ECR News - 25th edition

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ECR News European Committee of the Regions | 25th edition

TABLE OF CONTENTS ECR GROUP OPINIONS Cross-Border Public Services European Health Union Smart Rail Circular Economy

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EUROPEAN UNION POLITICS European Commission President 4 Sovereignty 4 German Presidency 5 INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Migration Crisis 6 Montenegro 6 Western Balkans 7 COVID-19 PANDEMIC Recovery Funds 7 Małopolska 8 ECONOMY & JOBS Localised Recovery European Investment Bank Job Creation Lubelskie Transport

ECR President addresses Chancellor Merkel and Commission President von der Leyen

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ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY EWRC 12 Future Generations 12 Rural Areas 13 Financial Support 13 Green Cooperation 14 ELECTIONS Czech Elections


AWARDS Mayor Stoyanov


ECR Group Secretariat Committee of the Regions

ECR President Władysław Ortyl

During the October plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions, ECR President Władysław Ortyl spoke on behalf of the Group directly to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. Marshal Ortyl emphasized the need for increased European unity and cooperation not only with respect to addressing the COVID-19 crisis, but also in tackling illegal immigration, deepening the Single Market, and improving the EU Green Deal. Furthermore, Mr Ortyl underlined that policy priorities must remain realistic and incorporate the diverse needs of localities throughout Europe.

Rob Jonkman: The European Investment Bank must prioritise economic recovery On the final day of the European Committee of the Region’s autumn plenary session, ECR First Vice-President Rob Jonkman, an Alderman of the Opsterland municipality in the Netherlands, addressed the President of the European Investment Bank (EIB). Mr Jonkman emphasised that EIB acted positively in taking some of the weight off the shoulders of local and regional authorities by offering tangible investments in order to help avoid more negative fallout as a result of the recession. He praised the EUR 8 billion to support small- to medium- sized enterprises and the EIB’s investment in ground-breaking medical research relating to finding treatment for the COVID-19 virus.

ECR First Vice-President Rob Jonkman

Nello Musumeci calls for reform and realism in response to Moria

ECR Member Nello Musumeci

During a debate on the Moria crisis during the CoR’s plenary session in October, the President of Sicily, Nello Musumeci, pointed out how the Moria situation was not the first crisis of its kind. Mr Musumeci drew from his own experience in Italy by discussing the large influx of migrants coming to the South of Italy on a yearly basis. He called on EU institutions and Member States to address immigration through strengthened border security, while also building stronger relations with third countries to prevent more economic migrants from attempting to illegally cross into Europe.

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ECR GROUP OPINIONS COTER commission adopts Pavel Branda’s opinion on Cross-border Public Services (CPS) in Europe In the opinion, Mr Branda calls on the EU institutions, Member States as well as local and regional authorities to foster a culture of cooperation among border regions and to remove obstacles that might prevent local and regional authorities from cooperating with one another. These obstacles could be related to external factors such as environmental or geographical features, but can also be unnecessary regulations and bureaucratic red tape that undermine cohesion.

ECR Member Pavel Branda

Mr Branda, who also serves as deputy Mayor of Rádlo in the Czech Republic, illustrated in his opinion that labour, healthcare and transport are of critical importance to the economies and daily lives of citizens living in border regions and are therefore negatively affected by a lack of cross-border cooperation. The opinion also explores how policy mechanisms such as the European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) could prove to be useful in promoting cross-border public services and could overcome obstacles. With as many as 40% of European citizens living and working within border regions, making cross-border public services more

efficient is vital for them. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the need to combine resources and deepen cooperation has never been more critical. The COVID-19 pandemic almost instantly led to the closing of national borders, which prohibited the delivery of cross-border services including healthcare and emergency services. While this impulsivity was perhaps understandable, it had dire consequences for people in border regions, who depend on services, products and mobility. Mr Branda has addressed this concern repeatedly over the summer and autumn of 2020, calling for building solidarity and cohesion in border regions in the face of crisis. Furthermore, the EU lacks a clear and comprehensive legal framework for the provision of cross-border services which would remove the administrative burdens associated with such services and improve

the competition in border regions, leading to better and cheaper services as well as economic prosperity on the whole. In that regard, Mr Branda calls for a new EU framework for cross-border public services, which he believes must allow a coordinated approach at EU level to common challenges. In addition to removing obstacles to cross-border cooperation, Mr Branda urges the EU to set up mechanisms and structures to increase efficiency, such as an EU-wide “Ombudsman”, as an example to decrease bureaucratic waste and foster closer relations between EU citizens and government institutions. Mr Branda’s opinion was adopted by the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) on 26 November, and will be deliberated on and adopted in the March plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions.

