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ECR News European Committee of the Regions | 15th edition

CONTENTS PRESIDENT’S LETTER

COP23: How cities and regions can help save the planet 2

LEADERSHIP Rob Jonkman re-elected ECR Group President

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ECR GROUP OPINIONS Working with local communities in external relations  Call for a more integrated electricity market  A reformed Cohesion Policy  EU Funds – keeping it simple Grounding the EUs space policy 

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LOCALISM

The CoR was represented at the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn (COP23) by two ECR Group Members from Lithuania, Vytautas Kanevičius (Mayor of Kazlų Rūda) and Daiva Matonienė (Member of Šiauliai City Municipal Council). They underlined at the conference the need for more international cooperation and greater involvement of local and regional authorities in the implementation of the “Paris agreement” on climate change. Vytautas Kanevičius and Daiva Matonienė

Future of Europe and its Eastern Neighbourhood

Community-led solutions to addressing youth unemployment7 Addressing social rights  8 Vilnius region 9

CURRENT CHALLENGES Future of Europe and its Eastern Neighbourhood  EU and its Eastern Neighbourhood  Our borders - a Polish perspective The danger of closing borders EUs silence on Catalonia Path towards autonomy

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CLIMATE ACTION COP2316 Seeking alliances outside the EU  17 EU emergency funding for Northern Ireland  17 Protecting citizens from natural disasters 18

MEMBERS ACTIVITIES Conservative Party Conference  18 Local Government Association Annual Conference 19

OBITUARY ECR Member Cllr Robert Gordon CBE

ECR Group Secretariat Committee of the Regions

ECR Group meeting in Lviv

Members of the ECR Group met on 8 September in Lviv (Ukraine) to discuss EU’s relations with Eastern Neighbourhood countries and the future of Europe. The conference, organised at the invitation of the Marshal of Podkarpackie region and ECR Group Member Władysław Ortyl, brought together local, regional, national and EU politicians and experts.

ECR Group President calls for continued close EU-UK cooperation More than 1 200 local government leaders, councillors and ministers attended this year’s Local Government Association conference in the United Kingdom. Among them were ECR Group President Rob Jonkman and LGA Conservative Group Leader Cllr David Simmonds. Addressing the Conservative group meeting, Mr Jonkman said we needed to ensure that we had platforms through which we could continue sharing best practices across local government in the UK and the rest of Europe.

Rue Belliard/Belliardstraat, 101 1040 Bruxelles/Brussel

Rob Jonkman

Tel: +32 2 282 2257 Fax: +32 2 282 2287

ecr@cor.europa.eu www.ecr.cor.europa.eu


PRESIDENT’S LETTER ing took part partly in Podkarpackie in Poland and partly in Lviv in Ukraine and was organised upon the invitation of our Member Władysław Ortyl. As we discuss the future of our Union, it is important that we also think about what we want the future of the EU’s relationship with our neighbouring countries to look like. Having a meeting split between two sides of the border helped us to see the daily challenge faced by businessmen and citizens aiming to cross the border on a daily basis. We should be working more closely with the local communities of Europe’s neighbouring countries so as to address the common challenges faced on either side of the border. ECR Group President Rob Jonkman

In this edition of our newsletter, you will find examples of the key local and regional issues of the second half of 2017. We also pay our respect to Cllr Robert Gordon CBE who passed away earlier this year after almost 30 years of public service. He was a source of inspiration for many and a much loved colleague who will be missed dearly. Our newsletter contains articles from our Members who are leading the work of the European Committee of the Regions in setting its position and outlining the view of local and regional government in the European Union. You will also find articles from our Members where they present the most recent developments in their cities and regions and their activities in pushing for greater localism. I am proud to say that our Group has been leading the work of the CoR in some key policy areas of significance to local and regional government. You will find an article form our Member Marcin Ociepa where he explains his work in pushing for the EUs external relations and international development assistance to focus on local communities and bottom-up solutions. You will also find examples of our Members work on climate change. Our Members Daiva Matonienė and Vytautas Kanevičius formed part of the Committee of the Regions delegation attending the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change. Other articles giving examples where our Members have led the European Committee of

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the Regions’ work include the article of Pavel Branda on people-to-people small-scale project in cross-border cooperation. A real addedvalue of the EU’s Cohesion Policy has been the people-to-people projects and therefore in the future, this is an area that deserves greater investment. We also have an article from Oldřich Vlasák on the simplification of EU Funds. A reformed EU must also be one where we use public money more effectively and efficiently and a key way to achieve that is by simplifying procedures for the use of EU Fuds and cutting red-tape. In Europe, we have seen two regional referendums take place. Our member Matteo Bianchi, as Mayor of Morazzone in Lombardy, explains the October referendum that took place in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto, where the citizens voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater powers being handed from the central Italian government to these regions. He outlines what the citizens voted for and the significance of this vote. Our Member Cllr Joe Cooney also presents our views on the developments following the Catalan independence referendum. The use of force by policemen towards citizens wishing to peacefully vote can never be acceptable and it is saddening to see that the Commission is all too ready to criticise some Member States but has remained so silent on this issue. We need a Union of values, not of double-standards.   Earlier this year, our Group organised an extraordinary event on the future of European and our Eastern Neighbourhood. The meet-

This edition is coming out at a time when the discussions and debates around the future of Europe and the UKs exit from the EU are both reaching a climax. The UK’s departure from the EU raises two important questions from a local government perspective. First, which level of government should take over the powers coming back from the EU? And second, what should the future relationship between the UK’s local governments and devolved administrations, and those of other Members States, look like? As the ECR Group and indeed as the CoR, we have been active in providing answers to the second question. We have given examples of local government empowerment in other countries, such as my own, where local and regional government have the power to take local action and legislate as long as they do not contradict national laws. In terms of the second question, we should aim to build a new network through the Committee of the Regions that would not only cover climate change and migration but also areas such as economic cooperation. As Europe, we are competing against global powers and face on-going transnational challenges in our continent. Our comparative success as western nations will not depend on whether we legislate together but on how well we cooperate with each other. Our Group has continued to champion a more euro-realist and localist future for Europe. In September in his State of the Union address, the European Commission President presented his vision for the future of the European Union. While the President correctly identified many of the challenges our citizens face, the remedy


and solutions proposed were unfortunately out of touch with their needs and the reality on the ground. I hope that the Council will use the localist principle of civic empowerment and liberty to reform the EU. Our local communities want to be ever closer in the sense of travelling freely, trading freely and

prospering collectively. They do not, however, want to be ever closer in terms of political governance. They do not want to give away their freedom of choice over how their local community is run. This is why we need greater localism, for the benefit of all our citizens.

Alderman Rob Jonkman President of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group European Committee of the Regions European Union

LEADERSHIP Rob Jonkman re-elected ECR Group President Rob Jonkman (Alderman in Opsterland Municipality, the Netherlands) was unanimously re-elected the President of the European Conservative and Reformists Group. The mid-term election held on 12 July 2017 saw Dutch Alderman Rob Jonkman re-elected the President of the Group. The first Vice-President is now Oldřich Vlasák (Czech Republic) and the other Vice-Presidents are Cllr Joe ­Cooney (United Kingdom) and Adam Banaszak (Poland). Following his selection as the President of the ECR Group, Rob Jonkman said: “I look forward to continuing my work in aiming to achieve greater localism and realism in the EU. Europe is currently at a cross-roads and we will need to decide on the future of our Union. Our Group will continue to push for a reformed EU where decisons are taken as close to the citizens as possible.”

mission for Economic Policy (ECON). He is currently the Leader of the ECR Group’s UK delegation and Member of the UK CoR delegation. His main expertise is in the field of economic and monetary affairs. Back in the UK, Cllr Joe Cooney is a Conservative Councillor based in Colne in Lancashire, where he is Conservative Leader of Pendle Borough Council.

