been in a way which benefits LRA, notably for the South East of the country;

48.

expresses dissatisfaction regarding Turkey's failure to fully abide by its commitments arising from the Additional Protocol of the EU-Turkey Association Agreement and urges Turkey to move towards full compliance, without exception, noting that further delays might impact afresh upon the accession process;

49.

welcomes the change in the attitude shown by the Council of the EU regarding the possible opening of chapter 22 of the negotiations concerning ‧regional policy and coordination of structural instruments‧ and hopes that this positive signal can be translated into a normalisation of the negotiation process between Turkey and the European Union;

50.

regrets the fact that at all state levels there are still considerable shortcomings as regards respect for religious freedom, woman's rights, minority rights – notably the Kurdish, gender equality, as well as basic rights to freedom of expression and press freedom; thereby overshadowing reform-oriented legislation;

51.

encourages the dialogue that has been established between the Turkish government and representatives of the Turkish Kurds;

52.

is pleased to note the implementation of the positive agenda, in line with the Negotiating Framework and the relevant conclusions of the Council and the European Council;

53.

states its dissatisfaction against the backdrop of the United Nations and UN Security Council resolutions, and the principles and values on which the EU is founded, at the lack of commitment on the part of Turkey and the other parties to the conflict to reach an acceptable solution to the issue of its illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, and urges the Turkish government to give practical support to the negotiations taking place under the good offices of the UN Secretary-General and to take steps towards an overall settlement of the Cyprus question by immediately withdrawing its military forces from Cyprus, resolving the issue of settlers and allowing the return of the forbidden zone of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants, in application of UN Security Council Resolution 550 (1984);

54.

notes that on the one hand reform-oriented legislation has been introduced, but this is overshadowed on the other by attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression;

55.

welcomes the establishment of an independent Ombudsman service in Turkey, which needs to be implemented adequately;

56.

underlines that transparency, accountability and participatory mechanisms must all be strengthened on the local level, and encourages continued fight against corruption, especially on municipal level;

57.

wishes to underline that continued cooperation on the subnational level will be beneficial for both Turkey and the EU. Therefore repeats its commitment to upgrade the Committee of the Regions' Working Group with Turkey to a Joint Consultative Committee;

Montenegro

58.

welcomes the enactment of the law on the territorial organisation of Montenegro and the amendment of the law on local self-government, which should enhance the transparency, efficiency and accountability of local administration;

59.

points out that Montenegro needs to strengthen administrative capacity in the established IPA structures and adequately prepare them in order to increase the absorption capacity of the pre-accession funds;

60.

notes that under-qualified staff is one of the biggest problems at the local level, raising the possibility that powers devolved through the decentralisation process cannot be exercised;

61.

regrets that no progress can be reported in the field of social protection, that the absorption of refugees, IDPs and ethnic minorities in the cities remains problematic; and that progress in the field of administrative and fiscal decentralisation of social services remains limited;

62.

recommends the intensification of efforts to prevent and combat corruption in the identified vulnerable areas: local self-government, spatial planning, public procurement, privatisation, education and healthcare;

63.

welcomes the inauguration of the Committee of the Regions' Joint Consultative Committee with Montenegro in 2012 and hopes for a mutually beneficial cooperation with Montenegrin sub-national authorities for the coming years;

Serbia

64.

is pleased to note that the Serbian constitution guarantees the right to provincial autonomy and local self-government, but regrets that there is a gulf between the principles as set out in the laws and their implementation in practice;

65.

deplores the actions of the central government (such as reducing contributions to local authorities) which make it even harder for local authorities to fulfil their duties;

66.

points out that as regards local self-government, the legislation on municipal finance needs to be clarified and properly implemented to ensure that municipal funding is predictable;

67.

regrets that the National Council for Decentralisation continues to be inactive and that there has been insufficient consultation with local authorities in the decision-making process relating to the development of new legislation or amendments to existing laws that have implications at the local level;

68.

points out that administration and management capacity at the local level are weak and significant disparities between municipalities persist. Regrets that the Law on Civil Servants does not apply to local government employees;

69.

welcomes the progress in the area of regional policy and coordination of structural instruments. Acknowledges that fact that Serbia has completed the preparatory stages for the decentralised management of IPA for four Components and points out that adequate implementation capacity needs to be further ensured especially in terms of preparing a solid project pipeline based on relevant strategies;

70.

welcomes the significant role played by civil society in the social, economic and political life of the country and in promoting democratic values, and highlights its importance at local level and within the decision-making process;

Albania

71.

is pleased to note Albania's progress on meeting the political criteria for EU membership; welcomes the improved political dialogue between the government and the opposition, and points to the crucial importance of the successful holding of the 2013 parliamentary elections to the smooth running of the basic democratic institutions; urges the Albanian authorities to step up their efforts to promote and implement the reforms necessary for the pre-accession process, especially as regards human rights, gender equality, the protection of minorities as well as of property rights, tackling corruption and organised crime and the pursuit of a constructive migration policy;

72.

acknowledges the European Commission's analyses that ‘no progress’ has been made in terms of territorial administration reform. The 2009 Law on Territorial Planning has only been implemented very slowly. There appears to be a widening gap between the regions ‘with regard to economic and social development potentials’. This is something which must be addressed urgently;

73.

notes that small local administrative centres are often not financially viable. Local decision-making is not transparent and civil society organisations and other stakeholders are not consulted;

74.

points out that when it comes to funding, in particular revenue collection, the situation of local authorities has not improved since 2011; underlines moreover the need of building capacities for Regional and Local Authorities to administer budget revenues, control the operational systems and control the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) funds;

75.

is satisfied at the appointment of an Ombudsman and calls on the Albanian government to provide that body with sufficient means;

76.

points out that that there are encouraging signs that the deep political divisions, which have obstructed political reform for a number of years now, seem to be narrowing; encourages therefore the two associations representing the sub-national authorities (the Albanian Association of Municipalities and the Albanian Association of Communes) to intensify their cooperation in all relevant matters and to prevent the undermining of local and regional representation in the country;

77.

underlines that whilst the small progress in the area of regional policy and coordination of structural instruments is welcome, more needs to be done here;

Bosnia and Herzegovina

78.

acknowledges the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is still a country with an ‘international system of governance and security’, which means that at the moment even the central domestic institutions are not in full ownership of the political and legislative process, let alone the local and regional authorities;

79.

points out that the current political situation in BiH is impacting negatively upon the country's ability to speak with one voice on EU matters; also notes that as a result of the political and institutional deadlock, Bosnia and Herzegovina is unable to meet its commitments to local self-government and regional autonomy, which means that ‘the functioning of local self-government has been seriously affected’ and this is ‘preventing any form of decentralisation in the country’. The increasing fragmentation of the country and communities along ethnic lines simply reinforces the lack of trust in local government;

80.

regrets that the complex governance system and institutional deadlock means that legislation is not properly standardised on the level of the Bosnian entities, thereby hampering in particular pressing issues, such as the fight against trafficking in human beings;

81.

calls for a coordination mechanism to be set up between the various levels of government for the transposition, implementation and enforcement of EU legislation, to enable the country to speak with one voice on EU matters and to make effective use of the pre-accession funds;

82.

acknowledges that the European Commission's report praises entity legislation for largely being in line with the European Charter of Local Self-Government and a positive view must be taken of this. However it must be noted that BiH has not signed the Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right of citizens to participate in the affairs of a local authority;

83.

supports the decentralisation of the judicial system. On the other hand regrets that little progress has been made in the area of public administration reform where at the moment, the problem appears to be weak coordination between the various levels of administration and a lack of public support for the reforms;

84.

welcomes all initiatives towards improvement of the protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and specially the adoption of the amendment to the Constitution of Sarajevo Canton in line with the ruling of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on the Sejdić-Finci case, giving ethnically undeclared and ethnic minorities the possibility to form independent caucus in the Assembly and urges all levels of authorities in BiH to adopt similar amendments;

85.

is satisfied that the October 2012 local elections were well prepared and conducted in an orderly manner and in accordance with the standards of the Council of Europe and the international community for democratic elections even though electoral administration at the local level is highly politicised;

86.

notes with satisfaction that the development of civil society continues to be supported by the Civil Society Facility (CSF) – an EU organisation set up in 2008 to support civil society organisations (CSOs) – with a project entitled ‘Reinforcement of Local Democracy’ (LOD);

Kosovo

87.

welcomes the significant progress made over the last years on decentralisation and the efforts made by the Ministry of Local Government Administration (MLGA) to ensure more efficient monitoring of the local government structures, but feels that the efforts to implement decentralisation, such as the strengthening of the administration at the municipal level need to continue;

88.

notes with satisfaction that Kosovo has an advanced system of local governance in place, which enables the public to participate in local decision-making; this is reflected by the fact that Kosovo's citizens are broadly satisfied with their local authorities and the ways in which they exercise their powers;

89.

calls on Kosovo to demonstrate clearly that it is striving to combat corruption and organised crime;

90.

recommends the use at local level of evidence-based planning processes in dealing with administrative matters and budgeting processes. The municipal authorities need tailor-made guidance in order to strengthen their administrative capacity;

91.

acknowledges that the newly established Serb-majority municipalities face specific challenges given their small size and require further assistance from the central level to ensure their sustainability;

92.

calls on all of the involved parties to find constructive solutions to the specific challenges faced by the decentralisation process in the north of Kosovo in order to provide quality services to people;

93.

points out that under a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA), Kosovo would need to respect and implement the democratic principles of governance through an adequate and more effective executive at all levels of administration.

Brussels, 11 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.


17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/35


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Unleashing the potential of cloud computing in Europe’

2013/C 139/07

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

welcomes the Commission communication on unleashing the potential of cloud computing and the Commission's call for innovative technological solutions; agrees that the potential of cloud computing goes beyond technological progress in IT: it has a positive impact on the labour market, can improve equal opportunities and can create jobs;

points out that one of the biggest barriers to use of cloud computing in the public and private sectors is uncertainty about what rules and regulations must be considered if a cloud computing solution is chosen, for instance national and European personal data protection law, social and health provisions and accounting rules. There are also certain issues and risks in relation to data protection that must be addressed;

supports the three key actions proposed by the Commission but considers that these need to be supplemented by concrete measures focusing on raising user awareness, as this stimulates demand on markets, thus helping to strengthen Europe's position in global competition, and share the risks and benefits arising from the spread of this new technology more evenly between consumers and providers. These concrete measures should also focus on promoting IT education and culture;

considers that the Commission should take steps to make existing clouds or clouds under development at national, regional and possibly local level interconnectable and interoperable, exploiting the potential for standardisation. Strong emphasis should be laid on compatibility of the abovementioned administrative registers.

