ISSN 1977-091X

Official Journal

of the European Union

C 141

European flag  

English edition

Information and Notices

Volume 63
29 April 2020


Contents

page

 

I   Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

 

RESOLUTIONS

 

Committee of the Regions

 

138th CoR plenary session, 11.2.2020–12.2.2020

2020/C 141/01

Resolution of the European Committee of the Regions — The 2020 Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy

1

2020/C 141/02

Resolution of the European Committee of the Regions on the Conference on the Future of Europe

5

2020/C 141/03

Resolution of the European Committee of the Regions on the 2020 Work programme of the European Commission

8

 

OPINIONS

 

Committee of the Regions

 

138th CoR plenary session, 11.2.2020–12.2.2020

2020/C 141/04

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Strengthening the rule of law within the Union — A blueprint for action

15

2020/C 141/05

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Enlargement Package 2019

20

2020/C 141/06

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Regions’ and cities’ contribution to the development of Africa

25

2020/C 141/07

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Towards sustainable neighbourhoods and small communities — Environment policy below municipal level

29

2020/C 141/08

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Brain Drain in the EU: addressing the challenge at all levels

34

2020/C 141/09

Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Culture in a Union that strives for more: the role of regions and cities

39


EN

 


I Resolutions, recommendations and opinions

RESOLUTIONS

Committee of the Regions

138th CoR plenary session, 11.2.2020–12.2.2020

29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/1


Resolution of the European Committee of the Regions — The 2020 Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy

(2020/C 141/01)

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS (CoR),

having regard to the European Commission’s Communication on the 2020 Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy (ASGS) (1),

having regard to its resolution of 9 October 2019 on the 2019 European Semester and in view of the 2020 Annual Growth Survey (2),

The European Semester integrating the Sustainable Development Goals

1.

welcomes the 2020 ASGS as the starting point for the integration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the European Semester, which provides the latter with the necessary longer-term horizon and a broader focus beyond purely economic concerns;

2.

considers that using the ASGS as a policy coordination tool to implement the European Green Deal will require a deep change in the governance and the mindset accompanying the European Semester process as a whole and a refocus on the ownership of the Semester on the ground;

3.

stresses that achieving the SDGs implies addressing in a holistic way all dimensions of sustainable development (competitiveness, inclusiveness, environment, good governance) which are larger than the Green Deal; pursuing the SDGs will require policy coherence in dealing with trade-offs and distributional challenges. This also includes enhancing cultural and social dimensions of knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and innovation. The European Semester should allow all levels of government and relevant stakeholders, working in partnership, to identify and address these trade-offs, avoiding silo-thinking and ensuring coherence, while mainstreaming the SDGs across policy fields;

4.

welcomes the announcement that the Country Reports and National Reform Programmes will have specific sections monitoring the SDGs and assessing related policies, and that the Country-Specific Recommendations will deal with countries’ specific contributions to the SDGs; notes that the integration of the SDGs into the European Semester needs to take into account territorial different starting points and requires an appropriate statistical base to monitor the SDGs at regional level;

5.

asks for a clear timeframe and clear time-bound and measurable targets to pursue the SDGs, in respect of the actions foreseen both in the Green Deal and the ASGS; stresses that such targets and timelines should be set through a mixed top-down and bottom-up process in which all levels of government and relevant stakeholders should work in partnership;

6.

shares the overall orientation of the recommendations to the euro-area Member States, but notes that they give only modest support to the greening and inclusion ambitions of the SDGs and the Green Deal, and that they do not give sufficient emphasis to the policy challenges arising from actual territorial differences of starting points;

7.

notes that the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan is intended to mobilise EUR 1 trillion of sustainable investment over the coming decade; regrets however that the Plan is largely a collection of pre-existing or pre-planned measures, initiatives and financing tools, now brought under a common heading; is therefore concerned that this Plan may not be able to mobilise the financial resources and the coordination necessary to ensure effective implementation of the SDGs in Europe by 2030; in this regard, calls for further assessment of the real costs associated with the transition towards sustainable development and for a more detailed plan on financing them; special attention should be emphasised on encouraging collaborative public-private innovation initiatives driven by cities and regions;

8.

stresses the need to review the Stability and Growth Pact, in order to allow for a differentiated accountancy of the financial resources needed to fund public investment by all levels of government to implement the Green Deal;

9.

agrees that structural reforms in Member States in the strategic policy areas relevant to the implementation of the Treaty objectives and EU policies are key for the EU’s convergence and competitiveness, including the deepening of the single market. The European Semester provides a useful framework to foster these reforms, provided that the scope of the structural reforms eligible for EU funding is defined according to the subsidiarity principle and provided that local and regional authorities are involved in it as full partners;

The territorial dimension of the European Semester

10.

welcomes the focus put on the increasing regional disparities and related challenges to growth and cohesion across and within Member States; underlines that differences in starting points affect heavily the way in which Member States and their regions design and implement their sustainability policies; stresses that territorial differences should be addressed by place-based policies, supported by territorial impact assessments;

11.

highlights the increased relevance of the Country Reports, in particular their Annex D, which will give guidance for investment policies at regional and local level, including those funded under Cohesion Policy and the Just Transition Fund; underlines that, according to the results of a CoR survey of the national associations representing cities and regions before their national governments, local and regional authorities were not sufficiently involved by their national governments in preparing and discussing Annex D at the political level, and that quite often Annex D does not give an accurate picture of their investment needs;

12.

stresses that strong consistency and coordination between the European Semester and cohesion policy is needed to deliver on the sustainability and social inclusion objectives of the Green Deal; the costs of the transition towards sustainable development shall not be borne by the most vulnerable; therefore the Just Transition Mechanism has to provide tailored support to the people and the regions most affected, in particular those with a high reliance on fossil fuels — as is the case with regions with isolated energy systems — and energy-intensive industries and those grappling with the social and economic consequences of the shift in energy model after meeting their decarbonisation commitments; furthermore, welcomes the CPR-based governance of the Just Transition Fund and calls for clear and objective allocation criteria;

The social dimension of the European Semester

13.

supports the integration of the SDGs into the planning for the sustainable economic strategy, especially since the targets match in large part the implementation of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights; welcomes, therefore, the recent communication on ‘A strong social Europe for just transitions’ (3) and calls for a swift presentation of the action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights;

14.

calls on the Commission to propose further action to reduce the gender employment gap and gender pay gap;

15.

welcomes the inclusion of a regional dimension in the latest Joint Employment Report, which echoes the CoR’s ‘European Regional Social Scoreboard’ of September 2019;

16.

shares the Commission’s concerns about the negative effects of an ageing population and other demographic challenges such as low-density and dispersed populations, declining numbers of young people and the falling birth rate, and invites it to take into account the suggestions included in the CoR opinion on Demographic change: proposals on measuring and tackling its negative effects on EU regions and on The EU response to the demographic challenge;

The governance of the European Semester

17.

notes that the EU’s growth model can successfully contribute to the global objectives enshrined in the SDGs and the Green Deal only if proper coordination with local and regional authorities is ensured. Reiterates the need to increase ownership of the European Semester on the ground to make it more effective in respect of the EU’s new and ambitious goal of pursuing the SDGs, not least because according to the OECD, 65 % of the 169 targets of the SDGs cannot be achieved without full engagement and coordination with local and regional authorities. For the Semester to deliver on its promises, all levels of government and relevant stakeholders should be involved as partners, beyond the current practices mostly based on consultations at the final stages of the Semester process. This partnership approach should be urgently adopted and localise the implementation of SDGs into place-based objectives and targets and related timeframes; this requires more emphasis on operational SDG commitments and voluntary local reviews of SDG implementation processes;

18.

underlines that the European Semester now gives guidance on the programming of investments to be co-funded by the ESI Funds, and on the proposed Budgetary Instrument for Convergence and Competitiveness. Warns, however, against the risk of the European Semester’s centralised top-down approach putting undue constraints on the EU Cohesion Policy’s decentralised bottom-up approach and place-based policies; also calls for consistency between the Cohesion Policy’s multiannual programming approach and the European Semester;

19.

urges the EU to effectively coordinate the governance processes of the European Semester and the EU cohesion policy based on the same principles of partnership and multi-level governance; recalls its opinion on the links between cohesion policy and the European Semester; reiterates its proposal of a Code of Conduct (4) to involve the local and regional authorities in the European Semester as full partners, similar to the Code of Conduct on partnership in the 2014–2020 CPR; stresses the need to promote the use of EU-funded policies for capacity-building of local and regional authorities and recalls its recent opinion on this topic (5); regrets that the Annual Monitoring Report on the implementation of the 2018 Structural Reform Support Programme does not provide data on the use of the programme by local and regional authorities;

20.

adds that the SDGs themselves require active engagement of stakeholders, including local and regional authorities. Therefore, following the end of the mandate of the EU stakeholders’ platform on SDGs, new forms of stakeholder engagement in the implementation of the SDGs, not least through the European Semester, that are not less ambitious should be defined;

21.

instructs the President to forward this resolution to the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Croatian presidency of the Council and the President of the European Council.

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


(1)  https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/2020-european-semester-annual-sustainable-growth-strategy_en

(2)  https://webapi2016.cor.europa.eu/v1/documents/cor-2019-03856-00-00-res-tra-en.docx/content

(3)  COM(2020) 14 final.

(4)  CoR opinion on Improving the governance of the European Semester: a Code of Conduct for the involvement of local and regional authorities. Rapporteur: Rob Jonkman (NL/ECR). Adopted on 11 May 2017 (OJ C 306, 15.9.2017, p. 24).

(5)  CoR opinion on Improving administrative capacity of local and regional authorities to strengthen investments and structural reforms in 2021-2027. Rapporteur: Manuela Bora (IT/PES). Adopted on 4 December 2019 (OJ C 79, 10.3.2020, p. 25).


29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/5


Resolution of the European Committee of the Regions on the Conference on the Future of Europe

(2020/C 141/02)

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS (CoR)

Whereas;

(a)

The democratic legitimacy of the European Union lies with the trust of citizens in their representatives elected at European, national, regional and local levels;

(b)

Representative democracy is the foundation of the EU project; the increased voter turnout in the 2019 European elections has demonstrated citizens’ keen interest in shaping EU affairs; all levels of government need to respond to new challenges and develop new ways of engaging citizens;

(c)

Elections are held every year in the EU Member States at national, regional and local level, and those elections represent an opportunity to communicate to citizens how European policies affect all levels of governance, and thus help to strengthen the credibility of the EU in the eyes of the citizens;

(d)

The crucial role of local and regional authorities is demonstrated by the fact that they are responsible for half of all public investment, one-third of public expenditure and one-quarter of tax revenue in the EU;

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR);

1.

Welcomes the initiative by the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council to set up the Conference on the Future of Europe and looks forward to contributing to achieving concrete results and taking action with tangible benefits for EU citizens;

2.

Believes that the Conference is an opportunity to identify measures that the EU needs in order to increase its capacity to deliver and enhance its democratic functioning in line with the new principle of active subsidiarity;

3.

Underlines that the more than one million elected local and regional representatives across the Union should be involved both in shaping EU policies and in linking the EU with its citizens; to increase the visibility of the process, the CoR commits to promoting debates on EU issues in regional parliaments and municipal councils;

4.

Welcomes the proposed measures to reach out to citizens and underlines the importance of open and extensive thematic debates; fully supports the idea that important elements of the conference should be decentralised to directly and actively involve areas and populations beyond the European and national capitals. To this end, the CoR will provide support for its members in organising local events focusing on the Conference’s themes and will develop tools to collect and communicate the results and suggestions from these debates to the Conference;

5.

Calls for the Europe Direct Centres to be involved in the Conference on the Future of Europe and to be considered as regional hubs of participation, given their scope and also because their main role is to bring European issues to the citizens in general. Europe Direct Centres have important experience in promoting debates, so they would be a key pillar to ensure that the Conference on the Future of Europe is broad and wide-ranging and enriched with diverse opinions;

6.

Stresses that pluralism and inclusiveness in the conference process must be ensured and fully supports the European Parliament’s proposal for a two-pronged approach: a conference plenary at the institutional level, and a set of citizens’ agoras and related decentralised activities, with a need to ensure the closest connection between the two; insists that the conference and the activities around it must reflect diversity in Europe, in order to stimulate a profound debate;

7.

Suggests that the Conference should integrate input from existing participatory democracy tools at local and regional level to complement representative democracy channels. This includes, for example, the citizens’ dialogues and forums that have proven successful in a number of regions, involving balanced groups of randomly selected participants; a combination of citizens’ forums and expert forums has also proven valuable in this connection;

8.

Considers that, even after the end of the Conference, the EU must continue to engage directly with its citizens, building on a wealth of experience derived from participatory models to establish a permanent structured mechanism for dialogue at grassroots level. These permanent mechanisms must be combined with dialogue on current issues — issues which may have different target groups;

9.

Shares the view that the Conference needs to involve and particularly focus on young people to underline the future direction of the European project and stresses that all proposals made by the Conference must be sensitive to the concerns of future generations;

10.

Calls for a clear focus on the key challenges facing the European Union and a bottom-up debate on the topics of the conference, including, but not limited to the environmental and climate challenges, social justice, sustainable development, the digital transformation, migration, the European community of values, the economy and jobs, territorial cohesion and the changes of the EU’s policies, processes, institutions and resources, including the role of local and regional democracy and self-government, which are necessary to enable the EU to respond to citizens’ needs and expectations on these issues. In order to implement the results of the Conference appropriately, possible changes to the EU Treaties should not be excluded;

11.