Alderman Jonkman has been a Member of the ECR Group in the CoR since 2014, and has been the Group’s Spokesperson on Economic Policy. Rob Jonkman has been Alderman of the municipality of Opsterland since 2010. Before becoming Alderman, Mr Jonkman represented the ChristenUnie as council member within the municipality of Opsterland. Mr Jonkman has been a Member of the Committee on European and International Affairs within the Dutch Association of Municipalities (VNG) since 2010 and has been a Member of the Advisory Board of the Knowledge Centre Europa Decentraal since 2014.

Cllr Joe Cooney (Pendle Borough Council, UK) was also re-elected as Vice-President. During his work for the CoR, for which he has been a member of since 26 January 2015, Cllr Cooney has been an active Members of the CoR’s Com-

Adam Banaszak (Vice-President of KujawskoPomorskie Regional Parliament) was elected as a new Vice-President. Mr Banaszak is a Member of the Polish Delegation to the CoR and the Group’s Coordinator for the Commission for Natural Resources (NAT). He has been the Committee of the Regions’ rapporteur on numerous opinions such as the “Action Plan on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 20152030”, “working together for jobs and growth”, “blue growth” and the “blue economy”. He has worked in local government as a Councillor and a financial expert for more than 20 years.

Vice-President Cllr Joe Cooney

Vice-President Adam Banaszak

Oldřich Vlasák was re-elected as Vice-President and has now become the first Vice-President. Oldřich Vlasák is a Councillor of the City of Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic. In the CoR, apart from his role as the ECR Group VicePresident, he has been also the Group’s Deputy Coordinator on the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER). In December 2015 the CoR adopted his report on “territorial vision 2050: what future?”, in which he calls for a stronger bottom-up approach to EU policies and for existing funds to be streamlined and simplified. Mr Vlasák is former Vice President of the European Parliament responsi-

First Vice-President Oldřich Vlasák

ble for the European Parliament’s relations with the CoR.

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ECR GROUP OPINIONS Marcin Ociepa underlines importance of working with local communities in external relations Leaders of the European Union’s regions and cities have thrown their support behind the European Union’s decision to channel much of its diplomatic efforts and international aid into building up the economic and social ‘resilience’ of partner countries. At the same time, the ECR Group rapporteur Marcin Ociepa (President of Opole City Council in Poland) urged EU decision-makers and diplomats to focus more attention on local and regional authorities outside the EU, arguing that “they are to a large extent responsible for the strength and quality of resilience.”

ECR Group rapporteur Marcin Ociepa

The recommendations by the rapporteur collectively suggest that, by bolstering the resilience of local communities outside the EU, the EU would be able to contribute more effectively to making states and societies strong enough to withstand crises. Marcin Ociepa draws particular attention to regions on the EU’s eastern and southern borders, arguing that more support needs to be directed toward projects “in the area of security, education, economic, social and cultural policy.” Mr Ociepa said: “The concept of resilience implies building up the long-term strength,

stability and flexibility of our neighbours. The world changes and shocks happen, and we want to help our neighbours to cope with and adapt to such changes. A society will be more able to cope with political, economic and environmental crises and to develop healthily if it pursues democracy, forges trust in public institutions, and seeks socially inclusive sustainable economic development. So we believe it is critically important for the EU to focus on education, social inclusion, vulnerable groups, economic development, investment, disaster risk management and developing international cooperation. And the EU should also focus, where it can, on working with local and regional authorities, as they run emergency services, can identify and assess risks, and can often reach out more effectively to the local population.” He continued: “Instability abroad has knockon effects on Europe. We have seen that with the refugee and migration crisis, and the Ukraine crisis and hostile propaganda against the EU and its Member States have raised the risks on the EU’s borders. So I think helping border regions is especially

important. We need to pay more attention to reports and analyses from regions and municipalities in these areas. And we need to counter disinformation campaigns with the help and to the benefit of local and regional authorities.” The rapporteur also emphasised that “tackling the root causes of irregular migration (such as poverty, inequality, etc.) is one of the key measures in building resilience. The opinion, “A Strategic Approach to Resilience in the EU’s External Action”, highlights the need for the fresh policy emphasis on resilience to be reflected in the EU’s research priorities, urging the EU to ensure that local academia, “as regional centres of expertise”, should be “involved more in this research.” The opinion, which was adopted unanimously, stresses that the EU needs to gather accurate knowledge at the local level, since local circumstances demand a tailored approach rather than a one-size-fits-all strategy. It also draws particular attention to the importance of families, communities, associations and places of worship in communication, prevention, crisis response and recovery efforts.

Daiva Matonienė leads call of local and regional authorities for a more open and integrated electricity market On 16 July, CoR Members adopted a set of legislative and policy recommendations on the Winter Energy Package, presented by the European Commission in November 2016. One of the key opinions addressing renewable energy and the electricity market was drafted under the leadership of the ECR Group Coordinator in the Environment Commission, Daiva Matonienė. Ms Matonienė called on the EU to focus on creating properly integrated energy markets with diversified sources of supply. Commenting on the adoption of her opinion, Ms Matonienė said: “We need to be ambitious when it comes to increasing our use of clean energy sources but we must take a local approach to this, enabling countries,

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regions and cities to adapt energy mixes to their own situations, rather than putting them in a legislative straightjacket. We need to remember that Member States have different capacities when it comes to renew-

able energy, and be ambitious but at the same time realistic and cost-efficient. I personally believe that the Commission should pay more attention to the development of new environmentally-friendly and energy-


ECR Group rapporteur Daiva Matonienė

efficient technologies, in line with the technological neutrality principle”. “Overall, in our opinion we welcome the European Commission’s Clean Energy for All Europeans package but as local and regional authorities we would like to see more being

done to ensure greater electricity market integration,” said the ECR Group rapporteur.

as energy systems, they are more resilient to variations in demand or supply.”

“I think we can all agree that renewable energy is part of our future and climate change is something that we must aim to address. That is why it is very important that we discuss the competitiveness of renewables. Onshore wind, hydroelectric, geothermal plants and biofuel plants now produce electricity at prices that can successfully compete with those of fossil fuel power plants.”

“The EU should follow the example of the integrated German and French electricity markets, where the continuous cross-border flow enables Germany to keep its system stable when wind and sunshine are abundant, while allowing France to meet periods of peak demand.”

She went on to say that “while the increasing uptake is positive, we must recognise that this type of energy also presents a number of challenges. Due to the variations in and limited predictability of solar and wind power, the EU should be more proactive about endeavouring to stabilise the grid. Properly integrated markets are certainly best placed to take up this challenge: they can connect areas with complementary energy mixes and

Ms Matonienė is a Member of Šiauliai City Council and Lithuania’s former Deputy Minister of Environment. The Clean Energy for All Europeans package will be largely responsible for pushing ahead Europe’s sustainable energy transition. It covers energy efficiency, renewable energy, the design of the electricity market, security of electricity supply and governance rules for the Energy Union.