Roberto Ciambetti appointed CoR rapporteur on the “Future of the European Health Union” ECR Member Roberto Ciambetti has been appointed rapporteur on “Building a European Health Union: Reinforcing the EU’s resilience for cross-border health threats” during the European Committee of the Regions’ Natural Resources (NAT) Commission meeting on 23 November. Mr Ciambetti, President of the Regional Council of Veneto in Italy, will draw up the CoR’s opinion on strengthening the resilience of the EU regarding cross-border health threats as well as increasing coordination between European regions. Commenting on the appointment, Mr Ciambetti



said: “As regions we must carry forward Europe’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from the bottom up and work together to better respond to current and future health crises”.

ECR Member Roberto Ciambetti

He underlined the honor for him to be a CoR rapporteur on the issue of health right

now, saying: “the experience of the pandemic shows that by putting together the

strengths of the Member States of the EU, we can overcome the weaknesses of individual realities”.

of the Union “to guarantee new quality healthcare in which no one should be left behind, no one should be left alone”.

that to fight current and future health emergencies, a reinforced framework of coordination was necessary.

He also described health as a “collective civic and societal duty” that involves all citizens. The pillars on which Mr Ciambetti says we must all collectively work include citizens, cities, regions and Member States

European Commission President, Ms Ursula von der Leyen, highlighted the need to build a European Health Union in her State of the Union speech in September as the lessons drawn from the pandemic showed

There will be an exchange of views on Mr Ciambetti’s opinion on 29 January 2021 in the NAT Commission followed by adoption in March and adoption in plenary in May.

Smart rail for the EU’s green recovery On 20 October, Marshal of Lubelskie region Jarosław Stawiarski took part in a workshop held in Brussels as part of EU Green Week and the European Week of Regions and Cities 2020. In addition to highlighting the many challenges currently facing the European rail sector, Marshal Stawiarski strongly encouraged the promotion and development of the sector. The ECR Member underlined the role of rail and its contribution to the socio-economic development of Europe’s regions. He also drew attention to the challenges facing the rail sector in Europe and presented the European Committee of the Regions’ recommendations, for which he is rapporteur. “Rail is one of the safest, most sustainable and most energy-efficient transport modes. If we really want to achieve climate neutrality, we must promote rail and invest more in its development. The Year of European Rail 2021 and active engagement of all stake-

President of the Lubelskie region, Jarosław Stawiarski

holders, including national and regional authorities, provide an opportunity to effect a significant change in the European Union’s rail system.” During the meeting the question arose of investment in the Central Transport Hub as a major Polish infrastructure project, and of its significance for the rail sector. In Marshal Stawiarski’s view, expanding the rail net-

work is an attractive alternative to domestic short-haul flights in all countries, including Poland. The event was attended by high-profile representatives of the European rail sector. The European Week of Regions and Cities (#EURegionsWeek) is the biggest annual Brussels-based event dedicated to regional policy.

Tjisse Stelpstra: COVID-19 has shown why we need a circular economy During the Annual Circular Economy Stakeholder Conference, ECR Member Tjisse Stelpstra, emphasized that “COVID-19 has shown us how dependent we are on resources and why we need a circular economy. It’s also shown how resilient Europe and its people are. Their innovation and fortitude gives us great hope going forward”. Mr Stelpstra, who also serves as regional minister for the Drenthe province in the Netherlands, and whose opinion on the New Circular Economy Action Plan was adopted by the European Committee of the Regions on 14 October, expressed concern that the role of regions in the circular economy has not been sufficiently underlined in EU policies.

He claimed that COVID-19 is a “wake-up call” and gave the example that total lockdown “showed us that a quick recovery is doable”. “With resilience and intelligence, we must be able to achieve the same results. Resilience and intelligence have given us the best circumstances for the next step”.

ECR Member Tjisse Stelpstra


Mr Stelpstra also underlined that local leaders in Europe “must show hope after COVID-19”. Every year, the European circular economy community from businesses, public autho-

rities, NGOs to knowledge communities and civil society organisations gathers to discuss the transition to a circular economy. It is the flagship event of the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, a joint initiative of the European Commission and

the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). Due to the current health crisis situation in Belgium, the 2020 edition of the Conference took place online on 3 & 4 November 2020.