Endorses the proposal made in the European Parliament’s position on the Conference on the Future of Europe (P9_TA-PROV (2020)0010) that several thematic citizens’ agoras reflecting the policy priorities should be held throughout the Conference process, and that they should be composed of a maximum of 200–300 citizens with a minimum of three per Member State, calculated in accordance with the principle of degressive proportionality: also shares the European Parliament’s concern that the participating citizens should be selected randomly from among all EU citizens by independent institutions in Member States in accordance with the above-mentioned criteria;

12.

Is convinced that in order to harness citizens’ support for European integration and involve them more closely in EU decision making, it is essential to put an emphasis during the conference discussions on developing further the concept of European citizenship based on individual rights in the European system of multi-level governance;

13.

Highlights its concerns regarding the positions expressed so far by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, which lack clarity and ambition on the scope and the process for the Conference on the Future of Europe and notably the involvement of the local and regional authorities of the European Union and the Committee of the Regions;

14.

Believes that the Conference must have as a clear target the formulation of concrete proposals for legislation or changes to the EU Treaties, which would then be debated during the 2024 European Parliament election campaign in view of a future Convention;

15.

Welcomes the proposed Conference plenary formed by members of the European Parliament, the European Commission, the EU27 governments, national Parliaments and the European Committee of the Regions; calls for the CoR to be represented by at least eight members with full voting rights; also considers it necessary for the second chambers of national Parliaments to be represented on an equal footing, as in many Member States they comprise representatives of regional authorities;

16.

Calls for the Conference Steering Committee to ensure political and institutional balance between all levels of governance, including one member of the European Committee of the Regions who could be supported by a CoR staff member seconded to the joint secretariat;

17.

Welcomes the proposal to also involve local and regional representatives from the EU candidate countries in discussions on the future of Europe;

18.

Calls on the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission to incorporate the principles outlined in this resolution into their joint declaration and indicates its intention to become a signatory to that declaration;

19.

Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Council and the Croatian presidency of the Council.

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/8


Resolution of the European Committee of the Regions on the 2020 Work programme of the European Commission

(2020/C 141/03)

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS (CoR)

Having regard to:

the European Commission’s Work Programme (CWP) for 2020 (1);

the Protocol of Cooperation with the European Commission of February 2012;

the CoR Resolution on the Proposals of the European Committee of the Regions for the new European Union legislative mandate of 27 June 2019;

1.

Reiterates the need to involve local and regional representatives and European citizens in framing and implementing EU policies, notably through the proper application of active subsidiarity and multi-level governance;

2.

Calls for an urgent agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) to ensure the timely launch of new EU programmes. Urges the Commission, in parallel with its negotiation efforts with the budgetary authority, to put forward a contingency plan to avoid any interruption of programmes in the event of late adoption of the MFF;

3.

Reconfirms its firm call for the future MFF to be set at least at 1,3 % of GNI of the EU-27 in order to secure a budget that is commensurate with the needs, expectations and concerns of EU citizens, including the new priorities set in the European Green Deal;

4.

Calls on the Commission to closely monitor the application of the Code of Conduct on Partnership in the preparation of the Partnership Agreements and programmes for the 2021-2027 period and to ensure that the involvement of local and regional authorities amounts to full partnership. The principles of partnership and multilevel governance should also provide inspiration for the governance of the European Semester, for the sake of effectiveness and legitimacy, even more so since the Semester provides guidelines for the 2021-2027 Cohesion Policy programmes;

5.

Welcomes the Commission’s commitment to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals through their integration in the European Semester, as recommended by the CoR, and their inclusion in the overall approach of the European Green Deal;

On the European Green Deal

6.

Calls on the Commission to consistently include local and regional authorities (LRAs) in all European Green Deal legislation and initiatives, starting from the European Climate Pact. In turn, the CoR intends to fully support the implementation of the Green Deal and the development of the Climate Pact through coordinated and cross-cutting measures and initiatives with the aim of ensuring that it builds on multi-level governance and territorial legitimacy and that no person or region is left behind;

7.

Reiterates its call for the Commission to ensure that the European climate law is based on a thorough analysis of its impact and benefits, coupled with concrete financing plans, providing a clear indication of the role of LRAs and a clear timeframe for the revision of the targets for reaching climate neutrality;

8.

Calls on the Commission to include the necessary support for LRAs in the implementation of adaptation policies in the new EU Adaptation Strategy;

9.

Calls on the Commission to ensure that multi-level climate and energy dialogue and public consultation involving LRAs are put in place in the Member States when evaluating the final National Energy and Climate Plans in June 2020. Commits to setting up a forum of local and regional authorities and stakeholders to cooperate with the Commission and Member States to provide feedback on the implementation of Green Deal-related measures and initiatives, as well as making suggestions on legislative proposals;

10.

Welcomes the proposal for a ‘green oath’, which should explicitly involve the CoR. The initiative should allow a) the incorporation of sustainability criteria into all EU policies, macroeconomic priorities and financial instruments, the European Semester and the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework, to ensure that all legislation is consistent with the objectives of the Green Deal, and b) the identification and removal of hurdles and inconsistencies in EU legislation. The CoR will contribute to this goal through initiatives such as the Network of Regional Hubs;

11.

Calls on the Commission to continue to fully support existing successful initiatives such as the Covenant of Mayors, the EU Urban Agenda, Clean Energy for EU Islands and a number of other regional, national and cross-border initiatives;

12.

Welcomes the European Commission’s efforts to decarbonise the energy sector through its strategy for smart sector integration, a renovation wave and offshore renewable energy. In this context, possible negative repercussions of energy efficiency renovations should be prevented or offset in order to protect tenants, vulnerable consumers and households at risk of energy poverty. The CoR also reiterates its call for a European agenda on housing. Such a proactive agenda, echoing the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Housing for all’, should, inter alia, cover aspects of state aid reform, the issue of rent regulation mechanisms and the crowding out effects on the housing markets by digital platforms;

13.

Welcomes the inclusion of proposals to green European cities and increase biodiversity in urban areas, including the new Green City Accord initiative. Supports the preparation of an ambitious post-2020 EU Biodiversity Strategy and the EU’s position in the UN CBD COP15 to ensure LRAs are formally recognised as key partners in the development, implementation and monitoring of measures needed to halt biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services;

14.

Welcomes the preparation of a new Circular Economy Action Plan, which must be ambitious, time-bound and science-driven, with prevention as its first priority, in line with the EU waste hierarchy. In this context, looks forward to the legislative proposal aimed at empowering consumers for the green transition;

15.

Draws attention to the need to address all interlinked challenges when seeking to create a non-toxic environment and looks forward to feeding into the drafting of the ‘Zero Pollution Action Plan for air, water and soil’, scheduled for adoption in 2021;

16.

Welcomes the Commission’s commitment to developing a new long-term vision for rural areas and joins forces with the European Parliament (2) in calling for an EU Agenda for Rural Areas and for a balanced and comprehensive approach to European territorial development so that the needs of rural areas will be mainstreamed throughout all relevant European policies, as mentioned in the declaration on rural development adopted in Cork;

17.

Highlights the fact that LRAs have an important role to play in implementing the future CAP and in the already announced ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, including by greening public procurement, promoting healthy diets, raising awareness on food waste and implementing concrete measures on the ground. The CoR considers that the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy represents a unique opportunity to increase policy coherence and encourage the transition towards more sustainable food systems and to strengthen the environmental dimension of the CAP. Within this strategy, an action plan should set out quantified targets on reducing chemical pesticides by at least 30 % by 2027 and synthetic nitrogenous fertilisers, as well as on increasing the amount of land farmed organically, stepping up fruit and vegetable consumption and reducing the EU obesity rate;

18.

Calls on the European Commission to strengthen consumer information through harmonised European ecolabels and common standards to promote the transition to sustainable consumption by facilitating green purchases and by incentivising companies to develop and improve their sustainability; calls for a European nutritional labelling system to support healthier choices for EU consumers;

19.

Calls on the Commission for an action plan to promote EU pastoralism;

20.

Calls for a comprehensive strategic agenda for all European maritime sectors to support the decarbonisation of marine industries and a sustainable approach to fisheries and food production, as well as to preserve the competitive advantage of European maritime regions;

21.

Considers that coastal communities should be included in the design of policies for the sustainable governance of ocean resources in order to address global challenges at local level;

22.

Calls for an updated EU Forest Strategy post-2020 to ensure EU-level coordination of policies that have an impact on forestry and to set the scene for an EU Action Plan on deforestation and forest degradation to reduce the environmental impact of the consumption of products and raw materials in the EU;

23.

Supports Europe’s ‘Beating Cancer’ Plan and emphasises that prevention, diagnosis and treatment are typically delivered in patients’ local communities, making the meaningful involvement of local and regional authorities key to the success of this initiative;

24.

Expects that a new Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe will improve the accessibility and affordability of medicines across all EU regions, delivering innovation to patients and strengthening Europe’s leading industrial position;

25.

Calls on the European Commission to step up cooperation on vaccine-preventable diseases and involve local and regional authorities in the preparatory work leading to a Commission proposal for a common vaccination card/passport for EU citizens;

26.

Reiterates its call to apply the principle of ‘no safe threshold for exposure’ to all endocrine disrupting chemicals across the full spectrum of EU laws, and requests a ban on bisphenols and phthalates in all food contact materials;

27.

Calls on the Commission to include disaster resilience as one of the key aspects of sustainable development, and to ensure that it is taken into account in future EU funds and projects and that the capacity of local and regional authorities in disaster risk reduction, disaster preparedness and disaster management is strengthened;

28.

Calls on the Commission, along the lines of the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘Fairosene’, to present a proposal for revised energy taxation that removes subsidies for fossil fuels, guarantees a sustainable level playing field between different transport modes and allows lower taxes on renewable energy, making it cheaper than fossil fuel, and urges the Council to quickly adopt the proposed legislation on value added tax (VAT), so that Member States can make more targeted use of VAT rates to reflect increased environmental ambitions;

29.

Stresses that it is necessary to avoid unfair competition from non-EU countries with lower levels of climate ambition. Deeply regrets that the Commission’s intention to propose a carbon border adjustment mechanism for selected sectors is not mentioned in its work programme;

30.

Welcomes the ambition of the Commission’s Sustainable Europe Investment Plan to mobilise EUR 1 trillion over the coming decade. Deplores however that the plan itself appears to be less ambitious in practice — consisting largely of a repackaging of pre-existing and previously planned measures — and lacks additional resources;

31.

Welcomes the Commission’s intention to ensure, as a result of the on-going review of state aid rules and guidelines, more flexibility for just transition regions and more flexibility for sustainability investments;

32.

Highlights the crucial role of cohesion policy as the main financial instrument in the EU budget for reaching the objectives of the Green Deal. Particular attention should also be paid to ensuring the complementarity and consistency of the new Just Transition Funds with the other funds. In that respect, confirms that the Cohesion Alliance will continue to accompany the adoption and implementation of the Cohesion Policy initiatives and the programming process;

33.

Welcomes the Commission’s intention to present a strategy for sustainable and smart mobility to modernise and green the transport sector; underlines that funding for transport infrastructure and research should be linked to sustainability factors. Confirms its willingness to work with the relevant Commission departments to develop practical solutions to incentivise and facilitate the decarbonisation of mobility in the Union’s urban and rural areas;

34.

Calls on the Commission to simplify the overall management system of Cohesion Policy at all governance levels in order to reduce administrative burdens for managing authorities and beneficiaries with the aim of improving accessibility and effectiveness of funding. Moreover, calls on the Commission to adopt a supplementary set of indicators, such as the Social Progress Index, to complement the GDP indicator to better reflect the real social-economic development of regions and to achieve a fairer distribution of Cohesion Policy Funds. Highlights the importance of increasing the visibility of the results of EU-funded projects in order to better showcase their benefits for the everyday life of Europeans;

Addressing the digital transition

35.

Raises awareness of territorial perspectives for the single market and of the absolute necessity of promoting digital cohesion. Considers therefore that the establishment of a network of Digital Innovation Hubs ensures sufficient coverage for all regions;

36.

Considers that the existing EU regulatory framework applying to the collaborative or platform economy requires a thorough update. The CoR in particular expects the ‘Digital Services Act’ to tackle the crucial issue of platforms’ status and access to data and to specify the criteria of general interest;

37.

Looks forward to the launch in the third quarter of 2020 of a local/regional Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI);

38.

Stresses the need to determine future investment requirements aiming to develop broadband connectivity at the local and regional level, and proposes working with the European Commission and the European Investment Bank to develop new funding and support schemes for ICT infrastructure in disadvantaged areas;

39.

Supports the implementation and updating of the European Skills Agenda and an update on the Digital Education Action Plan;

40.

Calls on the European Commission to review the European Union’s regulatory framework for Artificial Intelligence as an important aspect of research and innovation, as well as for public services. This review should reflect a human-centric approach to technology development and should ensure respect for European values and principles, making sure that Europeans remain fully in control of their personal data;

41.

Welcomes the emphasis on ‘Increasing cybersecurity’ and asks the Commission to include systems run by local and regional authorities in all its thinking;

42.

Considers that a comprehensive, long-term strategy for Europe’s industry is essential. This strategy must support the digital transition, enable all component parts of industry to contribute fully to the creation of a climate-neutral and circular economy and build on a place-based approach focused on strengthening and connecting regional ecosystems;

43.