A reformed Cohesion Policy - Pavel Branda leads cities and regions call for greater focus on people-to-people projects in cross-border areas Local and regional elected representatives believe that more importance should be attached to people-to-people and small-scale projects in the framework of cross-border cooperation programmes, in order to overcome obstacles at borders and to integrate border areas and their citizens. According to Dr Pavel Branda’s opinion adopted unanimously on 12 July by the CoR, the positive impact and EU addedvalue of such projects has not been properly recognised and reflected in the EU’s Cohesion Policy. Border regions are home to more than one third of the EU’s population and represent a major challenge for territorial cooperation. Over the 2014-2020 period, border communities are set to receive investments worth more than EUR 6.6 billion - out of the EUR 10 billion invested in regional cooperation. The opinion drafted by Pavel Branda, Deputy Mayor of Rádlo in the Czech Republic, recommends that for the post-2020 Cohesion Policy, these projects be built into the EU’s support for cross-border cooperation as legitimate instruments under the cross-border cooperation (CBC) programmes. It also calls on the Commission to make the necessary arrangements, including the simplification of procedures. Regional and local political leaders believe that, in light of the current situation in the EU of growing nationalism, the migration crisis, the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU and economic and monetary difficulties, it is es-

sential to focus more on projects that bring added-value and therefore both refocus the EU’s Cohesion Policy on people-to-people and small scale projects as well as raising the profile of their positive results. The opinion stresses the findings of independent studies confirming that the variety of projects and their decentralised management mean that such projects are capable of delivering better results in addressing regionspecific needs and are also capable of bringing numerous concrete benefits to citizens, although these projects are often neglected by the managing authorities for the sake of larger projects. “It is not only large projects but also the small individual projects which are essential for the success of cross-border cooperation. They help to build confidence and eliminate stereotypes and prejudices”, explains Pavel Branda. They directly involve citizens, local and regional authorities

ECR Group Member Pavel Branda

and civil society organizations while developing interpersonal contacts and partnerships and creating a platform for sharing experiences from different sides of the border. Very often, just the

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fact that cross-border cooperation takes place is a positive result in itself. Therefore, when it comes to assessing the objectives of the EU2020 strategy, flexibility with more suitable methodology and evaluation indicators for these kinds of projects is needed in order to ensure that their contribution is not overlooked.

The CoR therefore recommends that local and regional measures be taken within the framework of CBC, as opposed to more overarching initiatives, which are considered by the Committee to be less effective and overly dominant. Local and regional elected representatives call for the development of smaller-scale initiatives, which

will enable local problems to be tackled using a tailor-made approach. This will help to mobilise and involve local citizens participating in the development of larger projects and thus restore genuine trust and cooperation in these areas.

EU Funds – keeping it simple Oldřich Vlasák (Councillor for the City of Hradec Králové, Czech Republic / Vice-President of the ECR Group) has been appointed by fellow local and regional politicians as rapporteur for the European Committee of the Region’s opinion on ‘Final Conclusions and Recommendations of the High Level Group on Simplification post-2020’. The goal of the Committee of the Regions opinion, due to be prepared under the leadership of Oldřich Vlasák, will be to present the ideas of local and regional authorities on how the EUs Cohesion Policy could be simplified for the future. “The EUs Cohesion Policy is in serious need of simplification. We need to simplify rules in order to reduce the administrative burdens imposed on beneficiaries. There is no doubt that Cohesion Policy has brought many positive and tangible results to local communities across the continent. However, access to the Fund and its management is difficult for local and regional authorities. The Funds need to be reformed so that they are easier to access, especially for small towns and municipalities. What we also need is to have a policy that is more bottom-up and based on clear rules and mutual trust. For

a reliable and effective shared management system we need to find ways to ensure that the partnership principle is properly applied”, said Mr Vlasák. The partnership principle underperins the EUs Cohesion Policy and helps to ensure that actions are adapted to local and regional needs and priorities. The principle is also encoded in the European Code of Conduct on the Partnership Principle that regulate the use of European Structural and Investment Funds.

11 July 2017 and provide specific options for the preparation of post-2020 legislative proposals regarding the ESIF.

The High Level Group (HLG) on monitoring simplification for beneficiaries of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) was set up by the European Commission in July 2015. The final conclusions and recommendations of the HLG were adopted at its 10th meeting on

The initial discussion and the adoption of the opinion in the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) are due to take place on 13 December 2017 and the plenary adoption during the first CoR plenary session in 2018.

ECR Group rapporteur Oldřich Vlasák

Grounding the EUs space policy On 11 October the European Committee of the Regions adopted an opinion that positively assesses the Space Strategy for Europe proposed by the European Commission. Władysław Ortyl, Marshal of the Podkarpackie region and ECR Group Member, led the work on smart specialisation and regional investment. Marshal Władysław Ortyl, ECR Group’s shadow rapporteur for the opinion on the EUs space strategy underlined the importance of taking into account the regional dimension of space policy for its success noting that investment in space policy could save tax-payers billions of Euros.

on the development of firms in this industry and therefore our regional economies. The way we design the policy will impact our ability to attract and keep industry in our regions. It is through such a regional approach that aviation and aerospace have become the leading smart specialisation in my region in Poland.” he said.

“I am glad that all our amendments were successfully adopted. The Space Strategy for Europe can only really succeed if we take into account the regional angle of the policy. The way we shape the policy will have a direct impact

The document drawn-up by the Members of the Committee of the Regions will now be forwarded to the European Commission as the official position of the local and regional authorities of the EU.

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“The EUs space strategy can help save billions of Euros of tax-payers hard-earned money”, said Marshal Ortyl. He added that “between 2002-2012, disasters were responsible for 80 000 deaths and cost around 95 billion Euros in the EU alone.” As stated in the opinion, space technologies can be useful, inter alia, in the public sector. They can be used, for example, for day-to-day monitoring of an area or evaluating the status of natural resources (water, air etc). Advanced technologies can also be used for reviewing the subsidy system and for early identification and prevention of illegal con-


struction. Furthermore, space technologies can be harnessed for improving the energy efficiency of buildings and can help warn against and monitor the effects of natural disasters. In the adopted document, the EU local and regional elected representatives underline the importance of the role played by the regions in implementing the EU’s space policy. “We believe that regional authorities should be coordinators of regional space policy. In this context the activities of regions that have joined the Network of European Regions Using Space Technologies (NEREUS) should be highlighted. The aim of these activities is to harness the potential of space technology”, said Mr Ortyl. The Podkarpacie region joined the Network in May of this year. The Marshal also underlined that the creation of European Space Agency business incubators in the regions should be supported, with the aim of encouraging entrepreneurship in this

Marshal Władysław Ortyl (on the right) and Ms Roya Ayazi, Secretary General of NEREUS

sector. On 9 May 2017, the Podkarpackie region co-hosted the Aerospace and Defence Meetings, which were attended by 150 companies from more than 20 countries. The aim of the event was to bring together business partners

and to facilitate the sharing of experience between world leaders from the aviation industry. Between 2014 and 2020, the European Union will have invested over EUR 12 billion in space programmes.

LOCALISM ECR Group workshop shows need for community led solutions and private sector involvement in addressing youth unemployment The European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Committee of the Regions hosted a workshop on addressing youth unemployment during the 2017 European Week of Regions and Cities. The debate, which took place on 11 October, brought together local and

ECR Group workshop

regional politicians with representatives of the EU institutions and the private sector to discuss ideas and elaborate on how community-led solutions can help address youth unemployment. ECR Group Member Cllr Harvey Siggs (Member of Mendip Council in the UK) chaired the first

panel, which aimed at setting the scene and taking stock of where we stand in our efforts to tackle youth unemployment. Paweł Grzybowski, the ECR Coordinator for the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC) and rapporteur for the CoR opinion on “Investing in Europe’s Youth and the European Solidarity Corps”, welcomed the European Commission’s aim of strengthening the civic participation of our youth. The rapporteur also called for “closer cooperation with local communities in order to develop projects that meet their needs and for greater involvement of the private sector in order to use the working strand of the European Solidarity Corps as a tool that can contribute to including our youth in economic, social and democratic life”. Dr Pavel Branda (Mayor of Radlo in the Czech Republic) chaired the second panel, which looked at the role of the European Solidarity Corps in facilitating the integration of Europe’s youth into the labour market and enabling them to build skills by helping their communities.