Rapporteur

Gábor BIHARY (HU/PES), Member of Budapest General Assembly

Reference document

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Unleashing the potential of cloud computing in Europe

COM(2012) 529 final

I.   GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

welcomes the Commission communication on unleashing the potential of cloud computing and the Commission's call for innovative technological solutions; agrees that the potential of cloud computing goes beyond technological progress in IT: it has a positive impact on the labour market, can improve equal opportunities and can create jobs;

2.

at the same time, underlines the need to consider the impact that the spread of this new technology may have upon disadvantaged regions and social groups and therefore its possible adverse effects on territorial and social cohesion. For example, there is a risk that some local and global players will enjoy greater benefits from more easily accessible markets than others;

3.

points out that one of the biggest barriers to use of cloud computing in the public and private sectors is uncertainty about what rules and regulations must be considered if a cloud computing solution is chosen, for instance national and European personal data protection law, social and health provisions and accounting rules. There are also certain issues and risks in relation to data protection that must be addressed;

4.

regrets that the approaches to the public sector and the proposed partnership to promote cloud computing outlined fail to take proper account of local and regional authorities, even though many of their activities could provide useful lessons and examples of best practice for the strategy. The strategy also overlooks the fact that individual local and regional authorities are also involved as service providers in developing and operating cloud computing infrastructure;

5.

underlines that, in order for Europe to make meaningful advances in cloud computing, coordinated action involving all levels of governance is crucial;

6.

notes that in order for European businesses to be able to fulfil the role allotted to them by the strategy to make Europe a flagship it is imperative to develop forms of support within global competition;

7.

considers that it is important to incorporate sustainability into the implementation of cloud computing, given that making better use of the capacity of IT tools will allow more effective use of resources; however, considers that the strategy needs to focus on the indirect impact in this area, as well as on increasing the share of renewable energy in powering cloud computing systems, among other issues;

8.

points out that there is a long way to go between recognising the provisional existence of a ‘supercloud’ and implementing and applying that supercloud in such a way as to unleash its full potential. To this end, it is vital to raise consumer awareness through education and development of IT culture;

9.

expresses its concern that the communication does not go into enough depth into links between the proposed strategy and other issues, such as secure data processing, copyright law as well as the development of data accessibility and portability;

10.

stresses that the pace at cloud computing is rolled out could pick up once the measures needed for the Digital Agenda are in place. Although consumers are already using cloud services offered by providers as part of packages demanded by end users, experience has shown that people who use such technology carelessly and without adequate knowledge can pay the price, precisely because data is not properly protected and users lack awareness;

11.

supports the three key actions proposed by the Commission but considers that these need to be supplemented by concrete measures focusing on raising user awareness, as this stimulates demand on markets, thus helping to strengthen Europe's position in global competition, and share the risks and benefits arising from the spread of this new technology more evenly between consumers and providers. These concrete measures should also focus on promoting IT education and culture;

II.   DETAILED OBSERVATIONS AND PROPOSALS

Cutting through the jungle of standards

12.

endorses the Commission's proposal on the standardisation process, while regretting that it is not based on an appropriate regulatory and organisational framework;

13.

considers that it is important to supplement the proposed standardisation process with practical measures to enable identification in the cloud, for instance with regard to connecting up public administration registers;

14.

is concerned that the Commission proposal does not take proper account of existing public-sector and market services nor of the service structures and infrastructure that they have made possible;

15.

points out that one reason for distrust in cloud computing is the lack of regulation on data portability, with the resulting malfunctions;

16.

draws attention to the need to define more clearly, as regards standardisation and certification, who will authorise certification bodies and how, and to decide whether certification rules will be drawn up at Member State or EU level;

Safe and fair contract terms and conditions

17.

considers it important that the Commission wants to regulate contracts between service providers and users, with particular attention to placing constraints on service providers because of the potential for abuse of dominant position;

18.

notes that, although users are calling for applications based on a single procedure for starting sessions for the sake of ease of use, these requirements should not be met at the cost of security, particularly in the case of financial transactions. It is imperative that these matters be regulated in the near future;

19.

draws attention to the fact that much of the danger of cyberspace could be eliminated by an effective identification system which would enable users to establish the identity of cyberspace players;

20.

points out that, although the cloud already offers impressive possibilities for disseminating audiovisual culture, the question of copyright and reproduction has yet to be settled;

21.

welcomes the definition of common directives on data protection, a key issue when using cloud computing. Nevertheless, the Committee regrets that the Commission has not addressed the issues of online payment and invoicing, which will inevitably arise when using cloud computing for business purposes;

22.

feels it is necessary to work out more detailed scenarios enabling services accessible via cloud computing to be evaluated, and to incorporate this evaluation into service contracts;

European cloud partnership, international dialogue

23.

welcomes the idea of a European cloud partnership;

24.

supports international dialogue on cloud-based services and considers that it is important to stress that, given the strong pace of development in this sector, there is a need for global harmonisation (both legal and technological) of strategies which have been or are being developed;

25.

warns of risks to the protection of personal data when cloud computing servers are located outside of the EU;

26.

considers that the Commission should take steps to make existing clouds or clouds under development at national, regional and possibly local level interconnectable and interoperable, exploiting the potential for standardisation. Strong emphasis should be laid on compatibility of the abovementioned administrative registers;

27.

feels it is important to engage in dialogue with standardisation bodies (e.g. ISO, ETSI), which are also concerned with cloud computing;

Raising user awareness

28.

is pleased that the Commission attaches importance to adapting public services to 21st century expectations, but nonetheless highlights the need to act swiftly to tackle the digital divide;

29.

points out that the digital divide can only be reduced by targeted education. In a knowledge-based society, mastering technology is the key to getting to grips with and disseminating new technologies;

30.

considers that 21st century Europeans need to be capable of taking ownership and making effective use of the technologies available to them. One good way to achieve this would be to build on the opportunities provided by the European Computer Driving Licence;

31.

points out that technologically, cloud computing already supports wider use of e-learning. Addressing regulatory and copyright issues is necessary in order to ensure progress in this field;

III.   FURTHER OBSERVATIONS AND PROPOSALS

32.

considers that the Commission should support the public sector as regards developing principles for awarding tenders, but considers it important that, in regions whose development is lagging behind, this aid should not be limited to the development stage but should rather include the funding needed for use;

33.

highlights that there is no way to unleash the potential of cloud computing without simultaneously developing the single market in telecommunication services, which requires European measures in the area of tariffs for roaming data exchange services;

34.

feels it should be worked out in detail which government services must definitely be included in European cloud computing (for example with regard to identification).

Brussels, 11 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/39


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Devolution in the European Union and the place for local and regional self-government in EU policy making and delivery’

2013/C 139/08

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

understands devolution to mean all measures at political level that strengthen the role of sub-national authorities in the national and European decision-making process and that lead to powers being transferred from the central government level to local and regional institutions;

is convinced that functioning local and regional administrations and effective devolution should be based on the principles of subsidiarity, proportionality and multilevel governance;

is convinced that the political and legal principle of subsidiarity is a key driver of devolution, since it leads to power being located at the level at which they can be most efficiently exercised;

sees that the economic and financial crisis has proved to be a catalyst for reform and change, with local authorities in some countries having faced a local restructuring process and institutional power structures also having changed considerably;

points out that a coherent process of devolution can only succeed if the transfer of powers to sub-national authorities is matched by a corresponding allocation of financial resources;

observing that regions which are primarily financed from their own resources manage the available funds in a responsible manner and therefore have solid public finances, recommends that Member States rely more strongly on own financial resources than on transfer systems;

emphasises the positive connection between devolution on the one hand and successful, sustainable European regional policy on the other;

insists that discussions on the future of Europe should include the regional and local levels, since the legitimacy of the EU depends in part on the legitimacy of LRA;

recommends that all levels of government work together to achieve a lasting solution to the European sovereign debt crisis and calls for the involvement of local and regional authorities on equal terms in drawing up European and national reform plans;

Rapporteur

Prof. Franz SCHAUSBERGER (AT/EPP), delegate of the Land of Salzburg to the Committee of the Regions

Reference document

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

Benefits of devolution

1.

understands ‘devolution’ to mean all measures at political level that strengthen the role of sub-national authorities in the national and European decision-making process and that lead to powers being transferred from the central government level to local and regional institutions;

2.

recognises that EU Member States are under no obligation to choose a particular model for their institutional structure or for the devolution, transfer or sharing of powers between the different models of governance, but points out at the same time that the EU also respects regional and/or local self-government, as highlighted, in particular, in Article 4(2) TEU;

3.

points out that in many policy areas, decentralised executives are significantly more efficient, both from the point of view of cost and in terms of the quality of services and their proximity to the public;

4.

stresses that it is important for the people of Europe to identify with their regions and cities, which play a particularly crucial role as a counterweight to the increasingly international, and therefore anonymous, nature of job markets and economic relations;

5.

is convinced that devolution and the regional and local institutions that it involves have a key contribution to make to reducing the current social and economic disparities between Europe's regions, helping to reduce the negative consequences of a rural exodus from poor regions to big cities and of emigration from one Member State to another that weakens the labour market;

6.

thanks the Council of Europe’s Congress of Regional and Local Authorities (CLRAE) as well as the various interest groups that contributed to the consultation for their valuable contributions and expert opinions;

The CoR's basic responsibility to monitor devolution

7.

affirms that as the representative of sub-national (i.e. local and regional) authorities in the EU legislative and decision-making process, the CoR has a responsibility to monitor the application of the subsidiarity principle, and that it has a keen interest in assessing the state of devolution in the EU and the enlargement countries on a regular basis;

8.

points out that in its recent opinion on Building a European culture of multilevel governance, prepared as a follow-up to its White Paper, the CoR announced its intention to keep track of the devolution process in the Member States as well as in the countries in the enlargement process;

9.

is confirmed in its resolve to do so by the fact that the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and the CLRAE are carrying out detailed and systematic work on the same issue, and intends to use the results from both organisations in its work;

10.

recalls that the last Committee of the Regions opinion on this subject dates from 7 July 2005 and that in the interim there have been major institutional, political and legal changes and developments in relation to devolution in the EU;

The development of devolution in Europe since the last opinion in 2005

11.

notes that the 2009 Lisbon Treaty has strengthened the subsidiarity principle, enshrined local and regional identity in the Treaty and strengthened the CoR, encouraging several Member States to plan or carry out institutional reforms to enhance devolution or strengthen local and regional authorities;

12.

notes that, in general terms, the degree of devolution has therefore increased in most countries in recent years. However, the Committee has serious concerns about a contrary trend in some Member States in which the financial autonomy of local and regional authorities or the right to self-government at local level has been substantially curtailed;

13.

also notes, however, that the effects of the financial and economic crisis that erupted in 2009 and the sovereign debt crisis that struck in 2010 on the process of boosting devolution have been negative and that sub-national authorities have been affected by the changes in the relationship between national governments and the European institutions;

14.

in that context, is pleased to note that the concept of multilevel governance, which has the capacity to counter negative trends in relation to devolution, has become an established part of European political debate, thanks in no small part to the initiative of the CoR;

15.

feels obliged to point out that some of the Member States that have joined the EU since 2004 have not completed the transition process in relation to devolution and is therefore aware that some of those countries, as well as the countries of the Eastern Partnership, face particularly great challenges when it comes to achieving thriving economic and social development;

16.

considers that recent enlargements have shown that inadequate involvement of regional and local authorities in the process of integration creates major challenges and problems for both national governments and the European institutions in implementing EU policies and carrying out the necessary reforms, which in the end affects the public;

17.

is pleased to note that the vast majority of Council of Europe members, and all EU Member States, have ratified the Council of Europe's 1985 European Charter on Local Self-Government, according to which local self-government in Europe should be strengthened, based on the principles of democracy, proximity to the people and devolution;

18.