Looks forward to the Single Market Barriers Report and expects it to provide a clear and comprehensive picture of the most severe obstacles preventing European businesses — in particular SMEs — and the public from benefiting from the full potential of the Single Market. Furthermore, calls on the Commission to propose measures to remove obstacles that have been identified and simplify the overall EU regulatory framework. Underlines the key role of smart specialisation for linking key EU missions such as climate adaptation and industrial transition with local and regional innovation eco-systems and suggests there be close cooperation between the CoR, the Commission and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) to further strengthen this concept;

44.

Considers that research and innovation activities, supported by the sizeable Horizon Europe programme and many national funding instruments, should also ensure that no region or city is left behind and that the drain of talent and high-added value investment from European peripheral regions to major cities and established industrial regions does not occur on the scale recently observed;

On social and economic reforms

45.

Supports the overall objective of a Strong Social Europe for Just Transitions and intends to contribute to the full territorial implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, promote decent work for everyone that offers the essential basis for fair and sustainable social and economic development, including on the proposals that have been announced on regulating platform work, establishing a minimum wage, planning an unemployment reinsurance scheme, supporting reskilling, reinforcing the Youth Guarantee and implementing the Child Guarantee;

46.

Calls on the Commission to follow up on the Finnish Presidency conclusions on the ‘economy of wellbeing’, which addresses people’s wellbeing both as an intrinsic good and as a factor instrumental in macroeconomic growth and progress;

47.

Welcomes the creation of the regional dimension of the European Social Scoreboard by the Commission and asks that these efforts be stepped up in the future through more cooperation with the Member States;

48.

Calls for a Social Economy Action Plan, which would, inter alia, propose a cross-cutting legal definition of ‘social enterprise’ and provide for a European Statute for Social and Solidarity-based Enterprises;

49.

Welcomes the Commission’s Communication and the opening of a public consultation on the review of the Economic Governance Framework, including the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). This review of EU economic governance represents a much- needed opportunity to improve the EU’s fiscal rules by introducing a Golden Rule for sustainable investments, including the funding earmarked within the Structural and Investment Funds needed to implement the Green Deal;

50.

Calls on the Commission to prioritise the capacity building of local and regional authorities under the Structural Reform Support Programme and the forthcoming Reform Support Programme, as requested in its opinion of 4 December 2019 (3);

51.

Stresses the need to continue working on deepening EMU, notably by completing the Banking Union and through sufficient budget appropriations for the Budgetary Instrument for Convergence and Competitiveness (BICC), as well as by making progress towards a European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme;

52.

Reiterates its call for a new communication on sustainable tourism in Europe;

A stronger Europe in the world

53.

Welcomes the Commission’s intention to launch a broad initiative on WTO reform following the next WTO Ministerial Conference in June 2020. Underlines that this is all the more important given international developments towards increased protectionism and international companies supported by state subsidies. Also welcomes, therefore, the proposed White Paper on an Instrument on Foreign Subsidies;

54.

Expresses concern that the draft interim report on the sustainability impact assessment for the trade agreement with Mercosur suggests that EU manufacturing and services will benefit most from this agreement, but concedes that agriculture and rural areas in the EU will be hardest hit by the expected negative effects;

55.

Emphasises that local and regional authorities contribute to strengthening good governance and local democracy in the EU’s neighbourhood and calls on the Commission to increase the financial assistance package for local and regional authorities in partner countries, notably for peer-to-peer capacity-building initiatives, in accordance with the findings of the evaluation of EU support to local and regional authorities in enlargement and neighbourhood regions (2010-2018);

56.

Welcomes the action plan that has been announced on gender equality and women’s empowerment in external relations and is contributing to its objectives through the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly’s (ARLEM’s) focus on the empowerment of women;

57.

Encourages the Commission and Member States to support cross-border cooperation between regional and local authorities in the European Union and in partner countries, including in the form of European groupings of territorial cooperation (EGTCs) and European macro-regional strategies (MRS);

58.

Considers that the enlargement process must continue as an EU priority, and that regional and local authorities in enlargement countries should become even more involved in accession preparations. The review of the accession negotiation methodology should take these concerns into account. Through the activities of its Joint Consultative Committees, the CoR intends to help candidate countries become better integrated in key EU policies prior to accession;

59.

Agrees that the Eastern Partnership (EaP) should be strengthened in the light of consultation on its future and will remain committed to advancing its objectives beyond capitals and at the level of governance closest to the public;

60.

Underlines the importance of local and regional actors and their decentralised cooperation initiatives in achieving the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Calls on the European Commission to provide continuous support for these initiatives and raise the profile thereof;

61.

Regrets that there is no reference to the Southern Neighbourhood in the 2020 Work Programme; emphasises that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the declaration of Barcelona, and asks the European Commission to take into consideration this unique opportunity to propose a renovated EU agenda for the Southern Neighbourhood towards an innovative, intercultural and inclusive Mediterranean community region to face the new challenges on the horizon 2030;

62.

Reiterates the need to boost e-learning platforms, increase the availability of open online courses in the field of civil protection and promote knowledge and skills networking. In this context, strongly supports the establishment and deployment of the European Civil Protection Knowledge Network;

On European Values

63.

Calls on the European Commission to strengthen the EU’s existing tools to monitor and protect the rule of law and to develop, where possible, a single, horizontal monitoring mechanism for the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. The mechanism should be based on as many and as diverse sources as possible, including LRAs, organised civil society and individuals;

64.

Urges the Commission to continue supporting both the exchange of best practice and experience between different levels of governance in the fight against populism and extremism, and the promotion of a culture of human rights, complemented by funds, expertise and practical guidance for national, regional and local authorities to protect our democratic systems;

65.

Looks forward to the initiative for a new Migration and Asylum Pact and points out the urgent need for a comprehensive approach to migration, integration and asylum policies based on the principles of respect for fundamental human rights and solidarity. At the same time, the EU should continue its efforts for the protection of the EU’s external borders in order to prevent illegal migration and the fight against human trafficking;

66.

Supports the presentation of a new Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion and stresses the fundamental role of local and regional authorities in facilitating integration. Welcomes the recent gradual increase in support from the European Commission accessible directly to local authorities and calls for this support to be stepped up and for there to be more direct, simplified funding for local and regional authorities for receiving and integrating regular migrants and refugees. Commits to even greater cooperation between the CoR, the European Commission and the other partners in the ‘Cities and Regions for integration’ initiative and network;

67.

Welcomes the European Commission’s intention to work in close cooperation with regional and national authorities on making the European Education Area a reality by 2025, supports the objective of building up a space for learning, study and research without borders and underlines the need to foster brain circulation and re-migration;

68.

Stresses that the new European Agenda for Culture supplements and strengthens European identity, which is complementary to national and regional identities, by acknowledging the cultural and linguistic diversity in Europe, reinforcing the European cultural and creative sectors and their relations with partners beyond Europe. The CoR also encourages the European Commission to support the Unesco initiative on heritage and the EU, aimed at using world heritage as a tool for enhancing the economic and social sustainability of rural areas in Europe;

69.

Welcomes the long-anticipated ‘New Security Strategy’ and the directive on Critical Infrastructure Protection, and calls for all initiatives and strategies undertaken by local and regional authorities in the field of Civil Protection to be included;

Strengthening European democracy

70.

Welcomes the European Commission’s recognition of the role played by sub-national levels of government within the Union’s democratic system. The CoR reconfirms for its part the strong will of Europe’s regions and cities to participate in European democracy and decision-making as fully-fledged partners, and to contribute to the implementation of the principles of multi-level governance, active subsidiarity and proportionality;

71.

Welcomes the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe. Points out that the active involvement of the CoR in the governing bodies and in the plenary of the conference will provide added-value to the process, allowing local and regional authorities and the public to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the EU, which should lead to concrete proposals to improve the effectiveness and democratic functioning of the EU;

72.

Welcomes the European Commission’s commitment to delivering policies in a transparent, efficient way, and to ensuring that they provide tangible benefits while avoiding an excessive administrative burden. Reiterates its general support for the Better Regulation agenda and expects the ‘one-in-one-out’ principle not to follow a mechanistic approach. The CoR is looking forward to developing cooperation with the European Commission through the CoR’s network of regional hubs on reviewing EU policy implementation on the ground;

73.

Points out the importance of a strong coordinating role for the European Commission in the implementation of the EU Urban Agenda. The CoR sees a renewed Leipzig Charter as a further step to linking the Urban Agenda for the EU with the ‘better regulation agenda’ of the European Commission and the Green Deal;

74.

Calls for an overarching European strategy on demographic change, to which the CoR intends to contribute by analysing the impact of demographic change on different groups of people and regions;

75.

Welcomes the creation of a commissioner portfolio on equality. The CoR recalls that local and regional authorities play a crucial role in dealing with gender equality: equal pay for equal work, equal sharing of caring responsibilities, adequately paid parental and carer leave arrangements, reduction of the pay and pension gap, an end to violence against women and gender budgeting. Calls for concrete measures to this effect in the aforementioned fields as a means of empowering women, starting at local and regional level;

76.

Instructs its president to forward this resolution to the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Croatian and German Presidencies of the Council of the EU and the President of the European Council.

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


(1)  COM(2020) 37 final.

(2)  EP Resolution on 3 October 2018 addressing the specific needs of rural, mountainous and remote areas.

(3)  https://webapi2016.cor.europa.eu/v1/documents/cor-2019-02043-00-01-ac-tra-en.docx/content


OPINIONS

Committee of the Regions

138th CoR plenary session, 11.2.2020–12.2.2020

29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/15


Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Strengthening the rule of law within the Union — A blueprint for action

(2020/C 141/04)

Rapporteur:

Franco IACOP (IT/PES), member of the Regional Council of Friuli Venezia Giulia

Reference document:

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — Strengthening the rule of law within the Union — A blueprint for action — COM(2019) 343 final

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General comments

1.

welcomes the Commission’s proposal, which recognises and attaches great importance to the rule of law as a precondition for the European integration process and as a fundamental value of the EU, enshrined in the Treaties and common to the constitutional traditions of the Member States; points out that the initiatives set out by the Commission for promoting the principles of the rule of law, for preventing possible breaches of these principles and for responding proportionately in the event of non-compliance with these principles, constitute a positive addition to the current system;

2.

agrees that, although it is primarily the responsibility of each Member State, monitoring compliance with the rule of law is a responsibility shared between the Member States and the EU; Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) provides a clear legal basis for the EU institutions to carry out this monitoring role;

3.

also points out that civil society and local and regional authorities (LRAs) have an important role to play in strengthening the rule of law: LRAs constitute a fundamental level of democratic legitimacy and should continuously promote a rule of law culture and monitor compliance with the principles associated with it. LRAs can contribute to the knowledge-building activities proposed by the Commission and can also act as sources of information for the monitoring it intends to carry out; for its part, the CoR can facilitate and coordinate the efforts of LRAs to strengthen the rule of law, for example by encouraging them to build cross-party agreements on aspects of local democracy which are considered non-negotiable and will be defended jointly if attacked;

4.

stresses that respect for the rule of law must be guaranteed in the interests of everyone, since this itself is a precondition for the exercise of the fundamental rights and freedoms that the EU’s legal order confers on individuals; strengthening the rule of law in the Member States means strengthening the rights granted to each individual;

5.

firmly believes that a comprehensive system of rule of law protection requires both monitoring of Member States and monitoring of the EU institutions; considers, therefore, that the EU’s system of monitoring respect for the rule of law should be supplemented by mechanisms external to the EU itself. While aware of the legal difficulties to be overcome, the CoR therefore welcomes the Commission’s intention to restart the process of the EU’s accession to the ECHR, as required by Article 6(2) TEU;

6.

welcomes the fact that the communication spells out the key features of the rule of law, such as independence of the judiciary, protection of fundamental rights, the presence of an active civil society and media pluralism. These are essential elements for securing mutual trust between the Member States, the proper functioning of the EU, sincere cooperation between the EU and the Member States and, above all, the full respect of the rights that citizens derive from the EU’s legal system;

7.

stresses that respect for the rule of law, safeguarding fundamental rights and upholding the principles of democracy are closely linked and go hand in hand and must be respected, protected and strengthened at all levels of government: the CoR therefore calls on the Commission to ensure that the mechanisms to protect the rule of law, in particular the annual monitoring system, give due consideration to the risk of fundamental rights violations and of moves away from democratic principles in the Member States at all levels of government;

8.

reminds the Commission of the need to take into account the particular features and legal traditions of the national legal systems when assessing Member States’ adherence to the principles of the rule of law;

9.

points out that EU citizens are entitled to have recourse to the courts, which must be, and must be seen to be, independent. Notwithstanding the fact that regulating how the judiciary is structured and operates is within the remit of the Member States, there must be equivalent efficiency standards across the national legal systems as well as equivalent guarantees of the independence of judges applying EU law; the CoR calls on the Commission to continue its ongoing monitoring of possible breaches of the independence of the judiciary;

10.

highlights the need to ensure that all EU Member States are subject to the same level of scrutiny, without any differentiation based on additional criteria;

11.

points out that media freedom and pluralism are essential components of the rule of law; calls, therefore, on the Commission to carry out ongoing monitoring of possible media interference by public authorities and to intervene using the tools with which it has been equipped by the Treaties for dealing with violations of freedom of information;

12.

notes that independent and professional journalism is under threat from the unpaid appropriation of journalistic content by digital platforms, as well as from the tendency to turn to social media for information and news which has not, however, been verified and is in many cases unconfirmed, if not completely unfounded and manipulated;

13.

points, therefore, to the need to prevent the de-professionalisation of journalism, to financially support quality independent media, to encourage investigative journalism and to protect those engaged in it, and to promote systems for confirming the validity of news disseminated through online platforms. The CoR suggests building on and reinforcing the monitoring initiatives previously launched by the Commission;

14.

stresses that serious threats to the rule of law may derive not only from State authorities but also from large private economic operators active in the media and the digital economy. The Commission cannot ignore threats to media pluralism, to the right to correct and verified information, and to the free exercise of the right to vote, which the digital economy can bring about. A special section of the annual report proposed by the Commission could be dedicated to the risks of violations by non-State actors.