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Speaking at the second working session, John Flack MEP (Member of the European Parliament for East of England) stressed that society can only improve by empowering young individuals. He explained how the UK has successfully combatted youth unemployment through communityled initiatives such as the NCS (National Citizen Service), a successful project initiated by the Conservative party. Other speakers included Menno Bart (Public Affairs Specialist, Adecco group), Anita Vella (Deputy Head of Unit, Employment Strategy, DG EMPL), Giorgio Zecca (Policy Advisor, EUROCITIES) and Sandra Rainero (Policy Advisor, Veneto Lavoro).

ECR Group Members Cllr Harvey Siggs (second from the right) and Paweł Grzybowski (second from the left)

Addressing social rights without further EU power creep In response to the European Commission’s new plans for a European Pillar of Social Rights, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group underlined that adressing social rights does not require greater centralisation of social policies in Brussels. While underlining that we do need to achieve equal opportunities in our societies and fair working conditions through coordinated action, the Group flagged subsidiarity concerns over replacing national systems with a single EU welfare system. The ECR Group Coordinator for the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC), Paweł Grzybowski, stressed that the solution at the EU level cannot always be more centralisation. “Yes we do have a problem. We are yet to achieve equal opportunities for our citizens so that a child can have a bright future irrespective of the family or country it is born into. However, the way to address this is not by trying to harmonise the social systems of 28 diverse economies.”

ECR Group Coordinator Paweł Grzybowski

The ECR Group voiced strong opposition to the opinion on the European Pillar of Social Rights and voted against the CoR opinion at the CoR plenary on 11 October 2017. The general tenor of that criticism also applies to the current proposal by the European Commission. The European Pillar of Social Rights was presented as a Commission recommendation on 26 April and reffered to by Jean-Claude Juncker in his 13 September State of the Union address. It aims to deliver new and more effective rights to citizens and has three categories; 1) equal opportunities and access to the labour market 2) fair working conditions and 3) social protection and inclusion.

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Underlining that there were warning flags already raised by national parliaments on Commission proposals on social matters, Paweł Grzybowski emphasised the need to respect the principle of subsidiarity “We need to respect the powers of local, regional and national authorities. We need to respect the principle of subsidiarity,” he said. The Commission has already received a “yellow card” from national parliaments over its proposed reform of the Posting of Workers Directive. The Commission proposed changes in three main areas: the remuneration of posted workers (making it equal to that of local workers, even when subcontracting), more coherent rules on temporary agency workers, as well as long-term posting. These changes would mean that it would go significantly beyond the requirements of minimum remuneration of the existing directive. Despite the ‘yellow card’ pro-

cedure triggered by 11 Member States because of subsidiarity concerns, the European Commission stands by its initial proposal. Mr Grzybowski (Mayor of Rypin in Poland) noted the following; “the Group believes that reforms are necessary at EU level in order to enhance competition, keep labour costs down and boost productivity, ultimately bringing an end to an over-regulated labour market. But we believe that employment legislation is best decided at national level and that any European initiative must show due regard for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality”.

ECR Group Member Matteo Bianchi


ECR Group Member Matteo Bianchi made the following comment on the proposal: “We fear that the European Commission’s plan will be used to harmonise social policy further, giving more powers to the European level and taking them away from the Member States, regional and local authorities”.

On 5 December Mr Matteo Bianchi will organise a citizens’ dialogue in Milan, Italy on the European Commission’s proposals for a European Pillar of Social Rights and work-life balance. The event will be organised under the auspices of the Lombardy region and the European Committee of the Regions. It will

be attended by citizens, local, regional and national politicians, academics and researchers. Besides Mr Bianchi, among the key speakers will be CoR Members Raffaele Cattaneo (President of the Lombardy Regional Council) and Mauro D’Attis (CoR rapporteur on the European Pillar of Social Rights).

New ECR Member presents the unique and multicultural Vilnius region - By Tadeusz Andrzejewski The region surrounding the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, is unique in Lithuania not only because of its size but also its multicultural character. The largest regional authority in the Amber Republic has over 100 000 inhabitants, of whom 52% are Polish, over 32% Lithuanians, around 8% Russians and just over 4% Belarusians. There are also smaller numbers of Ukrainians (0.65%) and Tatars (0.4%). The outstandingly beautiful, hilly landscapes of the Vilnius region are adorned by the pointed towers of Catholic churches topped by crosses, and domed Orthodox churches with their characteristic diagonal-beamed crosses, as well as a few wooden mosques in the villages of Nemėžis and Keturiasdešimt Totorių, where the descendants of Vytautas’ valiant knights go to pray.

ECR Group Member Tadeusz Andrzejewski

The latter are the descendants of Tatars brought to Lithuania by Grand Duke Vytautas the Great in the late 14th century as his personal bodyguard. The Vilnius region is thus unique in terms of its history, culture, languages, customs and religion.

The local authorities of the region, which I have the honour to represent at the European Committee of the Regions, aware of the unique historical and cultural heritage of the region, endeavour to cultivate and promote it. They have already been doing this for several decades, and it is worth noting that, since our country obtained its independence in 1990, all the local elections in the Vilnius region have been won by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania - Christian Families Alliance (AWPL-ZRCH) political group. This is a regional party of Lithuanian Poles, but also representatives of other national minorities, and of course also Lithuanians. The AWPL-ZRCH group’s consistent and convincing success with the electorate can be partly explained by the fact that it is particularly sensitive

to the Vilnius area’s multicultural character, and seeks to preserve it. This is demonstrated by the fact that every year more than 50% of the regional authority’s budget allocation goes on education, which has three dimensions. Teaching in the region’s state-funded educational institutions takes place in three languages: Lithuanian, Polish and Russian. In this way all children are guaranteed the right to pursue their secondary education in their mother tongue, which is a precondition for preserving the ethnic identities of the individual diasporas. This trilingual model obviously requires significant investment, but the local authority willingly accepts the increased expenditure in this area. It also understands that, if national minorities are to feel safe and comfortable in their little homelands, three things have to be guaranteed: education in their mother tongue, the opportunity to use the language of their national minority in their close-knit community, and the ability to promote their culture. In spite of various difficulties with the central government in this area (e.g. the Lithuanian parliament’s repeal of the Law on National Minorities following the country’s acces-

Vilnius region, Lithuania

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sion to the EU), the local authority is trying to create this security of identity for national minorities. Support from the various EU programmes has been helpful in this respect. EU and local authority funds have been used to modernise educational establishments, kindergartens have been built, the entire school infrastructure is being extended and modernised. For example, sports fields and gymnasiums, playgrounds and cycle tracks etc. are being built. In effect, thanks to EU support,

Vilnius palms

our region is undergoing a transformation. More than EUR 70 million has been invested in the region from EU funds since 2007. In the last few years alone a folk arts centre has been built at the Houvalt manor in Maišiagala with co-financing from EU programmes (EUR 967 000). A new biathlon shooting range has been built at Nemenčinė (with EUR 312 000 from the EU), as have seven new sports fields (EUR 499 000). EU funds are of course also being invested in cultural projects, which in our region, like education, have three dimensions. This can best be seen in the context of our main annual celebration, the harvest festival. The popular Dozhinki festival encapsulates the culture, history and customs of the Vilnius region in all their diversity. At the festival individual municipalities from the Vilnius region present not only the year’s harvest, but also their rich multi-ethnic artistic skills. At the festival you can listen to jolly, boisterous Polish folk songs performed by the many folk music ensembles of the region, fall into a melancholy reverie over wistful Lithuanian laments or dance to the rhythm of the gopak performed by Russian masters of the dance. You can also sample the delights of various ethnic delicacies, such as Lithuanian dumplings, Polish poppy-seed cake and Russian bliny. You

can marvel at the richness of the creations of masters of different cultures and nationalities. One thing that is absolutely unique to the Vilnius region, from the cultural point of view, is the Vilnius Easter palms which the women of the region have been weaving for generations. Vilnius palms are so beautiful, original and individual that the Lithuanian authorities have applied to UNESCO to have them included on the World Cultural Heritage list. We invite you to visit the Vilnius region to experience for yourself its diverse cultures and peoples. Tadeusz Andrzejewski is a Member of Vilnius district municipal council and a Member of the European Committee of the Regions, where he belongs to the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. At the Committee he participates in the work of the Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX), and the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC). He is a journalist and columnist, inter alia for the Tygodnik Wileńszczyzny and the L24 internet portal.