EUROPEAN UNION POLITICS ECR President Władysław Ortyl responds to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, calling for increased security and prioritisation of economic recovery The first debate of the European Committee of the Regions autumn plenary session took place on the morning of 12 October and concerned the most pressing challenges for the year ahead. ECR President Władysław Ortyl (Marshal of Podkarpackie region in Poland) and ECR First Vice-President Rob Jonkman (Alderman in Opsterland in the Netherlands) delivered responses to the speech of President Ursula von der Leyen, which opened the debate. States will soon bring about a breakthrough in the efforts to obtain the cure.”

President of the ECR Group Władysław Ortyl and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen

Ms von der Leyen’s speech began by calling for unity and solidarity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. ECR President Władysław Ortyl replied by complementing the efforts of the Commission in its innovative efforts to find a vaccine for COVID-19. He stressed his hope that “the close cooperation the Commission has with experts from the Member

Regarding the Commission’s proposed COVID-19 recovery measures, which Ms von der Leyen described as “green, digitalised and resilient,” Mr Ortyl contended that, fundamentally, both security and the economy should take precedence in future EU policymaking. Lastly, Mr Ortyl talked about realism in the context of immigration and border security, specifically the EU relocation mechanism. Mr Ortyl argued that in order to avoid a potential loss of life, the European Commission must have a pragmatic approach, saying: “The EU relocation mechanism can-

not be the answer to the migration crisis. It would mean that more migrants would be incentivised to undertake a dangerous journey across the sea, and regions on the external border, such as Sicily, would be overwhelmed.” ECR First Vice-President Rob Jonkman focused on the role that local and regional authorities should play in EU decision-making in response to Ms von der Leyen’s speech. Mr Jonkman said: “results of a survey accompanying the European Barometer show that local government is the most trusted level of government in Europe and that Europeans expect greater involvement of local politicians in shaping European politics”.

«We can only be united by respecting our differences», stresses Roberto Ciambetti On 12 October 2020, Roberto Ciambetti, the President of the Veneto Regional Council and head of the Italian delegation to the European Committee of the Regions, spoke on behalf of the ECR Group during the opening ceremony of the 18th edition of the European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC) and subsequent debate on “Cohesion and CoopeECR Member Roberto Ciambetti addresses the EWRC participants remotely




In his opening speech, Mr Ciambetti said: “The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of cohesion policy, which is one of the pillars on which the European Union is founded. In Veneto, we used the resources still available on the 2014-2020 Regional Operational Programs to provide an effective response to the emergency. Overall, 254 EUR million were directed towards four priorities; health emergency, economic activities, work and social”. Mr Ciambetti devoted significant attention to how he cohesion policy may evolve in

the coming years: “I hope that in the future cohesion policy will not be influenced by ideology and will remain an instrument from which all regions can benefit, while respecting the same conditions, regardless of their political positioning”. The opening session highlighted the role of new cohesion policy 2021-2027 for European recovery post COVID-19. The debate focused on the need for a reinvigorated cohesion policy helping regional and local authorities to manage the COVID-19 emer-

gency as well as to respond to possible future emergencies. Ms Elisa Ferreira, the European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, was also present and participated in the debate. The EWRC is the biggest annual Brussels-based event dedicated to regional policy, jointly organised by the CoR and DG REGIO. This year, the event “virtually” brought together regions and cities from all over Europe, with more than 800+ partners and thousands of attending participants.

ECR President makes appeal to Angela Merkel for European solidarity The priorities of the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union was the main subject on the second day of the 140th plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions. ECR President Władysław Ortyl represented the Group in the debate. In the discussions on the German Presidency, ECR President Mr Ortyl (President of Podkarpackie region in Poland) referred to the address by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had summarised the main priorities of the Presidency. The Marshal stressed the need for cooperation and solidarity in order to build a better Europe, based on a cohesion policy that allows for closing the gap between the EU’s richer and poorer regions. “The motto of the German Presidency is ‘Together for Europe’s recovery’. You have stressed in the past that ‘Europe is capable of great things if we stand together and pull together’. Cohesion policy is the best example of cooperation on our continent. It is the cornerstone of regional development and equal opportunities,” said Mr Ortyl. “As in Germany, in Poland too there are significant differences in wealth between the west and east of the country. According to wealth statistics, the region of Podkarpackie, which I represent, is less developed than the regions located along the western border. Recently however, GDP per capita in Podkarpackie has been growing at the fastest rate in Poland. This is to a large extent due to EU funds. In this respect, funds in-