Call for consideration of the CoR resolution of 22–23 March 2017

15.

calls on the Commission, when implementing its proposals, to take full account of the criteria set out by the CoR in its resolution of 22 and 23 March 2017 on the Rule of law in the EU from a local and regional perspective;

16.

stresses that respect for the principles of the rule of law requires effective efforts to combat corruption, and the proper and transparent use of EU funds; fraud in the management of these funds needs to be swiftly reported to the judicial authorities and pursued rigorously at all levels;

17.

welcomes the fact that it is possible to strengthen rule of law principles by means of procedures that make the disbursement of EU funds conditional on full compliance with these principles;

18.

stresses the importance of preventing a situation whereby the mechanisms for monitoring compliance with the rule of law may be perceived as a penalty imposed on communities at national, regional and local level and may undermine such communities’ sense of belonging to our common European home;

19.

notes, in this regard, that a reduction in EU funding for LRAs could constitute a sanction imposed at levels of governance that are not responsible for breaches of rule of law principles alleged by the Commission. Furthermore, such a reduction in funding could be perceived by the beneficiaries and, more generally, by the citizens of the communities concerned as an unjustified penalty, insofar as it is not linked to specific infringements in the implementation of funded projects. These measures could therefore fuel a sense of hostility towards the EU institutions;

20.

considers, therefore, that funding conditionality should be a solution to be used only in the event of serious and systemic breaches; in cases where such a measure were to be adopted, the serious failings of the authorities leading to the cut in funding should be made clear to the people of the communities concerned;

21.

sees as a priority, nevertheless, the mechanisms for political dialogue and monitoring, which place the Member States on an equal footing and enable rule of law violations to be prevented.

Assessments regarding the annual system for monitoring compliance with the rule of law

22.

points out that the principle of equal treatment of all Member States is a precondition for the whole process of European integration; with this in mind, the CoR welcomes the proposal to create an annual monitoring system covering all Member States;

23.

highlights the fact that a monitoring system covering all Member States shows clearly that the EU’s objective is to defend common values, and not to challenge the way state institutions are structured by the individual Member States in the exercise of their powers; in addition, a cross-check shows that greater or lesser deviations from the principles of the rule of law may occur in every Member State;

24.

underlines the importance of ensuring adequate participation of the Member States in the set-up of the system of monitoring of rule of law and in the monitoring process itself;

25.

stresses that implementation of the annual monitoring system should be made a priority by the new Commission. The CoR therefore calls on the Commission to take immediate action and to deploy the necessary resources in terms of funding and staffing; the Member States should move just as quickly to nominate their contact points, who should also involve LRAs and civil society in their work;

26.

stresses the importance of objective and transparent parameters for proper monitoring; the case law of the Court of Justice has a key role to play in developing these parameters. The CoR suggests developing the models used for the Justice Scoreboard, using and refining the Venice Commission’s Rule of Law Checklist and, more generally, building on the experience gained by the bodies of the Council of Europe;

27.

in line with the European Parliament resolution of 25 October 2016, the CoR stresses the need for the EU’s existing tools for assessing the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights to be coordinated and, where possible, integrated into a single monitoring mechanism;

28.

considers it very important that the monitoring should be based on a system for reporting potential breaches that is open to contributions from as many relevant sources as possible, including LRAs, the academic world, but also from private individuals and organised civil society;

29.

agrees that the coordination of the monitoring system should be carried out by the Commission; raises the question, however, of the role that could and should be played by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency in the annual monitoring. The CoR calls on the Commission to assess whether the Agency’s mandate should be amended to fully tap its potential.

Specific proposals for greater involvement of the CoR and local and regional authorities in strengthening the rule of law in the EU

30.

proposes that involvement of the CoR, LRAs and civil society in promoting a culture of respect for the rule of law should be stepped up;

31.

considers that the annual event for promoting the rule of law, proposed by the Commission, should be the culmination of a series of meetings held at regional and national level, building towards the overarching event at EU level; the CoR therefore calls on the Commission to organise, in cooperation with LRAs and the Member States, regional meetings on the rule of law in advance of and in preparation for the annual event;

32.

feels that the annual event should not necessarily take place in Brussels: it could be hosted by a different European city or region each year. The CoR therefore suggests that the Commission could nominate a ‘rule of law city’ every year, and that the annual event would be held there;

33.

considers that the funds currently allocated for civil society and independent media in the multiannual financial framework should be significantly increased. Part of this funding should be earmarked for local media;

34.

points out that, in addition to European judicial networks, the Commission’s proposed promotion and monitoring activities should also involve lawyers’ associations and bar associations. At local level, lawyers are perceived as the first line of defence against possible abuses and violations of the rule of law and fundamental rights; moreover, lawyers’ associations can be found across the EU and at all levels of European governance (local, regional, national and EU);

35.

stresses that the promotion and monitoring activities proposed by the Commission should also involve ombudsmen, of which there are many at local and regional level. These safeguarding bodies should be involved in the gathering of information, as well as in regional meetings and events to promote the principles of the rule of law;

36.

welcomes the Commission’s intention to support universities and research centres in studying issues relating to the rule of law; considers that significant contributions should be directed to researchers operating in Member States where the principles of the rule of law are, on the basis of established parameters, more at risk. Part of the funded activity should cover the dissemination of these principles to regional and local communities, including with the involvement of organised civil society;

37.

stresses that through the management of EU funds, thousands of local administrators and practitioners are involved in familiarising themselves with the rules and strategies of the EU; the CoR considers that LRAs that manage Union funds should include rule of law issues in the training of their officials;

38.

building on its experience in disseminating EU policies and in coordination with its existing initiatives, points out that the CoR could organise — with the support of the European Commission and in cooperation with the EESC — training events for local officials and practitioners;

39.

in particular, the CoR would suggest assessing the usefulness of a pilot project whereby a selected group of LRAs would apply a list of criteria for assessing the rule of law (based on the criteria developed by the Venice Commission). Within the limits of the institution’s available resources, the initiative could follow one of the network models already supported by the CoR, such as the Subsidiarity Monitoring Network or the regional hubs; a small number of cities and regions could, on a voluntary basis, verify compliance with rule of law principles by their own authorities and offices; the CoR could draw up a list of parameters to be applied and coordinate the LRA’s self-auditing activities, with the LRA undertaking to involve local partners such as universities, ombudsmen, bar associations and organised civil society.

Conclusions

40.

In the light of the above considerations, the CoR:

calls on the Commission to ensure that the mechanisms to protect the rule of law, in particular the annual monitoring system, give due consideration to the risk of fundamental rights violations and of moves away from democratic principles in the Member States, including at local and regional level,

calls on the Commission to continue its ongoing monitoring of possible breaches of the independence of the judiciary and possible media interference by public authorities,

suggests building on and reinforcing the media monitoring initiatives previously launched by the Commission,

calls for the funds currently allocated for civil society and independent media in the multiannual financial framework to be significantly increased and suggests that part of the funding be allocated to local independent media,

suggests that a special section of the annual report on the rule of law be dedicated to the risks of violations by non-State actors, and in particular large private economic operators active in the digital economy,

calls for the intention to restart the process of EU accession to the ECHR to be followed through,

calls for funding conditionality to be seen as a solution only in cases of serious and systemic breaches, and calls for measures to ensure that LRAs are not unfairly hit by the sanctions,

calls on the Commission to prioritise the activation of the system for monitoring the Member States and to allocate sufficient financial and human resources to setting up this tool,

calls for the implementation of the proposals set out in this opinion, aimed at stepping up the involvement of the CoR, LRAs and civil society in promoting a culture of respect for the rule of law.

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/20


Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Enlargement Package 2019

(2020/C 141/05)

Rapporteur:

Jaroslav HLINKA (SK/PES), Mayor of Košice-South

Reference documents:

Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — 2019 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy

COM(2019) 260 final; SWD(2019) 215 final; SWD(2019) 216 final; SWD(2019) 217 final; SWD(2019) 218 final; SWD(2019) 219 final; SWD(2019) 220 final

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General observations

1.

Notes with great interest the European Commission’s 2019 Communication on EU Enlargement Policy, its country reports on candidate countries Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey, a report on Kosovo (*1), as well as the parallel Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for membership of the European Union;

2.

Fully supports the recognition by the European Commission that enlargement is in the EU’s own political, security and economic interest, as a geostrategic investment in peace, stability, security and economic growth in the whole of Europe;

3.

Welcomes the fact that the EU leaders reaffirmed their unequivocal support for the European perspective of the Western Balkans, and that the Western Balkans partners recommitted to this perspective as their firm strategic choice, at the EU-Western Balkans summit held in Sofia in May 2018;

4.

Welcomes the fact that the European Commission’s proposal for the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) under the 2021–2027 Multiannual Financial Framework anticipates greater strategic and dynamic deployment of assistance, focusing on key priorities;

5.

Urges the European Commission, in this context, to further work with the national governments in candidate and potential candidate countries in order to develop specific instruments towards building the capacities of local and regional governments in the Western Balkans to effectively absorb the allocated funding, as well as to address the structural gap in their capacity to co-finance and pre-finance the preparation and implementation of EU-supported projects;

6.

Reiterates that effective public administration reforms in the countries of the Western Balkans, including fiscal decentralisation, are essential for improving good local governance, for the empowerment of local and regional governments to develop and deliver quality services with and for their citizens, for their involvement in regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations, and for achieving ambitious European and global sustainable development and climate change agendas.

Country-specific observations

7.

Welcomes the historic Prespa agreement reached by North Macedonia and Greece in June 2018 resolving a 27-year old name dispute;

8.

Welcomes the fact that the Council has agreed to respond to the progress made by Albania and North Macedonia in the areas agreed upon unanimously by the Council conclusions of June 2018, and has set out a path towards opening accession negotiations with the two countries;

9.

Regrets that the June 2019 local elections in Albania were marked by opposition boycott and low voter turnout, and reiterates that the process of enlargement is merit-based and depends on the respect for the principles of democracy, and other Copenhagen criteria;

10.

Expresses serious concern that further Council decisions on Albania and North Macedonia were initially postponed from June to October 2019, and is deeply disappointed by the European Council’s decision in October 2019 to even further delay the start of EU accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia, which have both demonstrated continuity in their commitment to the European path; regrets also that this decision was not based on individual assessments of each candidate country’s progress, and warns that the absence of a positive signal to the two candidate countries could also have negative repercussions at local and regional level; it further recommends to the Council that this issue be positively resolved before the EU-Western Balkans summit in Zagreb in May 2020;

11.

Fully supports the European Parliament’s resolution of 24 October 2019 (1) on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and strongly urges the Council to take into consideration the fact that a credible EU enlargement strategy needs to motivate and deliver on the results attained that have previously been agreed by all parties, and provide a firm and credible perspective for all countries concerned;

12.

is concerned that a lack of progress in enlargement may also directly affect the security and wellbeing of the EU, as it may gradually push all Western Balkans countries towards third parties which are already trying to increase their influence in the region, including — but not limited to — Russia and China;

13.

Notes with concern that Serbia and Montenegro are yet to act with greater determination in crucial areas, in particular towards depolarisation of the political scene, including at the local level;

14.

Urges all political actors and tiers of government in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina to work closely in partnership towards the implementation of OSCE/ODIHR recommendations on improving the local electoral framework, and to engage in creating a transparent and inclusive local political environment, based on cross-party debate and free from political pressure and intimidation of political opponents;

15.

Invites the European Commission to address in the accession negotiations with Serbia the allegations of intimidation of democratically elected officials belonging to opposition parties, notably in the municipalities of Paraćin, Šabac and Čajetina;

16.

Notes that Bosnia and Herzegovina does not yet sufficiently fulfil the Copenhagen criteria, and agrees that negotiations for accession should be opened once the country has achieved sufficient compliance therewith;

17.

Reiterates its utmost concern and dismay about the fact that Mostar is the only municipality in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which no local council elections have been held since 2008;

18.

In view of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s application for membership of the EU, calls notably on local political leaders in Mostar and at the level of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to end this unprecedented violation of the principles enshrined in Article 3 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which is binding upon all Council of Europe Member States, including Bosnia and Herzegovina;

19.

Points out that leaving the Mostar election impasse unsolved effectively prevents the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the EU as this would, upon accession, violate Article 40 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, depriving EU citizens residing in the country of the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections;

20.

Recalls that the European Commission confirmed in July 2018 that Kosovo has fulfilled all visa liberalisation benchmarks endorsed by the Council;

21.

Welcomes the support of the European Parliament for the European Commission’s proposal for visa liberalisation with Kosovo passport holders, expressed in September 2018 and March 2019, and reiterated under the new mandate by the Committee on Civil Liberties in September 2019;

22.

Invites the Council to urgently address visa liberalisation with Kosovo, which remains the only country in the Western Balkans whose citizens still need a visa to travel to EU countries;

23.

Notes with regret that Turkey has seen a continued strong deterioration in key human rights, with serious backsliding in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights; furthermore regrets the weakening of effective checks and balances in the political system, brought forward by the entry into force of the constitutional amendments;

24.