CURRENT CHALLENGES ECR Group Members call for more cooperation between the EU and its Eastern Neighbours Members of the ECR Group met on 8 September in Lviv (Ukraine) to discuss EU’s relations with Eastern Neighbourhood countries and the future of Europe. The conference, organised at the invitation of the Marshal of Podkarpackie region and ECR Group Member Władysław Ortyl, brought together local, regional, national and EU politicians and experts. Speaking about the future of Europe, Ruža Tomašić MEP (ECR/HR) said: “As a sovereignist and localist I believe Europe needs more smart decentralisation. Currently, diversity is not much respected in Brussels when it comes to national and regional differences. The EU should respect

local specificities and decisions of national governments. We cannot accept a situation in which those who do not want further centralisation become second class members. As to Ukraine, I believe that with our help the country will soon rebuild itself and in the future it will be able to

ECR Group meeting in Lviv. From right to left: Marshal Władysław Ortyl, Chairman Oleksandr Hanushchyn, Serhiy Kiral MP

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join the EU so that we can work together on delivering best results to our local communities”. The conference aimed to facilitate a wider discussion on what future we want for ourselves, our children and our continent. “The European Union is in the process of reflecting on the future of Europe, but so far the debate has concentrated on how the EU could evolve. It is however important to remember that our future is dependent not only on the EU, but also on non-EU countries”, said ECR Group President Rob Jonkman (Alderman in Opsterland, Netherlands). Particular attention was paid to the EU’s relations with Ukraine, a country facing an ongoing conflict with the Russian Federation. Ukraine is a priority partner for the EU with whom the EU has entered a new state of relationship following the


coming into effect of the Association Agreement on 1 September of this year. “The Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) represents clear added value for the EU and must continue. At the same time we have to search for new instruments and improve the existing ones to enrich this policy. We need an EU macro-regional strategy for the Carpathian region so that EU Funds can deliver better results. More EU support is also needed for local and regional partnerships, which help to remove social and infrastructural barriers”, said Marshal Władysław Ortyl. Head of Strzyżów District and ECR Group Member Robert Godek gave a practical example of good cooperation between his district (located in Podkarpackie region, Poland) and the city of Brody (located in Lviv oblast, Ukraine). A joint project funded by the EU and realised by Strzyżów and Brody focused on developing their tourism potential. “The value of such programmes cannot be quantified. Their biggest benefit is promoting mutual understating among people leaving across the border”.

ECR Group Members in the Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II

Other speakers, all of whom highlighted the need for more decentralised cooperation in Europe, included ECR Group Member Pavel Branda (Deputy Mayor of Rádlo, Czech Republic), Pieter Cleppe (Head of Brussels office of Open Europe), Oleksandr Hanushchyn (Chairman of the Lviv Regional Council) and Serhiy Kiral (Member of the Ukrainian Parliament).

Before coming to Lviv ECR Group Members visited the Podkarpackie region at the invitation of Marshal Władysław Ortyl and Tomasz Poręba MEP. In Podkarpacie they visited the Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II in Markowa. The primary goal of this Museum is to show heroic stance of the Poles who helped the Jews during German occupation, risking their own lives and the lives of their families.

EU and its Eastern Neighbourhood – going local Dr Pavel Branda (Deputy Mayor of Rádlo municipality, Czech Republic), the ECR Group representative on the Committee of the Regions’ Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership’s (CORLEAP) Bureau, spoke at the CORLEAP conference in Yerevan, Armenia on 24 October 2017. The conference was titled “Innovation and regional development: Agents for growth in Eastern Partnership countries”. Dr Branda gave a presentation on the importance of cross-border cooperation in fostering regional and local development. He shared specific examples and best-practices from the 26 years of cross-border cooperation that his border region has with the neighbouring German and Polish

regions. This was very much welcomed by the participants as an inspiration for cross-border cooperation projects between the Armenian-Georgian border. Dr Branda offered the participating representatives of Eastern Partnership countries his expertise and assistance if needed.

ECR Group Member Pavel Branda

Our borders - a Polish perspective - By Robert Godek Of all the processes that have been radically changing Europe’s social and political landscape in recent years, the migrant crisis is undoubtedly one of the most challenging. Poland’s local authorities – and, I believe, average Polish citizens as well – view the events unfolding within the EU in this regard with a great deal of surprise and even disbelief. The issue is not so much humanitarian concerns, which are beyond discussion, but rather a country’s ability to control and protect its borders, one of any state’s most important prerogatives. The Federal Republic of Germany and France signed an agreement in 1984 to make it easier for their citizens to cross borders; in Schengen in 1985, the agreement was extended to the Benelux countries, and then in 1995 to additional countries,

along with the elimination of internal border controls. All of this meant that the free movement of people became an attractive and innovative feature of the European Union. For this very reason, additional countries joined Schengen, including

non-EU Member States (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway). For citizens of countries such as Poland, who can recall the restrictions and corruption of border regimes under communism, the freedom to cross borders within the EU

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mother and led by a Ukrainian smuggler, illegally crossed the border in the Bieszczady in 2007, or the attempt to storm the border crossing into Poland from Belarus undertaken by a group of Chechen refugees in August 2016. Smuggling of various articles – primarily cigarettes and alcohol – is constantly being detected, and additional Polish-built border crossings are coming under increasing pressure. As a rule, however, these significant numbers of economic emigrants do not lead to ethnic conflicts breaking out in Poland, a fact that is backed up by representatives of the Ukrainian authorities. Cultural proximity certainly plays an important role in this regard, despite certain historical troubles that continue to colour relations between Poles and Ukrainians.

ECR Group Member Robert Godek symbolically cutting the border barrier between Slovakia and Poland

was, and continues to be, an extremely important administrative – even civilizational – accomplishment. For residents of the Podkarpackie region, to take one example, the elimination of border controls between Poland and Slovakia has had a very tangible effect, enabling active interpersonal contacts in the border regions, paving the way for business and administrative partnerships, etc. This is in contrast to the situation with Ukraine, where international border crossings are strictly guarded and limited by means of a barrier (or, as it is termed in Ukraine, a “cordon”), with all the consequences that entails: complex border protection and customs systems on both sides of the border, smuggling of goods, and waiting times at border crossings that can stretch to hours, often due to the whim of those policing the frontier on either side. Polish citizens welcomed Poland’s accession to the European Union and the ability to freely cross the EU’s internal borders. At the same time, when Poland was preparing to join the Schengen area in 2005-06, international assessments to check the Polish authorities’ readiness to police the border – and to evaluate the implementation of the principles set out in the treaties relating to free movement across internal borders – made clear to us the responsibility entailed by the fact that Poland was to control not just its own border but also the external border of all EU Member States (or, more precisely, those Member States party to the Schengen Agreement). Assessments were carried out on the preparedness of border crossing