welcomes and supports the Council of Europe's initiative on a European Charter on Regional Democracy, and the draft proposed by the Congress in 2008, which aim to set out the key principles of regional democracy in Europe; regrets the fact that this initiative has been blocked by a number of members of the Council of Europe, but appreciates that at least the ministers responsible for local and regional government agreed a Reference Framework for Regional Democracy in 2009;

Devolution and the financial crisis

19.

observes with great interest the fact that the division of powers, and in particular the issue of fiscal devolution, have received growing attention in national and European public debate in the context of the consequences of the current economic and financial crisis, with the erroneous assumption often being that the behaviour of sub-national authorities is one of the elements that is preventing national budget targets from being hit, despite the national states' main responsibilities for the crisis;

20.

notes with concern that the financial crisis that erupted in 2009 has spilled over into a sovereign debt crisis that is seriously threatening the real economy of cities and regions and harming the social fabric of the Member States;

21.

the Committee of the Regions is concerned at the state of regional and local autonomy in some European countries, due to the reforms being carried out to streamline regional and local government and make it more sustainable. In many of the member states the prevailing economic criteria in the current economic and financial crisis have distorted the democratic foundations of regional and local autonomy, profoundly damaging it

22.

is firmly opposed to the economic and debt crises and the austerity measures that are required across Europe being used in some Member States as an excuse to further centralise powers, to devolve powers without providing corresponding financial resources or to rationalise, reduce or abolish sub-national bodies altogether, which will end up weakening local and regional democracy, a trend that is based on the mistaken assumption that transferring public services to the central government level will make them more cost-effective;

23.

argues, rather, that local authorities, as grassroots institutions, are aware of people's needs and are best placed to define and respond to such needs at a time of crisis;

24.

vigorously opposes such a policy, which violates the European principle of subsidiarity, according to which political and regulatory decisions should be taken at the most appropriate level in order to achieve the desired goals and as close as possible to the people;

25.

also observes equivalent developments taking place in countries that are preparing for EU accession and countries of the European neighbourhood;

26.

notes that merging municipalities is very often presented as a way to achieve cost savings in the context of the financial and debt crises, based on economic arguments but without always being based on adequate studies or analyses; however, also acknowledges that in some regions merging municipalities can be a useful strategy, e.g. because of demographic change;

27.

believes that when such changes are considered, the loss of proximity to the people and of local democracy that may result must not be ignored, and that priority should be given to the possibilities of saving money by means of cooperation across borders and between local and regional authorities. Abolition of municipalities by way of merger should be considered extremely carefully – it can, for example, be a useful strategy in the regions in view of demographic change; in relation to cooperation between local authorities, is concerned about European Commission efforts to obstruct the joint performance of tasks through such cooperation, with requirements going beyond European Court of Justice case law;

28.

in this context, highlights the importance of town twinning, European networks of cities and regions, and bilateral and multilateral European territorial cooperation programmes, as well as of European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTCs), which make it much easier for regions and municipalities to cooperate in related policy areas such as services of general interest, transport and environmental protection;

The current state of devolution in Europe  (1)

29.

understands from recent reports that three of the 27 EU Member States formally have a federal structure, one Member State is a quasi-federal state, and that the others are unitary states of various types, some of which have heterogeneous local structures (an asymmetric system) in spite of their formally unitary nature; also notes that eleven Member States have only one sub-national level, nine have two and seven have three such levels;

30.

observes with great interest the fact that in many countries, the economic and financial crisis has proved to be a catalyst for reform and change, with local authorities in some countries having faced a local restructuring process and institutional power structures also having changed considerably in some cases – not always in the direction of more devolution;

31.

draws attention to the analytical work that it has commissioned to take a snapshot of the state of devolution and the division of powers in the Member States;

Principles for the organisation of local and regional self-government

32.

is convinced that functioning local and regional administrations and effective devolution should be based on the principles of subsidiarity, proportionality and multilevel governance;

33.

considers it extremely important for local and regional governance to be conducted through democratically elected and fully representative bodies that are accountable to their people. That brings policy closer to the people, showing the added value of local and regional democracy, since good governance and transparency give local and regional bodies greater legitimacy and responsibility and improve trust in them;

34.

considers it absolutely essential for decisions to introduce reforms devolving powers and financial resources to be in line with the practical expectations and demands of the public and of local and regional authorities; however, also acknowledges that use could be made of referenda when justified by the importance of the measures to be introduced and in accordance with the constitution of the Member State;

35.

is pleased that European integration has contributed in a decisive way to local and regional devolution. The devolution that is currently taking place or being discussed in the enlargement countries and the countries of the Eastern Partnership can be a considerable help to them when it comes to adapting more quickly and easily to the EU acquis and, in due course, complying better with the obligations of EU membership;

36.

also points out that the EU treaties indirectly recognise local and regional democracy (Article 10 TEU, Article 20(2) TFEU and Article 40 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights), showing that regardless of its basic neutrality in relation to the institutional structure of Member States, the EU sees local and regional democracy as one of the foundations of its own legitimacy;

37.

in this respect, calls on all EU Member States that have not yet made plans to do so to establish an appropriate legal framework for their sub-national authorities at the highest possible level (in the constitution, if possible);

38.

points out that its aim is not to create purely statistical regional units, but to set up politically and administratively self-governing sub-national authorities, which can implement EU measures and legislation much better;

39.

shares the view of the CLRAE, among others, that the number of devolved entities in a European country should in part reflect the geographical size of the country, and draws attention to the valuable recommendations for future development of intermediate levels of administration contained in Arco Latino's 2012 ‘Salerno Manifesto’;

40.

invites the European institutions to support devolution, which is a key element in fostering cultural diversity, in line with the EU's motto ‘United in Diversity’, and to reinforce regional and local authorities' sense of being European territorial authorities;

41.

in this connection, points out that devolved governance has major advantages, such as better appreciation of people's needs and wishes; (co-) development of policies that can help foster sustainable and competitive growth; sound economic management and local and regional investment; and greater autonomy and local and regional democracy;

42.

reiterates that in accordance with the principles of good governance and better lawmaking, regional and local authorities, as well as the parties responsible for implementing EU policy at sub-national level, must be more actively and effectively involved as early as possible in designing and implementing EU policies and legislation;

43.

in this regard, deems the effective implementation of the cooperation agreement between the European Commission and the CoR as an important and essential means to provide such involvement;

44.

repeats its call for the Member States in which there are regional authorities with legislative powers to set up the mechanisms needed to allow those regional authorities to participate in EU decision-making processes on matters which concern them. That should apply not only to regional parliaments, which act in the context of the subsidiarity early warning mechanism, but also to regional executives, which should be involved in preparing national positions in the Council or in putting together national delegations;

Multilevel governance and the link between effective, functioning local and regional self-government and the proper application of the subsidiarity principle

45.

recalls that multilevel governance ensures that all levels of governance cooperate in making decisions and exercising powers and that subsidiarity and multilevel governance go hand in hand with strong local and regional self-government;

46.

also recalls that the Lisbon Treaty made it explicit for the first time that the subsidiarity principle applies to the whole range of EU governments, at European, national, regional and local level. The principles of subsidiarity and proportionality are prerequisites for multilevel governance to work in practice;

47.

is convinced that the political and legal principle of subsidiarity is a key driver of devolution, since it leads to powers being located at the level at which they can be most efficiently exercised;

48.

intends to continue its cooperation with the Council of Europe CLRAE in monitoring the application of the European Charter on Local Self-Government and the state of local and regional democracy in EU Member States and candidate countries;

49.

again gives notice of its intention to develop an EU Charter on Multilevel Governance and to continue the work that has already begun on the subject (2);

Financial devolution

50.

is pleased to note that the European Commission's recent report on public finances in the Economic and Monetary Union (3) shows that the trend towards fiscal devolution in the EU Member States is gathering pace, with a growing proportion of income and expenditure being at a local or regional scale. The report highlights the fact that own resources, i.e. independently raised sub-national taxes or charges, are a more efficient funding tool than transfers from central government, but that sub-national taxes and charges are used in less than 50 % of cases and have not increased since 1995;

51.

points out that a coherent process of devolution can only succeed if the transfer of powers to sub-national authorities is matched by a corresponding and sufficient allocation of financial resources and recalls that both the European Charter on Local Self-Government and the Council of Europe's Reference Framework for Regional Democracy include duties and measures along these lines for the signatory states;

52.

in that regard, is critical of recent developments in some Member States, in which the allocation of powers is not linked to corresponding financial resources or to income-raising powers and the resulting inefficiency of regional or local self-government is used as an argument for centralisation;

53.

points out that it is not devolution per se that leads to unrestrained spending by sub-national authorities, but rather poor implementation of devolution measures that are not accompanied by fiscal devolution;

54.

refers once again to the European Commission's report on public finances in EMU, which states that regions that are primarily financed from their own resources manage the available funds in a responsible manner and therefore have solid public finances, and thus encourages the Member States to replace transfer payments, so far as possible, with own financial resources;

55.

is also concerned that many regions and municipalities have found themselves in severe financial difficulties as a result of risky financial speculation and suggests that appropriate instruments and strategies be developed to address these situations;

56.

for EU co-financed projects which are geared towards achieving objectives such as those of the Europe 2020 strategy, calls on the European Commission to better clarify the legislative framework to ensure that an equilibrium is found between the co-financing requirements from regional and local authority budgets and the calculation of their public deficit;

57.

emphasises the positive connection between devolution on the one hand and successful, sustainable European regional policy on the other and, in this respect, refers to studies showing that cohesion policy produces better results in devolved Member States;

58.

also notes that cohesion policy is implemented particularly inefficiently in centralised Member States all of whose regions are eligible for Objective 1, since centralised administrations are often unfamiliar with the regional problems and challenges involved in particular projects, and is therefore in favour of involving sub-national authorities in the future management of the funds in the Member States;

Devolution and independence movements

59.

is convinced that a proper devolution process can greatly improve the satisfaction of the people in the regions and local authorities and may strengthen the whole state;

60.

on the other hand, is convinced that a long-standing refusal of serious dialogue between different levels of governance, and a permanent failure to take account of the wishes and demands of regions for devolution of powers and the necessary financial resources may induce demands for autonomy and in special cases call for independence; recalls in this context that a consequent and coherent application and acceptance of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality at European level provide the best framework to accommodate the legitimate concerns of the different levels;

61.

is closely monitoring the independence movements that have recently been gaining strength in certain regions of EU Member States and candidate countries and their very different historical, political and economic causes;

62.

in this context, calls for studies of the causes of these movements, making it possible to discuss and understand their motivations and find coherent, peaceful solutions for all concerned;

63.

makes clear that in accordance with Article 4(2) TEU, developments in the direction of the independence of a region should basically be seen as an internal matter for the state concerned;

64.

recalls that if a region, having achieved independence, wanted to join the EU, it would be required to make a formal application to the Council and to follow the accession procedure under Article 49 TEU in the same way as any other country that wished to become an EU Member State;

Visions for the future of Europe

65.

is taking part with great interest in the debate that has recently begun on different visions of the future of Europe and expects that sub-national authorities will be involved in the discussion process from the very beginning, which it sees as a key challenge in the context of its own activities;

66.

emphasises that it is essential that any vision for Europe include the regional and local levels, since the legitimacy of the European Union depends in part on the legitimacy of sub-national authorities;

67.