Notes the General Affairs Council conclusions of June 2018 stating that Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill, that no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing, and that no further work towards the modernisation of the Customs Union can be currently foreseen; regrets that Turkey still refuses to comply with the provisions of the additional protocol to the association agreement with the EU and to recognise the Republic of Cyprus; reiterates furthermore in this context its previous concerns and recommendations with respect to Cyprus expressed in detail in its Opinion on the Enlargement Package 2018; it further notes with regret that despite the European Union’s repeated calls to Turkey to cease its illegal activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey continues its drilling operations within Cypriot territorial waters and reaffirms its full solidarity with Cyprus regarding its international recognition, sovereignty, and its rights under international law;

25.

Recalls the importance of the status of Varosha as set out in previous United Nations Security Council resolutions, including resolution 550 (1984) and resolution 789 (1992), and reiterates that no actions should be carried out that are not in accordance with those resolutions;

26.

Is seriously concerned with the legality and integrity of the Turkish electoral process, notably the decision in 2019 of Turkey’s Supreme Election Council to re-run local elections in İstanbul, as well as the decision by the Turkish authorities to replace the democratically elected metropolitan mayors of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van with appointed provincial governors as acting metropolitan mayors and firmly condemns further acts of repression against municipal council members and employees, which are acts incompatible with the spirit and the principles of the European Charter of Local Self- Government;

27.

Acknowledges that Turkey remains a key partner for the EU in the area of migration and refugees, and reiterates its conviction that a proportion of funds allocated by the EU should be earmarked for local and regional governments directly involved in managing the migration flows of displaced persons and refugees; The EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement should be fully and effectively implemented vis-à-vis all Member States, while noting that cooperation in the area of justice and home affairs with all EU Member States remains essential;

28.

Invites local and regional governments in the EU to further reinforce cooperation with their peers in candidate and potential candidate countries, accompany them in their path towards deepened European integration, and strengthening their institutional and administrative capacities at regional and local levels, as well as their capacities to promote and respect European values and principles;

29.

Recalls, in this respect, the irreplaceable role of national associations of local and regional governments, as well as that of the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South East Europe (NALAS), which can support local and regional governments in implementing public administration reforms, as well as in building their capacities towards improved exercise of competences and provision of local public services.

Role of local and regional governments in the enlargement process

30.

Underlines that European principles of subsidiarity, proportionality, and multilevel governance should equally apply to the process of European Union enlargement;

31.

Sets forth that for the enlargement process to be inclusive and sustainable, the participation of subnational governments is essential. The success of the EU’s enlargement to the Western Balkans will depend on continuing support by the citizens and the engagement of local and regional governments in order to generate the desired sustainable impact at the local level, in a joint partnership between the local, regional and central governments, as well as with the European Union;

32.

Recalls that over 60 % of the EU acquis are implemented at the local level, while — under the current Multiannual Financial Framework — almost a third of the EU’s total budget is earmarked for cohesion policy, targeting all regions and cities in the European Union;

33.

Underlines that local and regional governments have an important role to play in the enlargement process, not only as regards political criteria, but also as drivers of economic growth and sustainable development in their territory, and as providers of quality public services for their citizens;

34.

Asserts, in this context, that empowering subnational governments to fulfil this role is a crucial element of sustainable implementation of the EU Enlargement Strategy for the Western Balkans, and for successful European integration in the future;

35.

Welcomes the recognition by the European Commission that the role of local and regional government needs to be taken into account, and that an appropriate balance between central, regional and local government needs to be found that best supports the implementation of reforms and the delivery of services to citizens;

36.

Recalls its regret over the lack of specific policy proposals regarding local and regional governments, expressed in its Opinion on the Enlargement Package 2018;

37.

Invites the European Commission to propose concrete policies, tools and instruments to engage local and regional governments in the Western Balkans in order to reinforce their role as the sphere of governance closest to the citizens;

38.

Invites the European Commission to develop a practical tool to support effective capacity-building for local and regional governments in the Western Balkans in view of harmonisation of their local and regional public policies with the acquis through dedicated training, peer-to-peer learning and exchange of best practices across the region, and with their peers in the EU, along the lines of the Local Administration Facility, the Regional Training Programme, or the Erasmus for local and regional representatives;

39.

Once again urges the Commission to extend the Support for Improvement in Governance and Management (SIGMA) initiative to sub-national levels of administration in candidate and potential candidate countries, in order to define decentralised models for public administration reforms, and to support the improvement of local governance and local public management, with a view to applying the acquis;

40.

Calls again on the European Commission to put in place ad hoc operational methods so that the TAIEX and Twinning mechanisms can be used for cooperation between local and regional governments of the Member States and those of the candidate and potential candidate countries;

41.

Voices its readiness to work closely with the new European Commission, and with the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement in particular, on the practical implementation and use of these instruments at the local and regional levels.

Rule of law and fundamental rights

42.

Reiterates that compliance with the Copenhagen criteria must continue to be the key factor for assessing the readiness of candidate countries to become EU Member States, and fully supports the principles of fair and rigorous conditionality, and of ‘fundamentals first’;

43.

Notes with great concern that the proper functioning of democratic institutions, as well as credible progress in the area of the rule of law, still remain a key challenge in most candidate and potential candidate countries;

44.

Is equally concerned, in this context, with the increasingly hostile environment for civil society in the countries, as well as negative developments in the area of freedom of expression and independence of the media;

45.

Highlights that local and regional governments, because of their proximity to citizens, play a crucial role in the promotion and respect of European values, and that they are on the frontline in tackling racism and hate speech, protecting vulnerable groups and minorities, as well as fostering social cohesion;

46.

Is deeply convinced that local and regional governments themselves can play a stronger role in setting the local political scene and public political space, and can assume their share of responsibility in addressing some of the shortcomings in the area of rule of law and fundamental rights, as underlined by the European Commission;

47.

Calls upon local and regional governments in candidate and potential candidate countries to step up their efforts to deliver tangible results in:

47.1.

creating a positive and enabling environment for the functioning of civil society at the local level, and in the inclusion of civil society organisations in local participative policy-making,

47.2.

combatting any discrimination based on any ground, in the spirit of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, notably against persons with disabilities, vulnerable groups, and ethnic minorities, in particular the Roma,

47.3.

fighting exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, as well as combatting hate speech and violence against these groups,

47.4.

improving the representation of women in all spheres of local and regional public governance, and generally ensuring gender equality, as well as preventing and addressing discrimination and any form of violence against women;

48.

Invites the European Commission to recognise the role of local and regional governments in addressing fundamental issues at the local level, to facilitate building their capacities and skills in the area of the rule of law and fundamental rights, and to support them by providing concrete tools and instruments to fulfil this role;

Role of local and regional governments in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

49.

Recalls its recent Opinion on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a basis for a long-term EU strategy for a sustainable Europe by 2030, which underlines that 65 % of the 169 targets of the 17 SDGs require firm engagement of regions and cities in implementing the SDGs, in order to achieve them;

50.

Recalls that the objective of ‘leaving no-one behind’ requires that all levels of government ensure cross-scale integration, and the design of mutually supportive and cohesive place-based policies;

51.

Recalls as well that local and regional governments have a key role to play in achieving the goals set forth by the UN Paris Agreement on climate change, and that climate action at local level are of crucial importance for climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as for creating local opportunities for sustainable investment and growth;

52.

Is convinced, therefore, that the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, as a bottom-up movement, could be the driver for enabling cities and municipalities of the Western Balkan countries to contribute to achieving the Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs by localising them;

53.

Urges the European Commission to better include the countries of the Western Balkans, and notably their local and regional governments, in the future development of the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, or equivalent national and regional initiatives involving local and regional players, and to draw on the potential of national associations of local and regional governments and the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South East Europe (NALAS) in facilitating the definition and implementation of local climate action and energy efficiency plans, sustainable urban mobility plans, and other local and regional policy instruments towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


(*1)  This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and in line with UNSCR 1244/1999, and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

(1)  EP Resolution 2019/2883(RSP).


29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/25


Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Regions’ and cities’ contribution to the development of Africa

(2020/C 141/06)

Rapporteur:

Robert ZEMAN (CZ/EPP), Councillor of Prachatice

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS,

Background

1.

recalls that sustainable development and successful development policy are dependent on, and affect, many other issues and policies, such as general support for the establishment of personal relationships and frameworks for cooperation between local and regional authorities, social and health policies, the management of migration, safety and security, support for sustainable economic development, notably for small and medium-sized enterprises, promoting the exchange of knowledge and good administration etc.; local and regional authorities are key players on many of these issues, both in the EU and outside it, and it is therefore of crucial importance to develop new ideas on how they can contribute to sustainable development, notably in Africa;

2.

calls for a comprehensive approach on the part of the EU and stresses that, in order for the proposed measures to be successful, close cooperation with relevant partners in African countries and international institutions, such as the UNHCR (1) and the IOM (2), is imperative;

3.

notes that large-scale economic and development-related cooperation is one way to tackle the root causes of migration to the EU; underlines that addressing the complex issue of migration with its multiple implications requires and will continue to require a significant amount of public resources in the EU. Such an approach could also help to reduce the negative social and security-related perceptions of migration towards the EU and to alleviate certain tensions in European societies which are fuelling political and social extremism;

Existing Committee of the Regions work and opinions

4.

therefore recalls the significant work already carried out by the Committee of the Regions, and particularly the opinions drafted by Hans Janssen, Peter Bossman and Jesús Gamallo Aller (3), and proposes the following ideas for reflection as well as some more concrete measures in order to improve people’s lives and promote sustainable development in Africa, in order to contribute to reducing the pressures on individuals to migrate (4);

5.

reiterates its support for the proposed Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) as a vital source of funding for targeted support for sustainable development; calls again for the establishment of specific programmes with their own budget — not only as part of the NDICI (5) — aimed at supporting the work of EU cities and regions in the development field, including a range of long-term projects in Africa. Such programmes could ideally be managed directly by regions from across the EU and would enable cities, municipalities, businesses and non-profit organisations from those regions to get involved in projects that aim to improve living standards in particular geographic areas, in line with the UN’s SDGs (6);

6.

underlines that such programmes should be viewed as long-term in order to allow participants to commit to long-term involvement;

7.

in order to encourage regions to participate in such programmes, notably those which do not already have particular experience in development cooperation, a system of incentives and technical support should be foreseen by the programmes;

8.

is convinced that the establishment of such dedicated programmes could enable Europe’s regions, cities, businesses and NGOs — as well as the citizens that belong to them — to increase their potential to be active in the promotion of sustainable development outside the EU, improve their knowledge of life in other parts of the world, notably in Africa and to develop business opportunities in the process;

9.

proposes that such programmes be based on calls for participation to regions with special emphasis on cross-border cooperation, in order to pool experience, human resources, and know-how;

10.

calls for such programmes to be as simple as possible from an administrative point of view;

Building personal relations and increasing capacities as a fundamental tool to support effective development cooperation

11.

points out that some of the EU’s outermost regions have close historical ties with Africa and experience in fields of interest to their neighbours; calls for opportunities for cross-border cooperation to be maximised, making the most flexible possible use of the opportunities provided by the next period within the framework of European territorial cooperation and the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI);

12.

considers it crucial to harness the cooperation and alliances that the EU’s municipalities and regions have with their African counterparts, with the aim of introducing an approach of consistency between policies, together with know-how concerning development and regional cooperation and innovation (in keeping with the Smart Specialisation Strategy);

13.

stresses that it is essential for the long-term sustainability of projects to strengthen capacities as well as direct relationships between citizens as much as possible in order to ensure ownership of the projects by both parties and thus increase their impact on the citizens concerned;

14.

believes that mobility, strengthening and expanding genuine partnership relations, initially through representatives and subsequently directly between residents of regions, cities and municipalities in both EU and African Union (AU) countries, is essential to ensure broad support for the implementation of such projects by the general public. Local authorities and bodies are among the most respected and legitimate political bodies when it comes to effectively implementing projects aimed at improving quality of life in Africa;

15.

notes, based on the experience of its members, that active, diverse and sufficiently high-quality personal relationships between policy makers, civil society and citizens are essential as the basis for specific projects, as well as ensuring that such projects are sustainable and work well in the long term;

16.

is convinced that providing good-quality information about the real lives of ordinary people in both the EU and Africa is an important tool that can reduce interest in irregular migration to Europe. This information should not only be provided via the media; awareness raising should also take place as much as possible through peer-to-peer relations, e.g. direct exchanges between local and regional authorities that can promote better mutual understanding of different cultural and socioeconomic realities and could improve the implementation of development projects which therefore need to be built up and financially supported;

17.

supports the broadest possible contributions of cities and regions and their municipalities also in those EU Member States that do not currently maintain intensive development cooperation links with African countries; such contributions could lead to a broader, more diverse and more effective implementation of projects and activities to support sustainable development in African countries, while at the same time reinforcing the legitimacy of such cooperation in the eyes of the citizens of these Member States. Trilateral regional and local partnerships are also recommended for overcoming cultural and linguistic shortcomings;

A holistic approach to cooperation with African regions and municipalities as a basis for long-term success

18.

stresses that transferring the experience of European local and regional authorities in addressing day-to-day tasks in direct territorial management and in cooperating with each other, notably across borders, combined with a holistic approach that is not limited to development cooperation, is an effective tool for improving living conditions in AU countries;

19.

suggests, therefore, that projects for sharing good practices, such as the CoR’s Nicosia Initiative are a useful tool to build direct and concrete cooperation between EU and non-EU partners at local and regional level (7);

20.