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points and IT systems, and on how border forces were equipped; we were told there was a need to make changes and invest in order to ensure that all border control systems would work robustly. We took it as read that we – the Polish state and its structures – were obliged to take up these challenges, in exchange for our citizens being able to enjoy the freedom to move around within the EU. One problem that was difficult to solve was regulating local border traffic with Ukraine, which had to be significantly limited, affecting residents of border regions both in Ukraine and in Poland. The events in Ukraine in 2013-2014 (“­Euromaidan”) brought about a rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU, which also entailed a relaxation of the requirements imposed on Ukrainian citizens travelling to the EU (i.e. primarily to Poland). Since this period, we have been seeing an ever-increasing wave of Ukrainian migration. It is estimated that by the end of 2017, around 2 million Ukrainian citizens will be working in Poland – in comparison to just 400 000 in 2013. Furthermore, Poland is not only seeing economic migrants from Ukraine: young people, too, are studying at secondary schools and universities, and as many as half of students in any given academic cohort are from Ukraine. All of these entries are legal under existing regulations. There are very few illegal crossings of the Polish border, although attempts are made, as attested by cases that receive wide publicity in Poland, such as the death from exhaustion of three of four Chechen children who, together with their

All of this means that the average Polish citizen struggles to understand how large groups of people were able not only to enter the European Union during the migration crisis but also to then cross additional borders without major problems. Meanwhile, it is incomprehensible that after giving up some of our country’s sovereignty to others in terms of border control – and endeavouring to fulfil all of our responsibilities in this regard – we are having to bear the consequences of gaps in the EU’s borders that Poland did not cause, e.g. the European Commission’s proposed mechanism for the compulsory resettlement of refugees. This is an important and sensitive issue for Polish citizens. We are fully in favour of humanitarian aid, providing support to other countries by means of our border control measures, and other steps under agreed commitments. Polish public opinion, however, is not in favour of an interpretation of EU solidarity (where EU Member States take responsibility for each others’ borders) according to which people who have crossed borders illegally are welcome in the EU. Mr Robert Godek is the Head of the Strzyżów County Council (located in in Podkarpackie region in south-east Poland). He is also Deputy President of the Association of Polish Counties (Związek Powiatów Polskich) and Alternate Member of the European Committee of the Regions. Mr Godek was previously the Deputy Governor of Podkarpackie region where his responsibilities included managing and coordinating tasks in the field of border security.


The danger of closing borders in Europe and its impact on the life of citizens in border regions Under the leadership of Dr Pavel Branda (ECR Group’s spokesperson on Territorial Cohesion Policy), a citizens dialogue was organised by the European Committee of the Regions in his region in Liberec, in the Czech Republic on 2 November 2017. The event brought together local and regional politicians from the UK, Ireland and Germany with citizens for a reflection on Europe and cross-border cooperation. In past decades in Europe, a lot of effort was put into the development of cross-border cooperation and the opening up of borders. Is there a danger of closing them again? What impact will it have on the lives of people and the economy of border regions? The seminar tackled these topics from the perspective of local self-governments. The seminar looked at two concrete examples. The example of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the UK was discussed, where these crossborder cooperation questions are becoming most urgent nowadays with the UKs pending withdrawal from the EU. The current situation in the German, Polish, and Czech Euroregion Neisse-Nisa-Nysa was also discussed. The seminar took place at the regional university (Technical university Liberec) with more than 80 students and staff attending the seminar. Among the CoR panellists were Jerry Lundy (Sligo County Council, Ireland) and Arnold Hatch (Craigavon Borough Council, Northern Ireland (UK)). The two local politicians presented the biggest achievements of crossborder cooperation on the border between

ECR Group rapporteur Dr Pavel Branda (second from the left) with panellists Jerry Lundy, Arnold Hatch, Heinz Lehmann and Martin Půta

the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, UK and also touched on the possible implications of closing this border as a result of the UKs withdrawal from the EU. Heinz Lehmann (Member of the Saxony Parliament, Germany) and Martin Půta (President of the Liberec Region and a President of

E­ uroregion Nisa, Czech Republic) underlined the importance of cooperation for the collective prosperity of the localities. Dr Pavel Branda (Deputy Mayor of Rádlo municipality and Vice-president of AEBR) then presented overall European perspective and shared examples from other parts of Europe.

Seminar in Liberec hosted by ECR Group Member Dr Pavel Branda

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EU’s silence on Catalonia: We need a union of values, not a union of selective approaches During the 11 October Plenary session, members of the CoR discussed Catalonia’s disputed “self-determination referendum”, which the Spanish government has declared as illegal. Speaking on behalf of the ECR Group, Cllr Joe Cooney (Conservative Leader of Pendle Council, UK) criticised how the Commission is all too ready to criticise some Member States while it has remained all too silent on the violence of the Spanish government towards Catalan citizens. Speaking at the plenary session debate with European Council President Donald Tusk, Joe Cooney called for more dialogue between all parties involved and on the European Commission to treat all Member States equally. “The matter of independence is not a matter for me or the CoR but for the Spanish Government and its citizens. As a representative from a country that has held an independence referendum on part of it separating, I know how strongly people feel about their own countries and regions. While some might not have agreed with the Scottish independence argument, it was absolutely right that the people were given that choice to have their say in a free and open election”, said Cllr Cooney.

ing stations, or forcefully remove ballot papers from their hands”.

“Outside this very building is the phrase, Europe had a duty to be an example of democracy and respect for human rights. On the 1st October those values were failed to be upheld in Catalonia. No government, especially an EU Member State government, should ever barricade poll-

Cllr Cooney made it clear that the solution lies in dialogue between all parties involved. “The role of the EU is to speak out against any abuse of democratic expression wherever it is found. When the EU speaks people listen and it means something. When the EU and those in influen-

The ECR Group Vice-President also underlined that the EU needs to figure out when it should speak out and when it should remain silent: “The Commission speaks all the time towards others, but when we see Spain using force against the citizens’ desire to peacefully express their will, the Commission has been far too silent. This double standards is not okay. We need a union of values, not a union of selective approaches with one approach for so called friends and another for those the Commission may not be so fond of”. ECR Group Vice-President Cllr Joe Cooney

tial positions don’t speak out against the actions we’ve seen in Catalonia the next time an intervention is made it means a little less”.

Citizens of Italy’s Northern Lombardy and Veneto regions call for greater autonomy - By Matteo Bianchi On 22 October 2017, citizens of Italy’s Northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto voted overwhelmingly for greater autonomy from the central Italian government. The referendum is not legally binding on the central Italian government and will now be followed by a formal request from these regions towards the central government for more decision-making and fiscal powers.

ECR Group Member Matteo Bianchi

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The process that led to the referendum of October this year started in February of 2015 when the Regional Council of Lombardy approved a proposal for a non-binding referendum to demand more autonomy for the region, in accordance with Article 116 of the Italian Constitution. The question to be put forward in the referendum, resulting from a process of negotiation on the original drafts, was found to be constitutionally valid. The region used electronic voting for the referendum, which is the first time that this method was used in Italy for voting. The Veneto region held an equivalent referendum at the same time, in this case using traditional paper ballots. On both Italian and