considers that a Convention on these subjects is necessary and will formulate and contribute its ideas on the future shape of the EU, along the lines that there is still room for greater recognition of local and regional democracy in future treaties;

68.

in that respect, recommends considering to what extent devolution together with effective local and, where appropriate, regional self-government could become a condition for EU membership;

Recommendations

69.

recommends that the dialogue between the European institutions and regional and local authorities be strengthened, with a view to direct cooperation between regions, cities and municipalities on the one hand and European Union bodies on the other;

70.

recommends that all levels of government implement synergies to achieve a lasting solution to the European sovereign debt crisis and, in that respect, calls for the involvement of local and regional authorities on equal terms in drawing up European and national reform plans;

71.

calls on the Member States to carry out any territorial reorganisation or future local government reforms in a careful, considered and well-planned way and in accordance with the Charter on Local Self-Government and the European Reference Framework for Regional Democracy, which guarantees and strengthens local self-government based on the principles of democracy, proximity and decentralisation;

72.

calls for more attention to be paid to proven examples of best practice in successful regions and municipalities with a view to advancing the public debate on devolution, particularly in centralised countries, and providing successful examples of the benefits of devolution;

73.

invites the European Commission to give even stronger support than it already does to targeted training programmes for regional and local administrations in how to produce appropriate aid projects and to pay closer attention to ensuring that EU aid is allocated on the basis of objective criteria, not political whim;

74.

also invites the European Commission to include a separate chapter in its annual progress reports on the state of regional and local self-government in the candidate countries concerned;

75.

welcomes the fact that, for the first time, the Commission's 2012 annual report on public finances in EMU includes a chapter on fiscal devolution and the state of local and regional finances, as well as on the reforms under way in relation to fiscal devolution in the Member States, and encourages the European Commission to repeat this review of sub-national public finances every year;

76.

proposes to complement the study mentioned above on the state of devolution and the division of powers within the Member States with a further survey of the relationship between devolution of powers and the provision of financial means by way of fiscal devolution, and highlights the need for that instrument in order to monitor the proper application of the subsidiarity principle.

Brussels, 12 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  This section uses information from the recent Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) – Dexia Crédit Local report on sub-national public finance in the EU, as well as from the European Commission Report on Public Finances in EMU.

(2)  See opinions CdR 89/2009 fin and 273/2011 fin.

(3)  http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/publications/european_economy/2012/public-finances-in-emu-2012_en.htm


17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/46


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Enhancing and focusing international cooperation in research and innovation’

2013/C 139/09

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

points out that local and regional authorities have a key role to play in the European Research Area (ERA). Regions and cities bring together, within their territory, the main players of the innovation triangle, a mix of academia, universities, research players and several economic and industrial communities along different innovation value chains and value networks. They are key players in developing regional research innovation strategies and creating the right framework conditions for innovative environments;

appreciates specific mention in the communication of regional and international dimensions of instruments in the FP7 Capacities programme, and calls for visibility of international research collaboration in the next programming period, taking into account the positive experience with the Regions of Knowledge programme and linking it to future ERA-NET initiatives;

stresses that international cooperation must be based on common principles on research integrity, the gender dimension, corporate social responsibility, open access and intellectual property. The climate and environmental dimension, which ties in with ‘sustainable development’ also has to be taken into consideration;

underscores the regional relevance and significant (potential) benefits of research infrastructures, including e-infrastructures. They provide the facilities (high performance computational and communication resources, remote instruments and data-sets) needed to carry out world-class R&I collaboration regardless of country and geographical location.

Rapporteur

Markku MARKKULA (FI/EPP), Member of the Espoo City Council

Reference document

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Enhancing and focusing EU international cooperation in research and innovation: A strategic approach

COM(2012) 497 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

Relevance to the local and regional levels and the CoR

1.

points out that local and regional authorities have a key role to play in the European Research Area (ERA). Regions and cities bring together, within their territory, the main players of the innovation triangle, a mix of academia, universities, research players and several economic and industrial communities along different innovation value chains and value networks. They are key players in developing regional research innovation strategies and creating the right framework conditions for innovative environments. They play an important role in creating a regional environment that encourages innovativeness and entrepreneurial discovery. Further to this, in many cases, regional and local administrations have legislative powers and manage financial resources for research, innovation and internationalisation;

2.

local and regional authorities are important stakeholders in international cooperation as well as in coordinating research and innovation activities. Their policies have a significant impact in developing research infrastructures and establishing innovative environments (universities, technology centres, business incubators, science parks and venture capital-friendly milieus) able to attract scientists and innovators and to create the substantive and operational conditions for robust growth of intellectual capital.

General remarks

3.

recognises that the communication complies with the principle of subsidiarity, considering that objectives of the proposed actions cannot be fully achieved by Member States in the framework of their national constitutional systems and action at EU level is likely to bring a clear benefit. Maximising the impact of international research and innovation activities, while avoiding costly fragmentation efforts, requires the Union to complement the openness of Horizon 2020 with targeted actions in order to ensure optimal scale and scope;

4.

recalls that knowledge and innovation are becoming more international within global value networks and appreciates the importance of combining thinking globally with acting locally;

5.

recalls that the Europe 2020 strategy underlines the importance of research and innovation in delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Innovation Union, as part of Europe 2020, emphasises the important role of international cooperation in realising Europe’s innovation potential;

6.

emphasises that international cooperation is an essential ingredient in the realisation of the ERA and its five key areas;

7.

appreciates specific mention in the communication of regional and international dimensions of instruments in the FP7 Capacities programme, and calls for visibility of international research collaboration in the next programming period, taking into account the positive experience with the Regions of Knowledge programme and linking it to future ERA-NET initiatives;

8.

supports an ambitious budget for Horizon 2020 and recalls that synergies with other financial instruments dealing with internationalisation are needed. Using the right instruments of Horizon 2020 for cooperation with third countries will be important;

9.

welcomes the thorough effort made by the European Commission in preparing a clear, concise and comprehensive framework as a basis for a more strategic approach enhancing international cooperation in research and innovation in Europe;

10.

commends the well-structured and concise overview in the communication of instruments and (potential) counterparts for international research collaboration;

11.

underlines that international cooperation must always have an added value for the EU;

12.

stresses that international cooperation must be based on common principles on research integrity, the gender dimension, corporate social responsibility, open access and intellectual property. The climate and environmental dimension, which ties in with ‘sustainable development’ also has to be taken into consideration;

13.

identifies three overarching issues of regional relevance in the communication, namely science diplomacy, smart specialisation and research infrastructures.

Need for added value from Research, Development and Innovation (RDI)

14.

is convinced that the multitude of initiatives from Member States and regions without coordination with other Member States on occasion results in initiatives that are not internally connected and do not lead to the necessary critical mass. It is therefore important for the European research and innovation agenda and national and regional innovation strategies to be coordinated;

15.

recognises that there is a need to further align individual Member States' activities in international cooperation and, in this context, additional added value can come from cooperation with regions. It is in regions' and cities' own interest to provide the ERA with concrete support and use their unifying role in a triple-helix setting to help to create the right framework conditions to attract international research investments and excellent foreign researchers;

16.

in order to be a global player, Europe needs to concentrate on researching innovative solutions that help respond to societal challenges. The CoR stresses that it is important to take a market-oriented and demand-led approach, and that SMEs have a crucial role in translating (international) academic research into practical applications and placing them on the market;

17.

stresses the role that European national governments and regional and local authorities are called to play in order to transform Europe into a large integrated reality, able to compete in a globalised world and engage in dialogue with more industrialised countries (such as the USA and Japan), new emerging economies (such as BRICS), neighbouring and developing countries;

18.

calls for a more explicit definition of ‘region’ in the communication, possibly designated as supra-national and sub-national region;

19.

believes that regions are in a privileged position to link research and innovation activities to horizontal and thematic policies: managing their territories, taking care of environmental and security issues, developing plans and providing services – added value can be created in terms of new ideas, approaches and innovative technology solutions.

Globalisation of industry and RDI: instruments and their regional relevance

20.

recognises that global competition concerns not only countries but also large regional systems where districts, industrial research-driven clusters, business networks and business parks are located: the regional dimension is called to compete and cooperate internationally with similar systems in other parts of the world;

21.

considers that Horizon 2020 could be an important opportunity to rethink the role and contribution that regional governments can make to the construction of a European system able to withstand global competition;

22.

underlines the need to support the concept of multilevel governance for international RDI cooperation in which regions and local authorities can play a key role together with Member States and the Union;

23.

stresses the importance of regional networks for interregional and international collaboration between regions and local authorities on RDI. Regional networks give regional and local players the arena to gather the necessary critical mass of ideas, competences and financial means to participate in RDI cooperation and join international large scale endeavours. Networks are powerful means to pull together resources, expertise, knowledge and different capabilities. Well-connected RDI operators and their stakeholders create favourable ecosystems for international cooperation thanks to the need to be increasingly connected globally and the gravitation towards territorial place-based realities.

Strategic Forum for International Cooperation (SFIC)

24.

recognises the added value of the Strategic Forum for International Cooperation, optimising the use of national, European and global resources, avoiding duplication of activities;

25.

appreciates the effort of the SFIC in providing a well-structured overview of international cooperation activities developed by Member States, as part of their own policies and programmes;

26.

recalls the contribution that regional and local authorities can make to the SFIC, when they have institutional competencies and resources to take initiatives and cooperate at international level. Several EU regions are quite active through agreements, representations abroad and co-funded activities. European Business and Technology Centres abroad are an example of initiatives outside the EU where regional players are actively involved;

27.

considers that since the cooperation of European regions with countries outside the EU often takes place regardless of the availability of EU funding, in order to be compatible and strive towards the same aims, a coordination strategy with the SFIC should be explored;

28.

recalls that, from the subsidiarity standpoint, regional and local authorities are the closest players able to detect research players and innovative companies that – with a bottom-up logic – decide if it is useful to be present in certain countries or regions and cooperate with local players;

29.

believes that coordination of the national/federal/regional/local level in international activities is important but that the Member States (or the regions that frame and implement policy) should remain the principal players responsible in this field; where common priorities vis-à-vis third countries/regions are identified, the added value of European joint coordinated initiatives is evident;

30.

considers that having a strategic approach, with multiannual roadmaps, is important but it must not be too rigid: flexibility is needed in order to allow Member States or regions to make justified adaptations in the allocation of national/federal/regional means.

Information gathering systems

31.

asks to be kept informed about and possibly involved in the proposed information gathering system, which could be used as one source of input for strategic research and innovation agendas in the framework of smart specialisation;

32.

acknowledges that world scientific specialisation and relative quality opens up international cooperation opportunities based on complementarities, and commends the efforts presented in the communication for mapping scientific strengths and weaknesses on a supra-national level;

33.

calls for this mapping exercise to be extended to the sub-national level as well, possibly building on existing information systems; notes the importance of exchanges with global partners regarding the configuration and use of information systems such as, for example, the European ERA-watch and North American databases such as STAR metrics, COMETS and ORCID;

34.

recognises the potential of such information systems with regard to identifying comparative (technological) advantages, and in providing input to the definition of smart specialisation strategies with regard to synergies, complementarities and partnerships; for regions interested in cooperation with non-EU regions or countries, such information could provide relevant input for defining smart specialisation strategies;

35.

recalls that interconnected European networks, behaving as a networked community, continuously improving their performances thanks to peer reviews, ‘bench-learning’, permanent benchmarking and geographically mapping of European innovation can provide a relevant contribution.