proposes that projects administered by EU regions should seek close partnerships with businesses, NGOs or experts from these regions, in cooperation with municipalities, their businesses, local African companies, organisations and workers. Such projects must be based on the SDGs (8) (urban planning, water supply and treatment, waste management and its use in the circular economy, etc.) and respond to the needs of the communities in a flexible and long-term manner

21.

is aware that the implementation of projects to promote sustainable development in Africa is highly complex, demanding and often risky; therefore, believes that additional instruments to support EU cities and regions in their cooperation projects, focused on the projects’ sustainability, security and the promotion of joint activities that incentivise and stabilise their implementation in the long-term, should be created;

22.

proposes that projects, the sharing of best practices and other activities should be aimed in particular at stabilising the situation of young people and the position of women in society (9), whether as groups or individuals, including through peer-to-peer implementation, thus facilitating their personal development and increasing their confidence in a better future and hence their ability to contribute to the sustainability of their local environment;

23.

considers SMEs to be at the heart of a modern, functioning and stable civil society, and therefore proposes — in addition to projects aimed at promoting SMEs in Africa — the implementation of activities such as internships in the EU, staff exchanges, the possible establishment of joint European and African companies, and any other activities that could lead to increased employment in small businesses;

24.

is aware of the need not only to support local solutions in the areas of employment, entrepreneurship, health, environmental protection and other activities, but also to contribute to strengthening mutual trade, entrepreneurship and cooperation at international level;

25.

notes that the aim of all activities is to help improve the lives of individuals, families and local communities, in order to promote the growth of the middle class as the cornerstone of a stable and healthy society;

26.

recognises that the success of projects to support sustainable development should be assisted by information activities on experiences of the EU, its Member States and their local and regional authorities that may be useful to the local partners. It is also important to identify local contact persons who can cooperate on the projects being implemented, or who can help young people, schools and relevant institutions to find suitable partners for sharing experiences, organising exchanges, etc.;

27.

suggests using available communication technologies and social networks to disseminate the most reliable information possible in the broadest and most personalised way possible, based on official sources from the EU and its regions, in order to reduce the impact of misinformation and disinformation, both in the EU and on countries of Africa;

28.

believes that enhanced relations and cooperation between regions of the EU and the AU can lead in the future to qualitatively better relations also at the level of the European and African Unions. A new, closer partnership among equals could facilitate other important forms of cooperation and progressive economic and social development, contributing also to a reduction of the pressure to migrate;

Pilot projects as a necessary element for putting into practice the theoretical framework of the opinion

29.

underlines its conviction that the EU should think globally and act locally, and believes that the basic approach of this plan should always be bottom-up. This opinion therefore stresses the need to use the experience of European regional and local authorities, as well as those of businesses and experts to ensure the smooth implementation of activities and projects, in cooperation with their African counterparts;

30.

the aim of the opinion is to promote as much as possible the sustainable development of society in the cities and local communities of African states, therefore, calls for pilot projects and other related activities to be launched as soon as possible, as these are necessary for successful long-term assistance to African states, where it is possible, for political and security-related reasons, to reduce interest in irregular migration not only to the EU but also within Africa.

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


(1)  https://www.unhcr.org/

(2)  https://www.iom.int/

(3)  Neighbourhood and the World, Hans Janssen, 2018; Asylum and Migration Fund, Peter Bossman, 2018; Migration on the Central Mediterranean Route, Hans Janssen, 2017; Partnership Framework on migration with third countries, Peter Bossman, 2017; Proposal for a new European Consensus on Development — Our World, our Dignity, our Future, Jesús Gamallo Aller, 2017; Protection of refugees in their areas of origin: a new perspective, Hans Janssen, 2016; A decent life for all: from vision to collective action, Hans Janssen, 2015.

(4)  Mo Ibrahim Foundation: https://mo.ibrahim.foundation/sites/default/files/2020-01/2019_Forum_Report_2.pdf

(5)  Neighbourhood and the World, Hans Janssen, 2018.

(6)  UN SDGs: https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html

(7)  Nicosia Initiative: https://cor.europa.eu/en/our-work/Pages/Libya.aspx

(8)  UN SDGs: https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html

(9)  Mo Ibrahim Foundation; https://mo.ibrahim.foundation/sites/default/files/2020-01/2019_Forum_Report_2.pdf


29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/29


Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Towards sustainable neighbourhoods and small communities — Environment policy below municipal level

(2020/C 141/07)

Rapporteur:

Gaetano ARMAO (IT/EPP), Vice-President and Regional Minister for Economy of the Region of Sicily

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

A.    Understanding sustainable neighbourhoods and small communities

1.

appreciates the integrative nature of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular Goal 11 ‘Sustainable Cities and Communities’ that calls for ‘inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ human settlements;

2.

wishes to highlight the key role of democratic and inclusive multi-level governance in partnership between all levels, including where appropriate also the levels below the municipal one where different models and entities exist with more or less formalised structures, competencies and resources; involving them in multi-level governance could be very helpful for the development and effective implementation of policies and for the legitimacy of the democratic system itself; notes that this is particularly true for policies in areas which respond to serious concerns of citizens and where both the challenges and the policy responses deeply affect citizens lives, such as environmental matters and climate change;

3.

recalls the numerous existing efforts aimed at promoting sustainable communities, which call for societal transformation to address new forms of social, economic and environmental inequalities. These include the EU Urban Agenda and its partnerships, the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities, the Aalborg Charter and Commitments, the Basque Declaration, the New Urban Agenda, and many more;

4.

in keeping with Priority 1 of the CoR for 2015-2020 ‘Creating jobs and sustainable growth in cities and regions to provide a better quality of life for citizens’, calls to promote the concept of sustainable communities that involves all areas in those communities, and that also ensures that less wealthy areas can get the necessary opportunities to develop sustainable solutions;

5.

maintains that the sustainable communities concept should be aimed at regenerating poor or vulnerable areas by combining social and environmental objectives, in line with the CoR opinion on ‘The Seventh Environment Action Programme and the sustainable city’;

6.

refers to the CoR opinion ‘Towards an 8th Environmental Action programme’, aiming to make sure that the needs of all typologies of communities are taken into account in EU environmental policies;

7.

considers that the successful implementation of many EU and national environmental policies depends on their ownership by, and contribution of, sub-municipal communities;

8.

asserts that important environmental specificities can be found both at and below the municipal level. Environmental challenges can have specific effects in different sub-municipal units; underlines that it is therefore important to develop holistic approaches at each level that take due account of more localised/differentiated situations which may require specific responses and input;

9.

recognises that responsibility for sub-municipal communities, and for their involvement, rests with the levels of governance in the Member States that are responsible for the sub-municipal level. The competent local and regional authorities have an important responsibility for their whole territory, which needs to be taken seriously; calls on them to actively involve and support sub-municipal levels in the implementation of environment policy and to empower local inhabitants to make their communities more sustainable;

10.

recognises the diversity of terminology employed in relation to these types of communities, amongst others hamlets, neighbourhoods, districts, wards, sectors, villages, parishes, boroughs. These terms may refer to administrative units, or to communities without an administrative role. This opinion therefore uses in equivalent fashion the expressions ‘below the municipal level’ and ‘sub-municipal’;

11.

acknowledges the varied contexts within which small communities find themselves, ranging from urban to rural areas, from densely to sparsely populated areas, and from wealthy to deprived areas;

12.

stresses, in particular, the need to take into account specific territorial situations, which encounter particular environmental challenges. On account of their remoteness, these areas sometimes possess unique natural features that give them disproportionate ecological importance:

a.

small islands may face physical separation from the rest of the municipalities of which they are part, which hinders access to services and decision-making processes, generates high dependency on external inputs and weak administrative autonomy. Cooperation with the Interregional group on Insular Regions of the CoR, as well as with other networks such as Clean Energy for EU Islands, the European Small Islands Federation, the European Small Islands Network and with activities connected with the newly established Mediterranean Insularity concept should be promoted and expanded;

b.

sparsely populated and underpopulated areas are often at a significant distance from the rest of the municipality. Cooperation with existing networks such as the Northern Sparsely Populated Areas network, the Southern Sparsely Populated Areas network and Euromontana should be promoted and expanded;

c.

sub-municipal communities in areas with specific geographic profiles, such as mountain or lake areas;

13.

recognises the importance of small municipalities but underlines that this opinion focuses on small communities below the municipal level that face different challenges. Sub-municipal communities might not have (i) elected representatives to monitor the environmental impact of projects in order to ensure compliance with EU environmental legislation; (ii) public spaces to discuss involvement in EU projects or activities, or how to implement an EU policy at local level; and (iii) budgets to cover even minimal costs or technical expertise to provide know-how on how to access EU funding;

14.

highlights the diversity of institutional forms existing at the sub-municipal level, including but not limited to official public bodies, other forms of participation organised by or in cooperation with public authorities, and local committees and activist groups;

15.

stresses that the sub-municipal level, precisely because of the many varieties of organisational forms across the member states’ territories and the often less formalised organisation, offers great potential in terms of participatory and democratic experimentation to develop new forms of involvement and communication (such as neighbourhood communities, village committees, participatory laboratories and fora); recalls that in particular environmental and climate change activities have enormous mobilisation potential for citizens in this sense;

16.

recognises the role of voluntary grassroots organisations of citizens in small communities in local associations and committees aimed at working on a single environmental issue or more in general to promote sustainable actions. While these groups can bring together resources, skills, energy, and motivation, local and regional authorities can play a key role in empowering them through technical and financial support, as well as regular consultations;

B.    Pathways to strengthen environmental policy below the municipal level

Across domains of application

Low emission development

17.

points out that sub-municipal communities are typically those most immediately affected by environmental issues such as air quality or noise, having little control over decisions linked to transport and mobility, and notes that these issues are unequally distributed over territories. It is crucial for environmental monitoring mechanisms to disaggregate data below the municipal level, in order to allow for targeted measures and solutions;

18.

supports the development of a coherent guidance framework below the municipal level and specifically islands, in relation to the mitigation of climate change, facilitating their transition to renewable clean energy. Inspiration could be drawn from the streamlining of the Pact of Islands into the Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, and could involve existing initiatives, such as the Clean energy for EU islands initiative and the Climate Active Neighbourhoods Interreg project;

Nature-based development

19.

encourages the involvement of small communities (in particular insular, mountain or rural ones) in the management of natural areas, which frequently do not follow municipal boundaries. Such involvement could increase local ownership of environmental policy choices and reduce conflicts around questions such as land use. Participation could further increase awareness of the socioeconomic benefits of protected natural areas, whether Natura 2000 areas or other;

20.

promotes the role of communities below the municipal level in the implementation of Nature-Based Solutions, including green corridors or belts, urban trees, as well as peri-urban nature areas. These efforts should provide equitable access to nature, and its benefits in terms of human health, climate mitigation and adaptation, and broader resilience to human or natural hazards;

Circular development

21.

calls for tailored technical support by the competent levels of governance for small communities to implement sustainable wastewater management and waste management practices and to also address marine and coastal pollution via zero-waste strategies, and calls for the promotion of existing initiatives such as for example the OECD project supporting cities and regions on the circular economy;

22.

encourages the development of measures to support socially-innovative practices at the sub-municipal level, ranging from loan groups that share objects and tools locally, to repair groups that allow members to repair items that would otherwise be discarded;

Resilient development

23.

promotes the spread of microclimate interventions to adapt to climate change, particularly in densely built-up urban neighbourhoods. These can include low-cost solutions, as well as more complex neighbourhood-level ones, such as the disconnection of buildings from sewers for improved storm water management. Interventions of this sort have the potential to increase resilience in sub-municipal areas sensitive to natural hazards by alleviating stress on critical infrastructure;

24.

encourages members of the CoR to foster regenerative food systems, which generate ecological, economic and social benefits at and beyond the sub-municipal level (e.g. local school or community gardens, community-supported agriculture or innovative farming methods);

25.

highlights sustainable tourism as an opportunity for growth in small communities, as outlined in the ‘Sparsely populated and under–populated areas’ briefing of the European Parliament Research Service and the past opinions of the CoR on tourism (1) and cultural heritage (2);

Equitable and people-centred development

26.

urges the EU to recognise the role of the multiple and innovative forms of participatory democracy in promoting sustainable communities, in particular at the sub-municipal level. This potential could be further strengthened by explicitly taking the democratic innovation element into account in relevant pieces of EU environmental policies or as an element of EU project support;

27.

points to the successful and long-standing Local Agenda 21 (LA21) efforts, as a starting-point for the inclusion of the sub-municipal level in environmental policy. Over the past decades, LA21 initiatives have supported local authorities in the implementation of strategies and actions for local sustainability, through the sharing of methods, tools and best practices;

Across policy processes

Recognition

28.

strongly believes that the EU should consider the specific needs and contributions of small and sub-municipal communities in the formulation and implementation of its environmental policies;

29.

proposes to identify mechanisms for taking sub-municipal issues into account in the formulation of CoR opinions and in bringing them to the attention of the EU institutions and bodies, as well as developing closer cooperation with the appropriate organisations and networks dealing with or representing sub-municipal structures at EU level;

30.

encourages the members of the CoR to interact individually with sub-municipal communities in their own territories and to bring their experiences for discussion at the CoR and integrate them into their work, in particular in CoR opinions, peer-to-peer exchanges and potentially the Technical Platform for Cooperation on the Environment (DG Environment and the European Committee of the Regions);

31.

aims to make explicit reference to communities below the municipal level in the CoR priorities for the post-2020 period;

32.