European scales, the Lombardy and Veneto regions are special in many respects. They do not, however, have statutes in which the central government recognises their specific characteristics. We will not be able to successfully reform Europe without making it more bottom-up. To achieve this, we need to allow local and regional authorities to manage investment and services in accordance to communities’ needs. Central governments – including the one in Rome – often exercise excessive pressure on regions. They do not understand that more regional autonomy can only be good for the people. It was therefore hardly surprising to see the Ital-


ian government showing signs of intolerance towards the non-binding referendum in October in which Lombardy and Veneto demanded more autonomy. The central issue for our regions is tax. Substantial resources are generated at a regional level but they do not remain there to help local governments. To give you an idea about the scale of financial transfers in Italy, only the region of Lombardy pays €54 billion to Rome, eight times more than the region of Catalonia pays to Madrid. Moreover, the inhabitants of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna regions pay 50% of contributions covering the expenditure of the entire Italian social security system. The referendas in Lombardy and Veneto were approved by the Regional Councils and were fully in line with the Italian Constitution. Here is some further data on the Lombardy Region, whose population size is approximately 10 million: • 5th in Europe for GDP per capita at €36 600 per citizen, equal to Denmark and well above the European average; • debt per capita lower than the Italian average: €73 per citizen in Lombardy compared with the national average of €407; • public expenditure per capita is €2 447, compared with an Italian average of €3 658;

Local bus in Lombardy

ECR Group Members Luca Zaia (President of Veneto region) and Roberto Ciambetti (President of the Regional Council of Veneto)

It is this performance that led a study from Confcommercio, presented at a conference entitled “Less tax, less expenditure”, to conclude that if public services in Italy as a whole cost the same as in Lombardy, the country would save €74 billion. Of this amount saved, Confcommercio has calculated that €53 billion would still need to be reinvested in the public services of Italy’s least efficient regions in order to help make them reach the level of efficiency of regions like Lombardy. The remaining €21 billion of the €74 billion potential saving (1/3 of the interest on Italian public debt) could then be used to alleviate the tax burden on businesses and families.

In the Northern part of Italy as a whole, between 2005 and 2007, the central government yearly has taxed some €76 billion more than it spent and spent some €37 billion more than it taxed in the South. In other words, the fiscal transfers from North to South roughly equalled the entirety of the income taxes paid in the North. On 22 October 2017, after two years in the institutional system, a “Referendum on Autonomy” was held which resulted in a strong outcome in favour of greater devolution of powers (95% in Lombardy and 98% in the Veneto voted in favour of this). Italy’s two most productive regions will now ask the central government for more resources and competences on matters such as civil protection, sports, environment, health, education, vocational training, cultural heritage and infrastructure. Other areas include foreign trade and the coordination of public finances and of the tax system. Currently, only five regions in Italy possess autonomous powers including Sicily and Sardinia and Veneto’s neighbour Friuli-Venezia. Mr Matteo Luigi Bianchi is Mayor of Morazzone in Lombardy (Italy). He is also a Member of the European Committee of the Regions’ Commissions for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX) and Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC).

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CLIMATE ACTION United Nations Climate Change Conference: How cities and regions can help save the planet The European Committee of the Regions was represented at the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn (COP23) by two ECR Group Members from Lithuania, Vytautas Kanevičius (Mayor of Kazlų Rūda) and Daiva Matonienė (Member of Šiauliai City Municipal Council). They underlined at the conference the need for more international cooperation and greater involvement of local and regional authorities in the implementation of the “Paris agreement”, which is widely seen as a milestone in the global endeavour to respond to climate change. The Bonn conference was a follow-up to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) held in 2015 in Paris. Implementation of the Paris agreement has faced numerous challenges, including the possible withdrawal from the accord of the United States and the modest ambitions of the global partners. Commenting on these difficulties, ECR Group representative Daiva Matonienė said: “We can no longer accept the unequal distribution of costs and lack of shared re-

ECR Group Members Vytautas Kanevičius and Daiva Matonienė

the EU about the benefits of increasing their level of ambition by investing in clean energy sources and clean technologies. The Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change held by the CoR during COP23 provided a good platform to raise this issue with mayors from the United States.”

ECR Group Member Daiva Matonienė being interviewed at the margins of COP23

sponsibility for the future of our planet. While we celebrate in the EU the fact that we have the most ambitious climate change framework in the world, we often forget that we are responsible for less than 10% of

global CO2 emissions. What truly matters is not how ambitious one party to the agreement is, but how ambitious we are collectively. One of my objectives during COP23 was to convince our partners from outside

Another key challenge discussed at COP23 was the role of local and regional authorities in implementing the Paris agreement. ECR Member Vytautas Kanevičius commented: “Currently, local and regional authorities are put into one basket with other ‘nonparty stakeholders’ such as businesses and non-governmental organisations. However, we represent our local communities and therefore believe our status in future negotiations should be upgraded so that we can more effectively voice their concerns.”

The COP23 conference was convened under the presidency of Fiji, a Pacific island that was hit in February 2016 by the strongest cyclone on record. The Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, said the Paris agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction were all “landmark agreements that must be implemented together”. In this spirit, ECR Group Member Adam Banaszak (Vice-President of Kujawsko-Pomorskie Regional Parliament in Poland) held a conference on 23 November in Toruń devoted to addressing environmental issues from a local and regional perspective in the aftermath of COP23. He will also organise a Citizens’ Dialogue in Toruń on 6 December devoted to disaster risk management.

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Climate change: Oldřich Vlasák calls on the European Commission to uphold the subsidiarity principle and seek alliances with partners outside the EU ECR Group Vice-President, Oldřich Vlasák (Councillor of the City of Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic) addressed European Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete (responsible for Climate Action and Energy) during the CoR plenary session on 10 October. Speaking on behalf of the ECR Group, he made the case for a more bottom-up, realistic EU approach to environmental issues. harmonisation of tax policies, including the carbon tax. “Let me say this clearly: creating a one-size-fits-all approach by giving new powers to Brussels in the field of climate change will not help our cities, regions or Member States to address this issue. Instead, it will lead to disproportionately higher energy bills in parts of Europe and therefore more euroscepticism in our local constituencies. It will also make our energy intensive industries less competitive,” said the ECR Group Vice-President.

ECR Group Vice-President Oldřich Vlasák addressing EU Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete

Mr Vlasák criticised the speech delivered recently by the French President at the Sorbonne University, in which Mr Macron called for more EU-wide rules on climate change and greater

“Our Member States and local and regional authorities need the flexibility to adapt strategies to their local situation and assets. The principle of subsidiarity must be upheld. We hope that the calls by the Czech Chamber of Deputies and the Polish Senate in their reasoned opinions on the Clean Energy Package will be heard.” Here, Mr Vlasák referred to the fact that these two parliamentary assemblies

called for non-binding national contributions to the European renewable energy and energy efficiency targets. “Secondly,” continued Mr Vlasák, “we cannot push for ever-higher climate change targets without taking global activities into account. The EU is responsible for less than 10% of global CO2 emissions and this proportion is expected to further decrease in the coming years. It is obvious that to keep global temperatures from rising, we also need to look outside our borders. Climate diplomacy should become one of the top priorities for the European Commission. Let’s cooperate more closely with our counterparts from Canada, the United States and the developing world. Let’s also use city diplomacy which will make our national governments feel that they are falling behind and spur them on to be more ambitious and establish more effective partnerships.”

Arnold Hatch endorses Jim Nicholson’s call for EU emergency funding for Northern Ireland Alderman Arnold Hatch (Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, Northern Ireland, UK / Member of CoR and ECR Group Presidency / President of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association) speaking at the European Committee of the Regions’ Bureau meeting in Tallinn, Estonia on 1 September 2017, endorsed the call of the MEP for Northern Ireland, Jim Nicholson, to European Commissioner Phil Hogan to provide EU emergency funding for farmers and agri-businesses and all those affected by the flash floods in Northern Ireland. Speaking during the discussion and adoption of the Action Plan between the CoR and Climate Alliance, Alderman Hatch drew attention to the need for EU emergency funding for those similarly affected in Donegal as requested by the Fine Gael MEP for Midlands-North West constituency. “Extreme weather conditions can affect any region in Europe whether we are in the European Union or not, and the more we can do to mitigate against the worst effects of climate change the better”, Alderman Hatch concluded. Parts of Northern Ireland were devastated by heavy flooding in August 2017. Infrastructure was devastated and as many as 100 people had to be rescued after fleeing their homes.