Other overarching issues of regional relevance

36.

recognises that the idea of focusing on themes where international cooperation makes a difference is positive, in particular within global research infrastructure. Science diplomacy and specialisations are other relevant issues for EU international R&I activities;

37.

recalls that global collaborative models based on open innovation, internet and online social networks, clusters, joint international activities, shared technology platforms, Living labs and communities' collaborative initiatives are outstanding tools for open and collaboration-based international activities.

Research infrastructures

38.

agrees that the development of strategic research infrastructures has an inherent international cooperation dimension. Setting up coherent (physical and non-physical) infrastructures for enhancing the innovation potential of territories in a global dimension is crucial;

39.

underscores the regional relevance and significant (potential) benefits of research infrastructures, including e-infrastructures. They provide the facilities (high performance computational and communication resources, remote instruments and data-sets) needed to carry out world-class R&I collaboration regardless of country and geographical location;

40.

recalls that global e-infrastructures constitute a key element of a digital European research area open to the rest of the world: they can provide a contribution to tackling global research challenges;

41.

recommends the consultation of regions and local authorities in the elaboration of the ESFRI (European Strategic Forum for Research Infrastructures) roadmap.

Science diplomacy

42.

recognises that international cooperation in research and innovation is an important instrument of ‘soft power’ and a mechanism for improving relations with key countries and regions;

43.

emphasises the role of science diplomacy, particularly but not necessarily limited to ensuring the local and regional dimension of the new European neighbourhood policy. Bi-regional S&T partnerships with developing countries can complement the Union’s external policies and instruments by building partnerships for sustainable development able to address global challenges;

44.

recalls that international cooperation in research and innovation with industrialised countries and emerging economies can create business opportunities and open new markets for business and regional and local players. ERA-Watch database with its country-based information on internationalisation of S&T cooperation can help regions to identify topics for research and innovation cooperation as well as regions outside the EU where collaboration in this field could be mutually beneficial;

Specialisation

45.

recalls the potential of scientific specialisation able to open up international cooperation opportunities based on complementarities;

46.

points out the crucial importance of the international dimension of Smart Specialisation Strategies (S3), as an important driver for further investments and opportunities for both European regions and third countries;

Global societal challenges

47.

recognises that global cooperation in science and innovation is important and that Horizon 2020 can enable an effective scientific response to global challenges;

48.

underlines the important contribution that regions can bring to tackling societal challenges, through policy, coordinated programmes and joint activities conceived in a synergic framework with national and EU external instruments;

49.

recalls the importance of regions and local authorities as crucial players for effective and efficient research and innovation ecosystems where clusters and the best European expertise (local universities, industry, SMEs, regional research/development agencies, etc.) can be the drivers for demand and opportunity-driven innovation, solving real world problems and addressing major international societal challenges.

Brussels, 12 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/51


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Rethinking Education’

2013/C 139/10

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

supports the call to enhance efforts on developing transversal skills, particularly entrepreneurial skills;

considers it essential to build bridges between informal and non-formal learning and formal education. Too often curriculum development at second level is focused on acquiring information, rather than focusing on strengthening understanding, the learning of key skills and developing skills to deal with and navigate their way through this world;

in the present economic climate, considers it vital to recognise the importance of combining public and private investment in education and training. It is not just important but vital to have totally inclusive policies;

underlines that in relation to multilingualism and media literacy the specificity of the teaching needs and the rapidly changing curricula require investments in teaching instruments, broader partnerships and constant vigilance. ICT has unlocked enormous potential to improve learning outcomes;

welcomes the Commission's intention to continue to engage with the stakeholders to take forward the proposed strategy for ‘Rethinking Education’ in a concerted push for reform and reconfirms CoR interest in continuing to work with the European Commission and other partners in the field.

Rapporteur

Fiona O'LOUGHLIN (IE/ALDE), Member of Kildare County Council and Mid-East Regional Authority

Reference document

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes

COM(2012) 669 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General context

1.

welcomes the communication on Rethinking Education: Investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes  (1) as a timely and valuable input to launching a renewed process of developing modern and effective education and training systems;

2.

considers, however, that the title ‘Rethinking Education’, deserving broader focus than the one stated in the communication, should not overlook the goals of active citizenship, personal development and well-being, though skills need to be improved with a view to employability and growth, and as a means of addressing challenges for the 21st century such as climate change, ageing or migration;

3.

stresses the fact that The Rethinking Education Communication package sets out the policy priorities for education and training systems for the next years, an essential part of which must be personal development when it comes to educating the young, pushing Member States for a renewed focus on:

—   QUALITY: The right skills to be delivered for the workplace

—   ACCESSIBILITY: What reforms will increase efficiency and inclusiveness of education and contribute to lifelong learning

—   FUNDING: With which resources and with whom should reforms be achieved relating to actions necessary to unlock the potential of education and training systems as drivers for growth and youth employment. They are in line with the Country Specific Recommendations made to Member States in the European Semester.

4.

acknowledges the Commission's efforts to improve and innovate the concepts of entrepreneurial education and vocational training as well as its call for further sustainable investment in education and training in order to respond to the challenges posed by the global economy and the shift in skills demand so to generate growth and ensure jobs;

5.

emphasises that Commission's communication does call for a fundamental shift in education, with more focus on ‘learning outcomes’ - the knowledge, skills and competences that students acquire. The Committee underlines the core motivational and substantive role of education, namely to create the conditions for continuous learning;

6.

considers that the length of time spent in education is a poor indicator of learning. Interesting and relevant educational content and learning methods and environments that are motivating and effective are much more important than the length of time spent in education. In addition, highlights that literacy and numeracy, including basic financial knowledge and digital literacy, still needs to be significantly improved and entrepreneurial skills and a sense of initiative need to be developed and strengthened. There is also a clear need for analysing and studying the distribution and number of hours of the curricula across the European education systems in order to optimise the time spent in education in terms of the pupil's real academic performance;

7.

agrees with the OECD Skills Strategy published on 21 May 2012 which considers that ‘skills have become the global currency of the 21st century’. The value of this ‘currency’ is determined by its scope for use and potential for development. Without proper investment in skills, people languish on the margins of society, technological progress does not translate into economic growth, and countries can no longer compete in an increasingly knowledge-based global society. But the value depreciates as the requirements of labour markets evolve and individuals lose the skills they do not use or fail to acquire new ones as part of a lifelong learning process;

8.

draws the attention that skills also do not automatically convert into jobs and growth. The OECD Strategy advocates for promoting equity in educational opportunities. While inequality is deepening in many areas of life, education and training can help to bridge this divide. Therefore considers that improving equity in skills development is both socially fair and economically efficient. Moreover, research has long confirmed that equity and quality in education are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary: the highest-performing education systems across OECD countries are those that combine quality with equity;

9.

emphasises the value of the system-wide perspective this opinion brings on education and training, and believe it important to highlight the importance of using policy evidence and good practices in shaping the proposed actions and reforms needed to render these systems more efficient, flexible and relevant. At the same time, highlights the broad mission of education and training, its role in ensuring social inclusion and the need for support at all levels – EU, national, local and regional;

Building skills for the 21st century

10.

supports the call to enhance efforts on developing transversal skills, particularly entrepreneurial skills. While striving to meet the high demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and research and innovation related skills, considers that the first step must be that foundation or basic skills are achieved by all, which includes digital literacy and basic financial knowledge. It is essential that learning entrepreneurial skills, many of which are closely related to emotional skills, be included in the curricula of all European education systems;

11.

stresses that learning at all levels should make much greater use of team, group and network learning, because only a small part of working life involves working alone and solving problems alone. In all activities, good team-building is always based on different peoples' knowledge, skills and personalities being compatible with and complementing one another;

12.

agrees that vocational education and training (VET) must be a valued and an integral part of the education system, particularly the dual system involving work based learning. Countries that have highly developed dual systems tend to perform better in terms of youth employment. Yet over half of Member States have less than 50 % of learners engaged in VET. Member States are therefore called on to develop excellence in VET, aligning delivery to match local labour market need, with strong involvement from business. Short cycle qualifications in areas of skills shortage, for example, can target skills mismatches and make a real impact on employment. The CoR emphasises that the specific circumstances and needs of a given country and/or region should be taken into account when developing high quality dual vocational education systems. The CoR also suggests launching pilot programmes to encourage education systems in states disposing of an underdeveloped dual education system to promote apprenticeships and better link vocational training to the work environment;

13.

welcomes the fact that the need for entrepreneurship education strategy at institutional levels was duly acknowledged by the Council of Education Ministers of 15 February and expects that it will soon translate into concrete action by the Member States;

14.

acknowledges the importance of developing and implementing entrepreneurship education systems across Europe. Considers that special focus should be placed on overcoming the disparities and substantial differences in their development, as shown by the 2008 survey on entrepreneurship in higher education and confirmed in the 2011 Budapest high level symposium;

15.

underlines that students' access to entrepreneurship education varies and is often determined at institution level; considers teachers and educators as important multipliers, but at the same time there is a need to address, to the extent possible in the school environment, the existing lack of understanding of what entrepreneurship education entails and how it can be taught; thus considers that Member States, working with the education institutions and the relevant bodies providing support to businesses, should include elements of entrepreneurship education in the curriculum content in basic education, vocational training and higher education;

16.

stresses the importance of the European framework of key competences, among which entrepreneurship education has been identified as very important; therefore suggests that a strong focus needs to be given to teacher training on entrepreneurship skills, but also informal learning between entrepreneurs and students should be promoted widely;

17.

calls on local and regional training providers and the education system to provide more tailored offers (formal and non-formal learning) for specific target audiences to be trained to become entrepreneurs or to develop their business. The good practices from the European Entrepreneurial Regions (EER) may be a valuable source of inspiration in this respect. The Committee of the Region's European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) award label is a good example to demonstrate that regions can develop, at low cost, future-thinking strategies with specific focus given to increasing enterprise skills especially among young people and, thus, contribute to promoting a new generation of entrepreneurs and jobs;

18.

while foreign language proficiency is one of the main determinants of learning and professional mobility, as well as of domestic and international employability, the communication concludes that the ‘outcome of foreign language learning in Europe is poor’: only four in ten pupils reach the ‘independent user’ level in the first foreign language, indicating an ability to have a simple conversation. Poor language skills thus constitute a major obstacle to free movement of workers and to the international competitiveness of EU enterprises. This is an issue particularly in areas where our European citizens live close to the border of a neighbouring country with a different language. Language learning is deemed to be much more effective at an early age and at the same time, the fostering of mutual understanding and developing a sense of European citizenship require contacts from an early age onwards;

19.

acknowledging the progress that has been achieved so far, considers that there is still unexploited potential for the education and training systems to better fulfil their role in promoting social and territorial cohesion and to contribute to Europe's prosperity, e.g. by tapping into the new possibilities offered by the ICT and Open Educational Resources (OER) as well as open innovation;

20.

in the present economic climate, considers it vital to recognise the importance of combining public and private investment in education and training. Moreover, underlines the need to safeguard against possible undesirable side-effects such as hindering access of socio-economically disadvantaged groups to education and training. It is not just important but vital to have totally inclusive policies;

21.

special attention is given to fighting youth unemployment, with four areas considered essential to addressing this issue and where Member States should step up efforts:

developing world-class general, continuing and vocational education to increase the academic knowledge required for lifelong learning and the quality of vocational skills;

promoting work based learning including quality traineeships, apprenticeships and dual learning models to help the transition from learning to work;

promoting partnerships between public and private institutions (to ensure appropriate curricula and skills provision);

and promoting the learning mobility of all young people so that learning can be accessible under equal conditions, regardless of where they live;

22.

welcomes, in this regard, the Youth Employment Package from December 2012, which includes the Youth Guarantee, and the European Council proposal for a Youth Employment Initiative (YEI), with a budget of EUR 6 billion (2014-2020) for regions with a youth unemployment level above 25 %; urges the European Commission and Member States to work with regions in ensuring that the YEI will be truly complementary and additional to existing regional and national actions to combat youth unemployment and that it will give tangible effect to the Youth Guarantee;

23.

therefore reiterates its call to Member States and, where relevant, regional governments, despite budgetary pressures, not to mortgage the future by making cuts in sectors (such as education and training) that are the foundation of tomorrow's growth (2). The European Semester could be used to ensure that cuts do not affect those sectors that are crucial to implementing the Europe 2020 strategy; insists that Member States currently under severe budgetary constraints should not be left behind.