recalls the Union’s overall commitment to the promotion of social, economic and environmental cohesion, notably with the aim to reduce disparities between the levels of development of the various regions (both islands and mainland), in accordance with Article 174 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and stresses the important role of sub-municipal levels of governance in this respect;

33.

proposes to assess the possibility of extending the Division of Powers portal, by adding, where relevant, an additional section for each Member State concerned, covering entities below the local level, starting from an analysis of their roles in environment and climate change policy;

34.

calls on the European Commission to assess the possibility of establishing a Sustainable Neighbourhood Award, in order to encourage local communities to get involved in managing their own areas and of organising a single or recurrent event to promote interaction with small communities, such as an annual ‘European Day of Sustainable Villages and Neighbourhoods’;

Awareness-raising

35.

offers to promote broader recognition of the importance of the sub-municipal level in local environmental policy among the other EU institutions and bodies. This could include advocating for the inclusion of the sub-municipal level in future policy documents and in revisions of existing strategies from EU institutions and bodies;

36.

advocates raising awareness of the sub-municipal level via EU research and innovation projects (Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe) as well as by cooperating with the European Environment Agency (EEA) and EU research services;

37.

commits to a dialogue with the European Commission, including in the framework of the Technical Platform for Cooperation on the Environment, to ensure that small communities below the municipal level are adequately taken into consideration in the implementation of specific EU environmental policies. This could build on existing efforts from DG ENV and other DGs to provide guidance documents and tools focused on small communities and neighbourhoods;

Communication and dissemination

38.

agrees to assess the possibility of making material pertaining to EU networks and activities of particular interest for small communities available on the CoR website, by providing information on networks, programmes and events, as well as collecting relevant contributions;

39.

commits to assessing ways to promote recognition of environmental achievements at the level of small communities, highlighting best practices and encouraging replication of sustainable solutions. This includes exploring integration with existing recognition systems and EU level awards, in line with practices from the European Green Capital and European Green Leaf Awards, the Natura 2000 Awards, the Transformative Action Award, and the European Week for Waste Reduction Awards;

40.

underlines the importance of including the topic of environmental implementation in communities below the municipal level in the annual theme or programme of recurring EU level events on the environment such as Green Week, the European Week for Waste Reduction, or the European Week of Regions and Cities;

41.

supports the adapted use of ICT to better connect sub-municipal communities both amongst themselves and with their respective local governments in order to foster democratic participation and decision-making;

Funding

42.

emphasises the importance of enabling sub-municipal actors to access EU funding programmes. Some already target the neighbourhood level, such as the URBACT programme, which fosters European exchange and learning for sustainable urban development. In this regard calls for appropriate training for the staff of the sub-municipal level communities in order to achieve effective use of EU funding;

43.

considers community-led local development (CLLD) and LEADER Action Groups as specific tools to better mobilise and involve the sub-municipal level in pursuing long-term development and achieving the Europe 2020 Strategy goals;

44.

encourages the European Commission to assess the best way to ensure that small communities can contribute to, and benefit from, EU-funded projects promoting sustainability below the municipal level. This could be achieved through: (i) the inclusion of specific references to small communities in guidance documents and handbooks; (ii) the preparation and publication of calls for interest and/or work programmes specifically targeting communities below the municipal level; and (iii) the simplification and the streamlining of financial and eligibility rules to encourage and facilitate their participation (e.g. re-granting) in order to promote the overall harmonious development of the EU (Article 174 TFEU).

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


(1)  NAT-VI/009 (OJ C 185, 9.6.2017, p. 15).

(2)  SEDEC/VI-035 (OJ C 361, 5.10.2018, p. 31).


29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/34


Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Brain Drain in the EU: addressing the challenge at all levels

(2020/C 141/08)

Rapporteur:

Emil BOC (RO/EPP), Mayor of Cluj-Napoca

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

emphasises that freedom of movement of citizens and workers is the foundation of the internal market and one of the main freedoms recognised in Treaties of the European Union. Citizens and workers must be able to move freely within the EU; however, they should move because they want to and not because they are pushed from their regions, among others, by scarce economic opportunities;

2.

notes that the challenge is to achieve a balance in legal and policy terms between two essential principles of the European Union: free movement of labour and economic and social convergence between regions;

3.

observes that the issue of brain drain in the European Union is complex, and calls for a pragmatic policy response from both the Union and the Member States. That response should address all aspects of brain drain (e.g. brain gain, brain waste, brain circulation, re-migration), as well as the different, but often interconnected, levels where action and solutions are needed — local, regional, national, and supranational (EU);

4.

considers that decision-makers at all levels need to acknowledge and factor into the solutions proposed the fact that brain drain is not just a technical issue requiring an administrative or policy response, but also a political matter. Left unaddressed, the phenomenon will have long-term and permanent effects on the future of the European Union and is likely to hamper territorial cohesion;

5.

notes that brain drain is directly triggered by existing social and economic imbalances between the EU regions. Empirical studies (1) (2) (3) identify a series of push and pull factors, with receiving regions having a more attractive labour market and more diverse job opportunities and overall better quality of life, while for sending regions the situation is the opposite. This is another reason why the future MFF should concentrate resources on rectifying the misbalance between sending and receiving regions within the framework of cohesion policy;

6.

stresses that there should be a strong association between cohesion policy, which is meant to address these imbalances and to promote a more even development across the EU, and measures envisaged to deal with brain drain. Two of the key Europe 2020 objectives, increasing the percentage of employed people and improving social inclusion, are directly relevant to creating favourable conditions which will diminish brain drain. Other Europe 2020 objectives, such as innovation and increasing the number of people in tertiary education, could potentially lead to brain gain and regain through attracting and stimulating talented individuals;

7.

notes that brain drain and related phenomena need to be understood and assessed in the EU in the context of multilevel governance (MLG). Whether the characteristics of MLG will represent a barrier or an opportunity in this policy field will very much depend on how the EU and its institutions act as facilitators and coordinators of policy-making and policy dissemination;

8.

points out that though often perceived as a national or supranational policy problem, due to its broad and severe effects, brain drain can be addressed successfully at the subnational level. Local and regional public authorities play a crucial role here, since local communities are the ones that are directly affected by the consequences of brain drain: the loss of a young and educated workforce is a huge challenge for local communities throughout the Union;

9.

observes that local authorities in the Member States represent the best level at which policies on brain drain can be drafted and implemented. Local communities are systems with relatively clear boundaries, allowing easier analysis of the problem and tailor-made solutions. In addition, local authorities can more easily monitor and evaluate the success of policies at local level;

10.

notes that there is much to be gained from drawing on the experience and capacity of these subnational administrations when framing policies at Union level;

11.

believes that the direct experience of local authorities in addressing brain drain could provide success stories and best practices that would be helpful in developing a coherent policy at EU level. Local and regional authorities can go beyond a general and abstract definition of policy issues and provide concrete and effective solutions. They need to better understand the efforts and initiatives designed to address brain drain beyond the administrative borders of the communities they represent and to engage in regional and interregional cooperation;

12.

points out that the problems confronted by sending and receiving regions are different and therefore need to be addressed accordingly. This distinction is important because policies at supranational level should aim to facilitate win-win solutions, or at least to limit situations in which both sending and receiving regions lose (brain waste);

13.

draws attention to the risk brain drain poses to the long-term sustainability of the European project. Sending regions are in a double bind: they need convergence (to close the gap with receiving regions), but are losing their skilled workforce. In the long term, any change or transition to a sustainable and competitive economic model based on the knowledge economy and high added-value products would seem very difficult to achieve in a scenario where disparities between sending and receiving regions are widening. Left unaddressed, disparities will increase further and a vicious circle of ‘disintegration’ will ensue. According to the Global Competitiveness Index, the eastern and southern EU Member States are currently among the world’s countries least able to retain their talent;

14.

points out that although the European institutions have put forward mechanisms to reduce disparities, those approaches have been only partially effective. Given that brain drain is increasing, and given its geographical and economic dimensions, a different type of initiative or effort is needed, one that would directly address the push factors resulting from the specific growth trajectories of sending regions that make those regions insufficiently attractive to the highly educated part of the workforce;

15.

notes that an education–labour market gap is one of the problems associated with brain drain. Education is clearly an area where improvements can help to mitigate the negative effects of brain drain. Local and regional authorities should pay more attention to this, in cooperation with national and European authorities. Furthermore, education systems need to factor in the variable dynamics of the labour market and its increasing diversity in order to allow for a return from investments in a country’s or region’s human capital, which is lost with brain drain;

16.

draws attention to a phenomenon that needs to be closely monitored, namely the issue of children left at home by parents seeking better work abroad. This is a direct effect of brain drain and has long-term implications;

17.

highlights the importance of the Erasmus+, ESF+ and similar programmes in creating academic and professional opportunities for talented individuals and opportunities for international networking and partnerships throughout Europe and not just at certain regional hubs, as well as supporting the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights into practice. The new Commission’s support for increasing the budget of the Erasmus+ programme is a step in the right direction;

18.

believes that addressing the brain drain issue requires strong leadership and coordination of various efforts across national jurisdictions. The key point is to find specific ways of building cooperation networks, to counter populist political discourse, and to strengthen European integration. Further action at Member State and European Union level should focus on coordination and facilitation/support for efforts at the subnational levels, building consensus about how brain drain should be analysed and addressed, so as to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders;

19.

stresses that a number of key strategic issues need to be identified with respect to brain drain, so that decision-makers can avoid unnecessary duplication in public policy efforts. These strategic issues must be framed in a way that ensures policy measures have a visible impact and that supports policies which translate into concrete action;

20.

recommends that different types of response be identified and implemented for each subcomponent of the brain drain phenomenon — brain gain, brain waste, brain circulation and re-migration. Each of these areas calls for different, specific solutions. It is very important not to adopt a blanket approach to these subcomponents. Lack of tailored solutions may lead to broad and abstract statements/objectives which are hard to implement in real life;

21.

appreciates that certain regions and cities are already implementing creative solutions for attracting and retaining talent. Policies range from supporting the relocation of talented individuals to those regions/cities to more sophisticated measures involving the development of transnational networks of entrepreneurs. The EU needs to support programmes or initiatives that aim to enhance learning between different European local and regional authorities (LRAs);

22.

sees local and regional players as key to addressing brain drain; attracting and maintaining a highly skilled labour force can be ensured by making good use of the Integrated Territorial Development instruments of cohesion policy;

23.

suggests that LRAs, in cooperation with national and EU authorities, should promote policies and instruments to develop local entrepreneurship, self-employment and alternative models of business development that increase the attractiveness of sending regions;

24.

recommends that LRAs make the connection, based on a realistic assessment of needs, between their region’s particular assets and the talents and policies that are needed;

25.

suggests that LRAs set up local alliances, including all stakeholders (public authorities, businesses, universities, NGOs, etc.), which are able to draft and implement local policies that help to mitigate brain drain. Regular meetings of the relevant stakeholders should be supported and organised. Meetings should be used as forums for discussing and envisaging local and context-specific solutions, based on success stories from other locations/jurisdictions;

26.

notes that rigorous strategic planning processes at the local and regional levels can be important in correlating the mobility of human resources with medium- and long-term development plans, as well as providing a sound foundation for cooperation with other regional, national, and European authorities;

27.

would like there to be a better understanding of the reasons and barriers which prevent those who have emigrated in the past from returning to their place of origin and a better understanding of how public authorities can help in reducing those barriers. This could have a transformative effect, turning brain drain into brain circulation or re-migration;

28.

recommends that action at the subnational levels be integrated and coordinated with that of the Member States and of the Union while respecting the subsidiarity principle. Integration of efforts undertaken at various levels is crucial to successful EU policy. Policies and programmes should be developed to integrate and facilitate coordination between the action of LRAs on the one hand and that of the Member States and the Union on the other. This applies in all the areas that are implicated in brain drain (education, cohesion, regional development, digitisation, etc.). A mechanism needs to be initiated at EU level that is specifically designed to foster integration and coordination of policy measures on brain drain;

29.

suggests that LRAs need to be aware of the scale of the phenomenon and to conduct realistic and serious assessments of the characteristics of each area affected by brain drain. Evidence-based decision- and policy-making is the only way to frame effective solutions. Realistic assessment of the brain drain phenomenon at the level of each region can help public authorities which face similar or related issues to replace competition with cooperation, and could improve coordination between all stakeholders of ongoing efforts and existing resources;

30.

believes that quick procedures for recognising diplomas and skills/competencies could help a lot in reducing brain waste. Digitisation and interconnection of records is feasible and necessary here, based on diverse EU initiatives, including the upcoming Europass digitally signed credentials. Furthermore, welcomes the initiative of the European Commission for a European Education Area by 2025, in which learning, studying and doing research would not be hampered by borders. Points at the same time to the need to put in place mechanisms to foster brain circulation and re-migration;

31.

recommends that the European Commission steps up its efforts to reduce regional disparities, which are one of the major causes of brain drain. The cohesion funds play a crucial role in supporting our regions and areas that suffer from such disparities. Tailored policies and instruments that directly tackle these disparities between eastern/southern Europe and the western countries, as well as in between regions within Member States are essential in eliminating one of the main causes of brain drain. The political commitment of the Commission (4) to a fair minimum wage is very relevant, especially in sending regions, as this would tackle the issue of living standards and working conditions, and have a direct impact on quality of life. The EU’s cohesion policy for 2021-2027 should be a long-term policy of investment for all regions, focused on overcoming economic, social and regional divides and in line with the partnership principle and a place-based approach. Cohesion policy should be better coordinated with other EU policies so that there is a level playing-field. Vertical coordination of different funding sources should be improved at EU level in the governance of post-2020 cohesion policy and programmes, so as to guarantee more coherence of agendas at different governance and planning levels in the short to medium term (5);