Alderman Arnold Hatch

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Protecting citizens from natural disasters Representing European local and regional government, ECR Group Members Adam Banaszak, Pavel Branda and Cllr Harvey Siggs spoke at a high-profile conference organised jointly by the United Nations and the European Committee of the Regions on the topic of disaster risk management. Speaking on behalf of the CoR, they focused on the need for more advanced planning, community-led solutions and preventative expenditure. The ECR Group Members highlighted the fact that although natural disasters often could not be avoided, “prevention is in our hands”. For this reason, they argued, EU cities and regions wanted disaster resilience to be a requirement for all EU-funded infrastructure. Corina Cretu, the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, commented: “Disasters can hit anywhere, anytime, and completely change our lives in one minute. Since 2005, natural disasters have cost more than EUR 100 billion across our continent. This is why the disaster risk management conference today is crucial. The EU helps its cities to be better prepared: Cohesion Policy alone offers EUR 8 billion in the current financial period for climate-change adaptation and risk prevention. However, the keyword is experience-sharing, especially in terms of prevention and preparedness. When cities talk to each other, Europe becomes safer and stronger”. The Commissioner’s message was reinforced by Dr Pavel Branda (Mayor of Radlo in the Czech Republic), who underlined the importance of crossborder cooperation in preventing natural disasters. “Different laws, procedures and institutions make it particularly difficult to work together on disaster risk management in border areas. We experienced this in the region I come from when we were hit by floods. We have learnt our lesson the hard way and pooled our resources afterwards with partners from Germany and Poland so that mistakes are not repeated. Thanks to an online system which helps our border regions to exchange information and to prevent floods, our citizens can now feel safer”.

Making the link with technology, Cllr Harvey Siggs commented that “despite technological advances, it remains a great challenge to truly make our cities and regions more crisis resilient”. Solving such problems required not only money, but also the help of volunteers and community organisations. “When there is an earthquake or a flood, very often more people are saved by other people who dug through the mud with their bare hands rather than by advanced machinery. We cannot forget about community-based preparedness. The best results are achieved when there is effective coordination between citizens, civil society groups and local, regional and national authorities”.

Adam Banaszak, ECR rapporteur on the Action Plan on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and Vice-President of Kujawsko-Pomorskie region in Poland, where thousands of homes were damaged by storms in August 2017, added that another crucial aspect was to ensure that all public money invested locally was costefficient and did not put the lives of citizens at risk. “All EU investments relating to construction of new infrastructure must be disaster resilient. While this may entail greater costs in the short term, a number of studies have shown that it is far more cost-efficient overall to build disaster resilient infrastructure than to renovate unsafe structures”.

ECR Group Member Adam Banaszak chairing the CoR-UNISDR workshop

MEMBERS ACTIVITIES ECR hosts fringe event at UK Conservative Party Conference 2017 The ECR Group of the European Committee of the Regions hosted its third fringe event at this year’s Conservative Party Conference, which took place in Manchester, United Kingdom, on 2 October. The fringe event gave an insight into the local perspective on Brexit following the country’s referendum vote to leave the European Union. Addressing the fringe audience, Rob Jonkman, President of the ECR Group and Alderman of Op-

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sterland municipality in the Netherlands, said: “The United Kingdom is leaving the EU, but not

Europe. As Members of the CoR, we met political representatives of the UK’s devolved admin-


istrations and the conclusion of these meetings was clear: our cooperation must continue. We will still work together to ensure that Europe is driven by the principle of localism”. Looking to find answers and offer solutions, Daniel Hannan, MEP, underlined that Brexit was an opportunity for localism, reviving democracy and fiscal devolution. During his speech he also warned that “Brexit must not lead to rolling back EU powers only to replace them with those of national government”. The MEP for the Southeast of England added that powers must be repatriated to local government so that they had more fiscal autonomy to address local needs, something that would lead to lowering tax rates overall. Other speakers at the ECR event were Joe Cooney, Councillor (Leader of the Conservative Group of Pendle Council/Leader of the UK delegation in the CoR/Vice-President of the ECR Group in the

Speakers at the ECR Group fringe event (from left to right): Dan Hannan, MEP; Andrew Lewer, MBE MP; Joe Cooney, Councillor; and Rob Jonkman, Alderman

CoR) and Andrew Lewer MBE MP (Member of Parliament for Northampton South and former

Member of the ECR Group in the Committee of the Regions and in the European Parliament).

Local Government Association Conference: ECR Group President calls for continued close EU-UK cooperation and for devolution of powers to European regions More than 1 200 local government leaders, councillors and ministers attended this year’s Local Government Association conference in the United Kingdom. Among them were ECR Group President Rob Jonkman and LGA Conservative Group Leader Cllr David Simmonds. Addressing the Conservative group meeting chaired by Cllr Simmonds, Mr Jonkman said we needed to ensure that we had platforms through which we could continue sharing best practices across local government in the UK and the rest of Europe. He also called for regional parliaments to be equipped with powers to stop harmful EU legislation. The Local Government Association Annual Conference, which took place in Birmingham from 4 to 6 July, was the first major local government event to take place in the UK after the country’s general and local elections. What is more, it marked one year since the United Kingdom’s referendum on its membership of the European Union. Speaking about Brexit, Mr Jonkman (Alderman in Opsterland, Netherlands) said that both the UK and the remaining 27 EU Member States had a great interest in achieving a better functioning EU based on the principle of subsidiarity: “We will have to wait and see what kind of relationship the UK will now have with the EU. It is clear though that, until the UK leaves, UK local government will continue to have an interest in how the EU budget is spent. Furthermore, after the UK does leave, those of us left in the EU will want to continue championing the cause of greater European localism.” The need to give greater voice to local and regional authorities in EU decision-making processes was also emphasised. “Currently”, said Mr Jonkman, “local and regional governments can chan-

ECR Group President Rob Jonkman speaking at the LGA Conference

nel their subsidiarity concerns through the European Committee of the Regions, but it is my belief that they must also have powers to stop harmful legislation. A German regional parliament which

has legislative powers in Germany must be able to stop harmful EU legislation in the same way that the national parliament can stop EU legislation that harms their powers.”

19


OBITUARY

ECR Member Cllr Robert Gordon CBE, who had been fighting cancer, passed away in October of this year. He had been the leader of Hertfordshire County Council in the UK since 2007 and was awarded his CBE by the Queen for his services to local government. He was first elected to the county council in 1989 and had been a member of the European Committee of the Regions since 26 January 2015. He was also the first chairman of the Hertfordshire Police Authority between 1995 and 1997, and has served as an NHS non-executive director. Many have already paid tribute to him from across the political spectrum. He was a source of inspiration for many and a much loved colleague who will be missed dearly.

MEETINGS CALENDAR MEETING

PLACE

DATE

CoR Subsidiarity Conference

Vienna (AT)

4 DECEMBER

ECR Group conference on COP23

TORUŃ (PL)

6 DECEMBER

Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER)

BRUSSELS

13 DECEMBER

Commission for Financial and Administrative Affairs (CFAA)

BRUSSELS

18 JANUARY

Commission for Natural Resources (NAT)

BRUSSELS

22 JANUARY

Commission for Economic Policy (ECON)

BRUSSELS

23 JANUARY

CoR BUREAU

BRUSSELS

30 JANUARY

ECR Group Meeting

BRUSSELS

31 JANUARY

CoR PLENARY

BRUSSELS

31 JANUARY - 1 FEBRUARY

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ECR News - 15th edition  
ECR News - 15th edition  
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