Stimulating open and flexible learning

24.

considers it essential to build bridges between informal and non-formal learning and formal education. Too often curriculum development at second level is focused on acquiring information, rather than focusing on strengthening understanding, the learning of key skills and developing skills to deal with and navigate their way through this world; points out that Member States are responsible for drawing up and shaping specific curricula and for organising and funding education systems;

25.

calls for these key skills to be considered central when rethinking education and training: creative thinking, communicating, information processing, being personally effective and working with others; these key skills complement and facilitate the acquisition of the eight key competences for lifelong learning (3);

26.

underlines that teachers face rapidly changing demands, which require a new set of competences for teachers, teacher educators and education leaders. There is an urgent need to do more in the area of how to modernise teaching methods, ensure that teachers keep abreast of developments in their subject matter, and identify and promote excellence in teaching, while respecting the fact that developing a skills framework for teachers falls within the competence of the Member States;

27.

underlines the importance of developing the right basic skills by ensuring from the outset that teachers are committed to prioritising the acquisition of such skills and that the local community is involved in and actively supports social integration, for example of those being socially unprivileged or having a different cultural/educational background. At the same time, ensuring good liaison with the business community and, if necessary, mobilising psychopedagogical support is also needed;

28.

underlines that in relation to multilingualism and media literacy the specificity of the teaching needs and the rapidly changing curricula require investments in teaching instruments, broader partnerships and constant vigilance. ICT has unlocked enormous potential to improve learning outcomes. In some cases, various teaching and learning instruments, such as simulators and games, could make it possible to achieve significantly better learning outcomes than the use of lecture-based teaching and conventional illustrative material alone. Therefore calls for LRAs to establish liaisons and cooperation frameworks with the local business and university sectors, to engage the local community to understand local needs and increase the likelihood of employment of the trainees, and to arrange for teachers to undergo continuous education;

29.

acknowledges the effective contribution that the ongoing process of developing the European dimension in sport is bringing to EU's strategic goals, in particular the achievement of the goals defined in the Europe 2020 Strategy, and to opening up opportunities for sustainable job creation, especially for young people;

30.

highlights also the social, societal and educational function of sport as an important factor for making learning more effective, boosting mental capacity, enhancing the physical wellbeing of individuals, improving people's overall quality of life and fostering the harmonious integration of society through the promotion of the values of tolerance, fair play and cooperation;

31.

warns that while the evidence strongly supports the refocusing of education in favour of the development of transversal skills, the actual current practice is heading in the opposite direction. Considers that the use of standardised testing across the EU, as well as the development and introduction of teaching methods, learning simulators, ‘learning factories’ and equivalent is are major hurdles to overcome if the education systems are to be remodelled in favour of developing skills for employment. These need to be addressed. The development and acquisition of infrastructure often requires major investments, but the return on these investments is good if they are carried out in a structured way;

32.

welcomes the focus on learning outcomes; underscores the importance of balancing flexibility and autonomy with transferability and mutual recognition of qualifications across European regions and countries; is therefore interested in the swift implementation of a European Area for Skills and Qualifications, but points out that for example the European Qualifications Framework does not entail any right to recognition; in view of this, warns against confusion between instruments to achieve recognition on the one hand and transparency on the other; there is a risk of this happening in the Commission's efforts to secure problem-free recognition of skills and qualifications across borders;

33.

reiterates its firm belief that the EU needs not only to increase participation in education and training but also to attract a broader cross-section section of society, including disadvantaged and vulnerable groups (4), and deploy the resources to meet this challenge;

Promoting a collaborative effort

34.

stresses from the outset the importance of a horizontally concerted and sustainable strategy in the implementation process that would also ensure the necessary synergies between all relevant Europe 2020 Strategy flagship initiatives, and in particular An agenda for new skills and jobs, Youth on the Move, Innovation Union, and Digital agenda for Europe;

35.

recalls that LRA have played a large role in achieving the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and considers important that National Reform Programmes are implemented in partnership between different tiers of government for Europe 2020 to deliver up to its promises; underlines that local and regional authorities are ideally placed to substantially contribute to achieving these goals by facilitating the realisation of a conducing environment, ensure the ultimate communication and dissemination of information via their networks and provide the necessary data for future strategic planning and development;

36.

stresses the importance of supportive framework conditions, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups; highlights the need for consistent, long-term actions, with involvement from local and regional authorities, to also reach out to schools in geographically and socially disadvantaged areas in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning outcomes, and to raise aspiration among the youth;

37.

local and regional authorities have key responsibilities for education and training policy and they play an important role in the fields of youth and employment policies. It is important in the area of transversal skills development to foster within the education system the attitudes and skills of young people to self-employment by developing personal qualities such as creativity, responsibility, risk-taking, problem solving and team work;

38.

supports a two-fold approach - priorities for Member States, and at the same time coordination and contributions at EU level, as proposed by the Commission in its communication; stresses at the same time the need for appropriate and proportionate actions and measures at national, regional and European level, in full respect of the subsidiarity principle at a formal, informal and non-formal level incorporating education, home and community with partnerships not only between schools and businesses, but also NGOs and other types of organisations in civil society;

39.

highlights the key role of LRAs in education and training and their value added as a player and an interface between the world of learning and the world of work and Insist on the need to bridge the gaps between regions, including those located in peripheral and outermost regions, and to enhance the activities of regional and peripheral education and training institutions; underlines that regional government, education and training institutions, other educational institutions and key stakeholders of the economy and society could usefully collaborate to agree on region-wide goals, policies and priorities concerning human capital development. Incentive structures should be strengthened to encourage education and training institutions and their staff to engage in activities benefiting regional and local development and entrepreneurship activities;

40.

recalls that it is at the sub-national level that the most accurate and timely information on regional labour markets can be sourced and where local and regional authorities can play a significant role in identifying skills mismatch providing appropriate re-training and vocational training programmes and incentivising investment in response to local demand;

41.

highlights that the likelihood of success improves if these cooperation frameworks are conceived as a virtuous circle where: the delivery of training does not ignore to the concrete needs of existing industry and/or commerce. The training institutions are collaborating closely with the private sector creating synergies and feedback mechanisms and the enhanced skills of the trained students/adults are re-invested in the regeneration of the territory. With regard to young pupils, the improvement of the level of entrepreneurship in the long term may be targeted through the development of an ‘entrepreneurship attitude’;

42.

believes that it is through long-term, collaborative creative experiences that young people will develop a huge range of key skills to become entrepreneurial

43.

reiterates support to the development of vocational training programmes which aim to create genuinely open pathways from vocational education to university education; supports measures to align VET policies with regional/local economic development strategies (namely for smart specialisation, young entrepreneurship) and to develop partnerships between education, business and research;

44.

notes that in some Member States that vocational education can be stigmatised and seen as inferior to a University Education. This needs to be addressed in any future actions. The Personalised Learning System developed in the 1990s in Poitiers is another step in the right direction – people were treated as individuals and a learning plan developed for them according to their specific needs. In addition, development of learning plans for communities and teams has become increasingly important; underlines that labour market relevance of higher education, but also VET should be strengthened and encourages the involvement of employers and labour market institutions in the design and delivery of programmes. In short, trainees must be able to see the advantages of vocational education over other forms of education, such as opportunities for ongoing skills development, so that pursuing vocational education does not mean hindering or spoiling one's chances of making progress;

45.

calls for these efforts to be made in conjunction with local and regional authorities because it is at this level that trends in skills and jobs are often first identified; underlines the CoR's commitment to contribute to the alignment of VET policies with regional/local economic development strategies namely for smart specialisation;

46.

underscores that Europe's full potential for developing IT support platform and ICT services in the public and private sectors should be fully exploited, including in education and training. EU-backed public-private partnerships involving local and regional authorities and ICT-development SMEs in the area of public ICT services can serve as an excellent cornerstone for building up local skills and knowledge across the EU. Highlights the potential for further development in this field by establishing regional centres for ITCs, virtual campus projects or multimedia training centres;

47.

training for skills development is a laudable goal. But we must be careful not to see investment in education solely to enhance economic productivity in Europe. The unfortunate outcome of this approach can be a weakening of the mental health of young people who become to be seen as economic proto units and who are defined only by their ability to contribute economically to society. In view of this, equal investment in young people's creativity, life-skills, transversal skills, cultural education and kinaesthetic skills is especially worthy of support. The public and private benefits of education go beyond the purely economic. For instance, higher levels of education are associated with a longer life expectancy, increased voting rates, and more supportive attitudes towards equal rights for ethnic minorities;

48.

in line with the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, concrete measures or actions proposed or adopted at EU level should focus on those areas where there is a strong European dimension, or where trans-national aspects are involved that cannot be properly regulated by Member States and/or regional and local authorities acting alone;

49.

underlines the need for smart, efficient and innovative funding and spending in education and training so to better respond to future skill-intensive jobs/expansion and replacement demand, to support growth and youth employment, insisting that policy development and programme implementation should utilise existing local democratically elected bodies; considers that using local knowledge and democratic accountability improves the governance mechanisms for partnerships between university, business and local government. This will enable local prioritisation and accountability linked directly to the principle of subsidiarity;

50.

highlights the benefits of creating strong local partnerships by adopting a systemic view and embed different funding opportunities into a single local or regional strategy. This strategy could take into consideration different policy options for implementation at local and regional level:

developing intelligence for strategic intervention in order to identify and permanently monitor the adaptability, needs and quality of the local labour force (e.g. skills' observatory)

cooperating with the business sector to devise vocational training adapted to the market needs and to tailor training to the commercial environment

cooperating with local (educational and training) agents, e.g. to incentivise local educational and training centres and local labour agencies for the introduction of new education techniques in e-learning, the enhancement of media literacy and multilingualism, and the provision of equal employment opportunities for the socially deprived population

cooperating with the business and education sectors (from primary education up to and including higher education) in order to ensure a continuous language learning process. The choice of languages can also be based on the needs identified by local and regional authorities in consultation with the business world

seeking support beyond the region by joining forces with regions facing similar problems and using EU funding.