32.

recommends that realistic policies to attract, retain, and re-attract an educated workforce be designed and implemented at local and regional level. One key strategic concept is quality of life: as indicated, enhancing quality of life is a very powerful tool for attracting and retaining an educated workforce. It is advisable and desirable that quality of life measurements be conducted regularly and in a structured way, so that they provide valuable information to LRAs about possible areas where intervention is needed;

33.

suggests that local, regional, national and EU authorities should focus on functional approaches to reverse emigration and attract workers (6): these include building a knowledge economy, improving the attractiveness of regions, developing diaspora strategies, and implementing a functional approach in urban governance;

34.

suggests that local, regional, national, and EU authorities need to pay special attention to removing structural factors that exacerbate brain drain (infrastructure/highways, quality of services, access to technology, etc.);

35.

highlights the need to develop an integrated European approach to brain drain based on realistic assessments, cooperation and coordination at local/regional, national and Union levels. Similarly, the need for coordinated policies on various scales is needed in areas relevant to brain drain, including education, digitisation, cohesion, and economic policies;

36.

considers it crucial that LRAs understand the importance of universities’ and vocational education and training providers’ role in local development within the knowledge-based economy. Public authorities need to develop partnerships with universities, and also to be aware of the need to support universities, including through investment in local infrastructure. There must be as much affinity as possible between the strategic objectives of universities and those of public authorities;

37.

notes that partnerships between private firms (interested in R & D), local authorities and universities are important engines of local growth and development which should be included in the current Commission’s objective of making it easier for small businesses to become large innovators through an SMEs strategy;

38.

is concerned at the risk of inequalities growing between cities and regions that benefit hugely from the framework programme for research and innovation and warns of the inadequacy of the steps taken to close the gaps between regions in order to address the challenges, including the demographic challenge, and to promote access for all to Horizon Europe (7);

39.

would argue that digital connectivity and smart specialisation can have positive effects when it comes to brain drain. Regional strategies in smart development and specialisation can focus on the competitive advantage existing or created in one region. Digital connectivity and development of digital literacy should be essential elements in the new Commission’s efforts to update the Digital Education Action Plan;

40.

points out that local authorities can design and implement a large number of measures to increase and develop the individual resilience of communities, especially when faced with economic hardships such as unemployment. Individual resilience and the capacity to adapt and overcome periods of hardship can be supported through upskilling and re-skilling programmes such as those supported through the EU Skills Agenda, measures to promote entrepreneurship and small businesses, educational and community programmes for students and young people whose parents are working abroad, etc.;

41.

recommends that the European Commission actively support — in close cooperation with the European Committee of the Regions, the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers — the efforts of local and regional public bodies in addressing brain drain. The Union is a complex political and administrative entity, and careful analysis of its responsibilities and capabilities is needed with respect to brain drain. Discussion of the Union’s role will entail both determining its responsibilities and identifying the best tools available at EU level;

42.

considers that the fact that an ‘employee is returning to his/her country of origin after a stay abroad’ must be considered as an asset within the professional profile, and must, therefore, be visible to employment providers when carrying out the corresponding selection process.

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


(1)  European Committee of the Regions, 2018, Addressing brain drain: The local and regional dimension.

(2)  European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Directorate D — Labour Mobility, 2018 Annual Report on Intra-EU Labour Mobility.

(3)  Atoyan, R., Christiansen, L., Dizioli, A., Ebeke, C., Ilahi, N., Ilyina, A., Mehrez, G., Qu, H., Raei, F., Rhee, A. and Zakharova, D., Emigration and Its Economic Impact on Eastern Europe, IMF staff discussion note, July 2016.

(4)  Ursula von der Leyen, A Union that strives for more. My agenda for Europe, p. 9.

(5)  ESPON, 2019, Addressing Labour Migration Challenges in Europe, p. 18.

(6)  Idem, pp. 17-18.

(7)  COR-2018-03891.


29.4.2020   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 141/39


Opinion of the European Committee of the Regions — Culture in a Union that strives for more: the role of regions and cities

(2020/C 141/09)

Rapporteur:

Vincenzo BIANCO (IT/PES), Member of Catania Municipal Council

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

1.

considers it necessary to put in place a broad understanding of culture and Europe’s cultural diversity that goes beyond solely the conservation and protection of tangible heritage and helps to understand the social and cultural changes taking place across European society;

2.

is aware of the role that cities and regions can play, with a pluralistic and innovative vision of culture, involving the citizens more actively in cultural growth processes and providing them with the tools to play an active part. Underlines to this effect the need to safeguard the freedom of artistic expression, which is a prerequisite for democracy, and the right of all citizens to have access to diverse cultural expressions, which is essential for the wellbeing of society (1). In awareness of this, takes the view that actions in the field of culture need to boost the ability of art and culture to be a free and independent force in society; calls on all levels of government and the European institutions to support efforts to boost the ability of artists to respond to the threats and hatred that they risk facing in the public sphere;

3.

calls on the Commission to include culture as one of the political priorities to be pursued in the new term, and on the Council to support within the framework of the next MFF the allocation of adequate resources devoted to fostering regional and local promotion, management, use and development of cultural heritage;

4.

calls on the Commission to capitalise on and promote the use of cultural resources, particularly by young people, with a view to securing developments in society, the economy and jobs;

Context: the EU’s commitment to promoting culture at local and regional level

5.

stresses that the Treaties enshrine the EU’s commitment to respecting ‘its rich cultural and linguistic diversity’ and commit the EU to encouraging cooperation between Member States, supplementing their action in ‘improvement of the knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of the European peoples, conservation and … artistic and literary creation, including in the audiovisual sector’, and giving the EU the powers to support Member States’ action in the areas of culture, tourism, education, vocational training, youth and sport, while respecting the principle of subsidiarity;

6.

welcomes the Commission’s decision to continue the current Creative Europe programme as a stand-alone programme, providing an independent financial framework in the field of culture to ensure that the results from the 2014-2020 period are ongoing;

7.

stresses that the new European Agenda for Culture supplements and strengthens European identity by acknowledging the diversity of European cultures, reinforcing the European cultural and creative sectors and their relations with partners beyond Europe;

8.

underlines that the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 has achieved substantial participation on the ground, with thousands of activities taking place across Europe, encouraging sharing and appreciation of Europe’s cultural heritage as a shared resource, raising awareness of history and common European values, reinforcing a European identity and a sense of belonging to a common European space, promoting inclusion;

9.

considers that, in line with the European Landscape Convention and the New European Agenda for Culture, the general objectives for the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 could be enhanced by including a substantial territorial development component in the form of regional and local cultural strategies that involve the promotion of sustainable cultural tourism;

10.

welcomes the European Framework for Action on Cultural Heritage presented in December 2018, which includes five strands intended to bring about a real change in the way we appreciate, preserve and promote European cultural heritage;

11.

notes that, in addition to the previous Culture and MEDIA programmes, the Commission has supported the cultural sector through cohesion policy funding, the COSME programme and the Horizon 2020 programme, and that further support instruments are included in ‘Erasmus +’, the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund;

12.

calls on the Commission to ensure that the principle of mainstreaming investments in culture into the different EU policies is also applied in the programming of European funds, so that culture is not seen as just a sector-specific policy and its role in relation to all dimensions of cohesion (economic, social and territorial) is recognised. Underlines to this effect the importance of strengthening synergies between culture and other policies such as tourism, regional policy, education, youth and R&D;

13.

calls on the Commission and on the Member States and their managing authorities to increase, in the new programming of European funds for areas which are lagging behind, investment in culture, including support for measures to ‘restore to the public’ extensive heritage through not-for-profit public-private partnerships and by building up basic cultural facilities (in particular public library services);

14.

considers it important to step up investment in culture as already planned for the Creative Europe and Erasmus+ programmes. We need to shine a spotlight on the key role played by the regions and cities in integration processes by supporting non-profit public/private partnerships, with a view to encouraging good management practices;

15.

notes that the negotiation of post-2020 cohesion policy is a clear and unambiguous starting point for putting together a useful strategy for achieving ambitious goals, providing for duplication of major European programmes that have a direct impact on cultural policies such as Creative Europe and Erasmus;

The role of regional and local authorities

16.

stresses that each EU Member State contains areas which have been recognised as World Heritage Sites by Unesco — sites of unique exceptional cultural and natural importance — and that, overall, there are 381 World Heritage Sites in the 27 EU Member States, out of a total of 1 121 sites worldwide;

17.

stresses that the cultural heritage in the Member States is widely-spread and in many cases difficult to access, with significant difficulties when it comes to preserving and making use of it;

18.

calls on the Commission and on the Member States and their managing authorities to support the protection and physical safeguarding of cultural heritage, in particular in order to actively preserve the extensive heritage located in inner or outlying regions which is difficult to access;

19.

stresses the importance of cultural tourism, which promotes the intrinsic value of culture while broadly contributing to territorial development. Points to this effect to the need for an integrated approach to cultural tourism, also as part of smart specialisation strategies, in order to rationalise its impact on local areas and ensure it remains sustainable. To this end, the CoR points to the European Commission’s European Tourism Indicators System (ETIS), which can help measure the performance of cultural tourism destinations in relation to sustainability, and it calls for its regular update;

20.

welcomes the growing interest and efforts of local and regional authorities across Europe in promoting shared visions and actions in the Member States. Hopes that similar initiatives to those implemented under the Charter of Agrigento, signed by hundreds of mayors and by presidents of Italian regions and supported by particularly representative associations, can be reproduced in other countries;

21.

is aware of the need to give Europeans a bigger role in cultural growth by providing them with the tools they need to be active participants. The Committee is also aware of the contribution that culture and cultural diversity can make to sustainable development, as recognised in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2), and undertakes to work to make them key enablers for such development at local and regional level;

Priority objectives of regional and local authorities

22.

invites regions and cities in Europe, as well as regional cultural heritage organisations and networks, to draw inspiration from the Framework in developing wide-reaching and effective actions and strategic plans on promoting and capitalising on cultural heritage;

23.

points out that local and regional authorities are the levels of government appropriate for launching initiatives to familiarise both school-age people and adults with European cultural heritage, including those planning to settle in an EU Member State;

24.

regards the knowledge and use of European cultural heritage, seen as a blend of the multiple cultural, social and creative expressions, heritage and legacies of the generations that preceded us, and of the traditions and customs of the peoples of Europe, as a means of consolidating European citizenship and its capacity to drive forward integration and social inclusion;

25.

considers it necessary, at European level, to strengthen initiatives fostering knowledge of and access to Europe’s cultural heritage, as an essential part of consolidating European citizenship and promoting individuals’ sense of belonging to Europe;

26.

highlights the contribution that town-twinning, peer-learning and networks of cities can make as regards promoting and raising awareness of issues of citizenship, as means of participation in civic life and of integration, especially in relation to the new Member States;

27.

calls for increased investment in culture and in plans to bring aspects of cultural heritage, including those which have been neglected or abandoned, into use, under interactive and sustainable management within the new 2030 Urban Agenda. This will entail capitalising on innovative initiatives promoted by the municipalities and cooperation initiatives promoted by regional stakeholders;

28.

proposes further strengthening references to the key role of local and regional authorities in promoting and capitalising on the artistic and cultural life of their communities and calls for regional and local authorities to be more involved in the programme. In this context, it stresses the need for the right balance to be struck between allocation of resources for large-scale projects and local and regional funding measures and activities, including by SMEs;

29.

calls on the Commission to give Europeans easier access to culture and places of remembrance by encouraging cultural consumerism, particularly among the younger generations, developing integrated lifelong education and training policies and encouraging local communities to take part in cultural initiatives;

30.

considers that support should be given to the cultural and creative industries, particularly initiatives related to the knowledge and use of heritage that can produce results in terms of quality, employment, digital innovation and social inclusion, and those relating to development, in a European dimension, of the visual and performing arts;

31.

is aware of the importance of capitalising on digital opportunities to promote culture in an interactive way and attract all groups of society, especially young people, as the future custodians and promoters of cultural heritage;

32.

calls on the Commission to support the development of cultural relations between the Mediterranean countries, including with regard to cultural diplomacy initiatives;

33.

points to the importance of cross-border and inter-regional cooperation in the field of culture since cultural heritage goes beyond borders (3). The CoR highlights to this effect the key role of local and regional authorities, also in the implementation of the cultural component of macro-regional strategies;

34.

stresses, with a view to facilitating knowledge and use of European cultural heritage, the need to improve the exchange of data and information between public administrations operating in the EU countries, along with their communication with the public;

35.

calls on the Commission to take specific measures to promote effective participation and use by European citizens of the extensive cultural heritage across the Member States, in particular by facilitating full access to information as a pre-requisite for their active participation and supporting the setting-up of a specific information platform;

36.

commits European cities and regions, in their administrative capacity, to taking the lead in exploring culture-driven models of social and economic innovation and promoting initiatives open to civil society and associations, involving Europeans in the development of culture and the safeguarding and promotion of tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

Brussels, 12 February 2020.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions

Apostolos TZITZIKOSTAS


(1)  https://en.unesco.org/creativity/sites/creativity/files/artistic_freedom_pdf_web.pdf

(2)   https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

(3)  For example the Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe, (https://www.coe.int/en/web/cultural-routes/about) or the Unesco World Heritage Journeys — Europe (https://visitworldheritage.com/en/eu)