Any such strategy should be firmly anchored in three overarching goals related to education and training: striving for excellence, ensuring universal access and limiting the number of drop-outs;

51.

calls for systematic and sustained involvement of local and regional actors, including education and training institutions, in the smart specialisation platform, and in the development of integrated local/regional development plans;

52.

underlines the crucial importance of local and regional activities and at the same time looks forward to seeing more specific proposals from the European Commission on how to effectively bridge the gap between the potential of ICTs and Open Education Resources (OER) on the one hand, and existing education and training systems on the other; acknowledges that open education resources can beneficially complement conventional education resources; it still has to be explained how ongoing comprehensive quality assurance of open education resource content can usefully be guaranteed in such a way that the resources offer teachers added value;

53.

the CoR considers that greater importance should be accorded to the ‘distinct role that local and regional authorities play as employers, service providers, and regulators, in the promotion of growth and cohesion, and in coordinating strategic partnerships between educational institutions, enterprise agencies and enterprises in their respective regions’. In fact, LRAs are increasingly intervening in educational policies but there are no one-size-fits-all interventions that can guarantee improving educational performance. More specifically, although there is currently enough knowledge to guide decisions (quality of teachers, institutional independence, inclusiveness and resources being the most important ones), the options for LRAs depend on their socio-economic characteristics, their autonomy vis-à-vis the national system, and their past performance (and reputation) in education and training;

54.

recalls that it is the local and regional authorities that have the direct contact with and the best understanding of the realities on the ground, and are well placed to contribute to the policy development and programme implementation in full respect of the subsidiarity principle;

55.

welcomes Commission's intention to continue to engage with the stakeholders to take forward the proposed strategy for ‘Rethinking Education’ in a concerted push for reform and reconfirms CoR interest in continuing to work with the European Commission and other partners in the field. This cooperation should cover all areas where LRAs have specific responsibilities, including, but not limited to aligning VET policies with regional/local economic development strategies which is already mentioned in the communication.

Brussels, 12 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO


(1)  COM(2012) 669 final.

(2)  CdR 290/2011.

(3)  Communication in the mother tongue; communication in foreign languages; mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology; digital competence; learning to learn; social and civic competences; sense of initiative and entrepreneurship; cultural awareness and expression.

(4)  CdR290/2011.


III Preparatory acts

COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

100th plenary session, 11-12 April 2013

17.5.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 139/59


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived’

2013/C 139/11

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

reiterates the need for a European initiative for the most deprived people in the European Union in order to meet the objective set by the EU under the Europe 2020 Strategy of reducing the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 20 million by 2020;

recognizes the need for a change in the legal basis of the programme (Article 174 TFEU), but suggests that a dual basis be used from 2014, also making reference to Article 39 TFEU in order to maintain continuity and the link with the objectives of the common agricultural policy;

welcomes the Commission's intention of going beyond the basic objective of the current programme for the most deprived persons, believing that combining food aid for the most deprived with measures to alleviate child poverty and homelessness and with coordination with the ESF will provide an opportunity to carry out multifunctional activities and to simultaneously tackle the emergence of shortcomings in various basic needs;

welcomes the fact that the Commission proposal gives local and regional authorities the possibility to play an active role in distributing aid to those in need;

rejects the principle of voluntary Member State participation as this could deprive local and regional authorities of access to the fund without providing for any participatory, democratic consultation mechanism at national or European level or taking account of the challenges of combating poverty and exclusion at sub-national level;

believes that for regions affected by the economic crisis and cohesion regions the programme should be financed in full using EU funds, since this is justified as a sign of cohesion between European citizens, regions and peoples;

underlines that the proposed level of funding is too low, with the current level of appropriations being cut significantly (by 30 % under the Commission proposal and by as much as 40 % under the Council proposal), and calls at the very least for the current level of appropriations to be maintained.

Rapporteur

Ossi MARTIKAINEN (FI/ALDE), Chairman of Lapinlahti Municipal Council

Reference document

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived

COM(2012) 617 final/2

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

reiterates the need for a European initiative for the most deprived people in the European Union in order to meet the objective set by the EU under the Europe 2020 Strategy of reducing the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by at least 20 million by 2020. This objective is all the more pressing given that the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion rose by six million to 119.6 million between 2009 and 2011. This move away from the Europe 2020 Strategy objective makes it all the more difficult to understand the decision of the European Council of 7 and 8 February 2013 to propose a EUR 1 billion cut in the budget allocated to European aid to the most deprived;

2.

recognises the need for a change in the legal basis of the programme (Article 174 TFEU) but suggests that a dual basis be used from 2014, also making reference to Article 39 TFEU in order to maintain continuity and the link with the objectives of the common agricultural policy;

3.

stresses the importance of the subsidiarity principle in drawing up an effective strategy for aid to the most deprived;

4.

is critical of the Commission proposal's lack of consistency with the Europe 2020 Strategy, in that it makes no reference to the indicator of the number of people at risk of poverty, which is one of the three indicators used in the Europe 2020 Strategy to assess the European objective of social inclusion and reduction of poverty;

5.

regards as important and understandable that the Commission has 1) proposed a new legislative basis which avoids the conflict established by the European Court of Justice concerning the acquisition of food aid products on the market and 2) put forward a new programme with broader functions which creates a framework for the continuation of aid measures and at the same time makes the outcomes of these measures more effective and sustainable;

6.

believes that combining food aid for the most deprived with measures to alleviate child poverty and homelessness and with coordination with the ESF will provide an opportunity to carry out multifunctional activities and to simultaneously tackle the emergence of shortcomings in various basic needs;

7.

welcomes the Commission's intention of going beyond the basic objective of the current programme for the most deprived persons but fears that the longer list of aspects of poverty which the new fund is supposed to address will only dilute its final impact, particularly as the European Council's position means that resources are likely to be cut by almost 30 % (EUR 3.5 billion for the most deprived persons programme in 2007-2013 and EUR 2.5 billion for the new fund in 2014-2020);

8.

points out that in many cases the ESF's administrative procedures have proven to be cumbersome for stakeholders and, with respect to the new tool to meet the basic needs of the most deprived, urges that unnecessarily detailed regulation be avoided;

9.

believes that given the protracted nature of the economic crisis, the tool to assist the most deprived should not take resources from the ESF but rather would need its own longer-term funding through the allocation of the necessary appropriations from heading 2 of the multiannual financial framework;

10.

welcomes the fact that the Commission proposal gives local and regional authorities the possibility to play an active role in distributing aid to those in need and believes that this active role can reduce administrative burdens and procedures at national and EU level, because local and regional authorities use in their own activities well-developed procedures and auditing rules based on national and EU legislation;

11.

draws attention to the WHO's strategy entitled Health21 – Health for All in the 21st Century, which stresses the urgent need to reduce social and economic inequities in improving the health of the whole population. In parallel, the WHO calls for a series of measures particularly targeting those most in need, burdened by ill-health, addressing inadequate services for health and tackling health-related and social disadvantages (point II of the preamble to the WHO Declaration entitled Health21, adopted at the 51st World Health Assembly);

12.

notes that, although the food aid programme for the most deprived in its new form is combined with other social integration and solidarity tools, its background and previous activities as part of the CAP were fully justified since in essence the CAP seeks to ensure sufficient and affordable food for EU citizens (Article 39(1)(e)) and to guarantee security of supply (Article 39(1)(d));

13.

believes therefore that new programmes also should retain the possibility of being able to use any surplus agricultural products (intervention stocks). Use of these surpluses should not, however, be deducted from the fund's budget;

14.

believes it is important for the proposed legislation to give the Commission, national authorities and local and regional authorities a clear set of rules and the possibility to tackle any discernable shortcomings, because at issue here is a particularly sensitive area of activity from the point of view of public confidence and the EU's legitimacy. Different views exist on the necessity, functioning and outcomes of this area of activity in the various Member States and their regions;

15.

rejects the principle of voluntary Member State participation as this could deprive local and regional authorities of access to the fund without providing for any participatory, democratic consultation mechanism at national or European level or taking account of the challenges of combating poverty and exclusion at sub-national level;

16.

believes that for regions affected by the economic crisis and cohesion regions the programme should be financed in full using EU funds;

17.

calls on the institutions to consider that co-financing may lead to the tool not being introduced, even though the economic and social situation of many regions means that such a tool is necessary;

18.

urges the Commission, in line with its previous opinion, to continue to assess whether the appropriations allocated to this measure are sufficient and points out that it already thought the previous level of funding (EUR 500m per year) was inadequate; for various reasons this need has only kept on growing which means that the proposed level of funding is too low, with the current level of appropriations being cut significantly (by 30 % under the Commission proposal and by as much as 40 % under the Council proposal). The Committee calls at the very least for the current level of appropriations to be maintained;

The Committee's detailed explanations and policy recommendations

19.

recognises that a sufficient, varied and healthy diet is a basic right affirmed in many international human rights agreements and declarations and that this right should be ensured for all EU citizens and residents at all levels;

20.

points out that poor nutrition among the most deprived stems from many different but also interrelated phenomena, such as:

demographic trends and global changes in the agricultural product market and agricultural and trade policy;

shortcomings in the internal market in agricultural products and a lack of transparency in the food value chain;

reduction in land suitable for food production and its excessive use for the production of energy crops;

certain EU measures and red tape that stand in the way of subsistence agriculture or small-scale marketing of agricultural products;

structural changes in many rural areas;

effects of the economic crisis on employment and purchasing power;

unemployment and the resulting more widespread poverty of families and children;

instability of the EU's neighbouring regions;

21.

believes that in order to solve these wide-ranging and multi-faceted problems effective EU policies and funding are needed;

22.

believes that ensuring an adequate and varied diet for EU citizens must continue to be a key basic function of the CAP. The Committee calls for reform of the agricultural policy so that food pricing on the market is transparent and that primary agricultural production remains profitable in all EU regions;

23.

believes that although market trends, the development of yields in recent years and changes in patterns of consumption have reduced surplus agricultural products, these may continue to be accumulated in future too and using them as aid for deprived people would be important for the EU's legitimacy;

24.

stresses that point 12 above can be justified by the fact that right from the beginning the CAP has been one of the key areas of EU policy and will remain as such. Incorporating it into the legislative basis for the new tool (dual legislative basis) would ensure the long-term continuation of aid for the most deprived despite the fact that current challenges may impose a long-term burden on the funding of the EU's other policies, such as social cohesion;

25.

points out that the socio-economic situation of European regions also varies within the Member States and believes that the proposed programme is needed to complement those measures in the interests of European cohesion and solidarity which are carried out by each Member State and its local and regional authorities. In this sense, the proposed programme is based firmly on the EU's shared set of values and the fundamental idea of European integration;

26.

feels it is important for the various objectives to be combined within the framework of the new fund with a view to preventing the causes of poverty and exclusion, because homelessness, poor nutrition and social deprivation of families with children have an impact on each other. However, the Committee points out that the programmes which preceded the new tool focussed on nutrition, the lack of which has clearly become once again a genuine long-term problem in many regions. Consequently, the Committee calls on the Member States and regions to stress the importance of food aid in implementing the programmes and, on this basis, to help citizens also benefit from programmes and measures which alleviate homelessness and social exclusion;

27.

notes that points 16-18 above are based on the fact that:

For the worst affected regions, financing the programme for the most deprived entirely from the Community budget is justified as a sign of cohesion between European citizens, regions and peoples.

The idea of co-financing for the proposed tool can be approached from two angles. On the one hand, co-financing may in some cases make the programmes more effective and make national and regional authorities more committed to them; on the other hand, it may reduce interest in becoming involved in the programmes and thus lead to a watering down of the opportunities needed in many regions. The CoR stresses that, given the current economic circumstances, the latter scenario is more likely, and therefore calls on the institutions to once again consider a co-financing rate of 85 %.

Cutting even the current level of appropriations by 30-40 % is short-sighted because in the follow-up to the previous food programme for the most deprived and in stakeholder meeting reports, it is suggested that an appropriation level of around EUR 680m per year is required. This would mean that the additional funding needed is almost as substantial as the planned cuts to the current level of funding.

II.   RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AMENDMENTS

Amendment 1

Preamble

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and in particular Article 175(3) thereof,

Having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, and in particular Article 175(3) and Article 39(1) thereof,

Reason

The reasoning is indicated in points 2 and 12 of the first part of the opinion (‘Political Recommendations’).

Amendment 2

Recital 7

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

In order to set out an appropriate financial framework, the Commission should establish, by means of implementing acts, an annual breakdown of global resources by Member State using an objective and transparent method reflecting disparities in terms of poverty and material deprivation.

In order to set out an appropriate financial framework, the Commission should establish, by means of implementing acts, an annual breakdown of global resources by Member State using an objective and transparent method reflecting disparities in terms of poverty and material deprivation, including the relative poverty threshold.

Reason

As relative poverty is an indicator used by the Europe 2020 Strategy and Eurostat, it should also be used by the new fund.

Amendment 3

New Recital after Recital 8

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

In order to respond as effectively and appropriately as possible to the needs of the most deprived, and in line with the Common Strategic Framework, the partnership principle should apply to all procedural stages of the fund.

Amendment 4

Recital 35

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

The frequency of audits on operations should be proportionate to the extent of the Union's support from the Fund. In particular, the number of audits carried out should be reduced where the total eligible expenditure for an operation does not exceed EUR 100 000. Nevertheless, it should be possible to carry out audits at any time where there is evidence of an irregularity or fraud, or as part of an audit sample. In order that the level of auditing by the Commission is proportionate to the risk, the Commission should be able to reduce its audit work in relation to operational programmes where there are no significant deficiencies or where the audit authority can be relied on. In addition, the scope of audits should take fully into account the objective and the features of the target populations of the Fund.

The frequency of audits on operations should be proportionate to the extent of the Union's support from the Fund. In particular, the number of audits carried out should be reduced where the total eligible expenditure for an operation does not exceed EUR 100 000. Nevertheless, it should be possible to carry out audits at any time where there is evidence of an irregularity or fraud, or as part of an audit sample. In order that the level of auditing by the Commission is proportionate to the risk, the Commission should be able to reduce its audit work in relation to operational programmes where there are no significant deficiencies or where the audit authority can be relied on. In addition, the scope of audits should take fully into account the objective and the features of the target populations of the Fund. When assessing the need for audits, for each measure consideration should also be given to developed public audit practices and powers which the relevant local and regional authorities may already apply to measures undertaken and the actions supporting them. Similarly, consideration should be given to whether the activities of partner organisations carrying out a measure may fall within the scope of public funding and the audit practices associated with this, and to the extent of the organisation's activities and its experience.

Amendment 5

Article 4, paragraph 1

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

The Fund shall support national schemes whereby food products and basic consumer goods for the personal use of homeless persons or of children are distributed to the most deprived persons through partner organisations selected by Member States.

The Fund shall support national schemes which, with the active participation of local and regional authorities, ensure that whereby healthy food products which are as varied as possible and basic consumer goods for the personal use of homeless persons or of children are distributed to the most deprived persons through partner organisations selected by Member States.

Amendment 6

Article 5, paragraph 3

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Support from the Fund shall be implemented in close cooperation between the Commission and the Member States.

Support from the Fund shall be implemented distributed in close cooperation between the Commission, and the Member States, the local and regional authorities and relevant partner organisations in order to maximise its impact.

Reason

The impact assessment accompanying the legislative proposal sets out in Annex 2 (page iii) the three different management systems for the most deprived persons programme identified in the Member States of the EU, some of which directly involve local and regional authorities, as well as partner organisations that are closer to the beneficiaries.

Amendment 7

Article 5, paragraph 6

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

In accordance with their respective responsibilities, the Commission and the Member States shall ensure coordination with the European Social Fund, and with other Union policies and instruments.

In accordance with their respective responsibilities, the Commission and the Member States shall ensure coordination with the European Social Fund, and with other Union policies and instruments, including EU action on health policy, such as the third multi-annual programme of EU action in the field of health for the period 2014-2020.

Reason

In its opinion CdR 67/2012 on the programme of action on health, the Committee of the Regions emphasised that ‘a sustainable healthcare policy must take into account health-promotion and disease-prevention factors, such as socio-economic conditions, lifestyle, culture, education, environmental factors and social circumstances’.

Amendment 8

Article 5, paragraph 8

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

The Commission and the Member States shall ensure the effectiveness of the Fund, in particular through monitoring, reporting and evaluation.

The Commission and the Member States shall ensure the effectiveness of the Fund, in particular through monitoring, reporting and evaluation and through close and regular consultation of local and regional authorities and partner organisations implementing the fund's measures in the impact assessments.

Amendment 9

Article 5, new paragraph after paragraph 12

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

The European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS) could be one of the criteria for allocating the fund.

Reason

Homelessness and housing exclusion are perceived and approached differently in different EU countries. The ETHOS typology was drawn up on the basis of an in-depth analysis of current national definitions and the day-to-day reality faced by charities.

Amendment 10

Article 5, new paragraph after paragraph 12

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

The Commission, the Member States and partner organisations shall help combat food wastage at each step of the distribution chain, including the supply of food and the education of beneficiaries to this end.

Reason

As called for by the European Parliament in its resolution dated 19 January 2012, food wastage should become a concern of the European Union. It is worth pointing out that the Commission estimates that food wastage across the supply chain as a whole stands at around 190 kg per European per year. The steps that might be taken to combat wastage could involve: a clarification of some health-related labelling linked to EU legislation and appearing on agricultural produce and food such as use-by dates and best before dates; a review of European rules on marketing standards for agricultural produce (particularly in the fruit and vegetable sector) so as to promote the sale of unclassified fruit and vegetables; and requiring supermarket chains to donate unsold food.

Amendment 11

Article 6, paragraph 1

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

The global resources available for budgetary commitment from the Fund for the period 2014-2020 shall be EUR 2 500 000 000 at 2011 prices, in accordance with the annual breakdown set out in Annex II.

The global resources available for budgetary commitment from the Fund for the period 2014-2020 shall be EUR 2 500 000 000 3 500 000 000 at 2011 prices, in accordance with the annual breakdown set out in Annex II.

Amendment 12

Article 6, paragraph 3

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

The Commission shall adopt a decision, by means of implementing acts, setting out the annual breakdown of the global resources by Member State, in accordance with Article 84(5) of Regulation (EU) No … (CPR), without prejudice to paragraph 4 of this Article, taking into account the following indicators established by Eurostat:

The Commission shall adopt a decision, by means of implementing acts, setting out the annual breakdown of the global resources by Member State, in accordance with Article 84(5) of Regulation (EU) No … (CPR), without prejudice to paragraph 4 of this Article, taking into account the following indicators established by Eurostat:

 

(a)

the relative poverty threshold, i.e. the percentage of the population living in a household that does not have an income at least equal to 60 % of the national median;

(a)

the population suffering from severe material deprivation;

(a b)

the population suffering from severe material deprivation;

(b)

the population living in households with very low work intensity.

(b c)

the population living in households with very low work intensity.

Amendment 13

New article after article 11

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

National monitoring committee:

1.

Member States shall establish a national monitoring committee to ensure effective implementation of their Operational Programme.

2.

The makeup of this national monitoring committee shall include local and regional authorities, and anti-poverty organisations. It shall establish a partnership with organisations representing the interests of deprived persons and organisations involved in distributing aid to deprived persons.

Amendment 14

Article 15, new paragraph after paragraph 3

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

 

The Commission shall produce a mid-term assessment of the Fund by March 2018 and shall present it to the European Parliament, the Council and the Committee of the Regions.

Amendment 15

Article 17, paragraph 3

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

During the implementation of an operation, the beneficiaries and partner organisations shall inform the public about the support obtained from the Fund by placing at least one poster with information about the operation (minimum size A3), including about the financial support from the Union, at a location readily visible to the public, at each place of provision of the food, goods and any accompanying measure, except if this is not possible due to the circumstances of the distribution.

Those beneficiaries and partner organisations which have websites shall also provide a short description of the operation, including its aims and results, and highlighting the financial support from the Union.

During the implementation of an operation, the beneficiaries and partner organisations shall inform the public about the support obtained in connection with the distribution of food and goods in a way that is compatible with their own practices and circumstances of distribution, such as posters or leaflets which present the activity and the support obtained for it from the European Union, and provide information on how to access other measures supporting the same objective, using tools that bring together information, guidance and employment and social inclusion processes working to break down inter-generational poverty from the Fund by placing at least one poster with information about the operation (minimum size A3), including about the financial support from the Union, at a location readily visible to the public, at each place of provision of the food, goods and any accompanying measure, except if this is not possible due to the circumstances of the distribution.

Those beneficiaries and partner organisations which have websites shall also provide a short description of the operation, including its aims and results, and highlighting the financial support from the Union.

Reason

It improves the original wording by broadening the general information approach to any other type of measure in support of the objective pursued, having the effect of including other tools to improve conditions within structures delivering public services. The aim is for the distribution of goods and food to serve as a forum for the active involvement of those affected in resources for promoting social inclusion and employment.

Amendment 16

Article 21, paragraph 3, first indent

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

The food and the goods for homeless persons or for children may be purchased by the partner organisations themselves.

The food and the goods for homeless persons or for children the final beneficiaries may be purchased by the partner organisations themselves.

Reason

The fund is aimed at the most deprived, who are a wider category of needy people than just homeless people or children. Article 2(1) and (7) and Articles 3 and 21(4), amongst others, specifically refer to the most deprived. This amendment thus seeks to bring more consistency to the Regulation.

Amendment 17

Article 24, paragraph 1 (a)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

(a)

the costs of purchasing food and basic consumer goods for personal use of homeless persons or of children;

(a)

the costs of purchasing food and basic consumer goods for personal use of homeless persons or for children the final beneficiaries;

Reason

Same reason as for amendment 16.

Amendment 18

Article 24, paragraph 1 (b)

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

(b)

where a public body purchases the food or basic consumer goods for personal use of homeless persons or of children and provide them to partner organisations, the costs of transporting of food or goods to the storage depots of the partner organisations at a flat rate of 1 % of the costs referred to in point (a);

(b)

where a public body purchases the food or basic consumer goods for personal use of homeless persons or for children the final beneficiaries and provide them to partner organisations, the costs of transporting of food or goods to the storage depots of the partner organisations at a flat rate of 1 % of the costs referred to in point (a);

Reason

Same reason as for amendment 16.

Brussels, 11 April 2013.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Ramón Luis VALCÁRCEL SISO