ECR President Władysław Ortyl addressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the priorities of the German Presidency

vested in innovation and business development are crucial,” said the Marshal. At the same time, the ECR President pointed out that, due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic, local government revenues had decreased, something that could be remedied by the new EU budget and Recovery Fund. Mr Ortyl therefore turned to the Chancellor with the following appeal: “At this point, I am turning to you with my first request – to continue the German Presidency’s efforts to swiftly conclude a budgetary compromise that allows regions to develop their innovation and competitiveness, a compromise that all countries could agree on.” His second request was linked to the need to improve the single internal market: “It

is my hope that, if a small transport or IT company from Rzeszów, Berlin or Bratislava wishes to enter foreign markets, it would be able to obtain guarantees that the administrative authorities in those countries would not impose additional obligations on it. A solution to this problem could be your government’s support for the idea of introducing a European services passport. This would fit perfectly with the motto of the German Presidency,” said the Marshal. The Presidency of the Council of the European Union is held for a six-month period, rotating among all EU members in a predetermined order. The country holding the Presidency chairs meetings of the Council of the EU and represents it on the international scene.


INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Nello Musumeci urges border security and diplomatic solutions to migration crisis On 14 October at the European Committee of the Region’s plenary session a debate was held regarding the migration crisis, specifically in relation to the situation in the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece. On 8 September, fire was set to the camp, which resulted in about 12,000 migrants being left homeless in the vicinity of Moria, the largest refugee camp in Europe. ECR Member Nello Musumeci, who serves as President of the Sicily region in Italy, described the experience of Sicily as it relates to immigration in the CoR debate on the topic. Mr Musumeci pointed out how the Moria situation was not the first crisis of its kind. Speaking on this, he said: “In 2020, the island of Lampedusa experienced over 20,000 arrivals, mostly economic migrants”. He called on EU institutions and Member States to address this situation through increased European solidarity and strengthened border security.

ECR Member Nello Musumeci

Furthermore, Mr Musumeci discussed how it would be beneficial to increase diplomatic relations with third countries to prevent more economic migrants from attempting a dangerous journey to Europe: “We must increase relations with countries of origin and transit countries so we can prevent a wave of immigration that could deplete those countries of a workforce and make them poorer.” In his speech, the President of the Sicily region has also pointed out that it is necessary to draw a distinction between asylum seekers and economic migrants looking for a better life.

Roberto Ciambetti calls for democratic dialogue in Montenegro Mr Roberto Ciambetti, co-Chair of the Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) with Montenegro in the CoR, urges incoming administrations in Montenegro “to solve all differences at national, regional, and local level through democratic dialogue in accordance with our common European values”. 77% turnout for a general election. Talks on the formation of a new national government continue. The elections came at a point when Montenegro – like all other European states – is battling with the effects of the coronavirus.

His call falls into the context of the elections of 30 August that ousted the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), which had been in power since 1990. Partial local elections held on the same day removed the DPS from power in four of five municipalities where votes were held. The national and local elections took place in a tense atmosphere and with a record



interest between the local and regional authorities from the EU and Montenegro’s local authorities as well as to promote at local level European fundamental values.

In addition to Mr Ciambetti’s call for dialogue at the meeting of the JCC on 18 November, discussions on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Montenegro were also held. Local and regional politicians from the EU and Montenegro agreed that Montenegro will need the strong support of the European Union to cope with major economic and political changes. President of the Veneto Regional Council, Mr Ciambetti co-chairs the JCC, some of whose aims are to promote dialogue and cooperation on relevant issues of mutual

ECR Member Roberto Ciambetti

Matteo Bianchi enquires about the Kosovo-Serbia economic agreements On 5 November, during the 26th meeting of the CoR’s Working Group on Relations with Western Balkans, ECR Member Matteo Bianchi drew focus to the historic economic normalisation agreements signed on 4 September 2020 between Kosovo and Serbia.

ECR Member Matteo Bianchi

The agreements were struck between Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić at a ceremony hosted by President Donald Trump at

the White House in Washington, DC. In reality it means that Kosovo and Serbia have agreed to cooperate on a broad range of economic issues.

tion, and the opening up of border crossings, Matteo Bianchi wanted to explore if the agreements would demonstrate the tangible benefits of cooperation.

Under the terms of the agreements signed Serbia will suspend its efforts, both official and unofficial, encouraging other states to either not recognise Kosovo or to revoke existing recognition. In return, Kosovo will not apply for new membership in international organisations for the same time period.

In attendance at the meeting were H.E. Ambassador Astrit Zemaj, Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Kosovo in Brussels as well as Ms Mary Teresa Moran, Deputy Head of Unit (Kosovo and North Macedonia) in the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) of the European Commission.

Mr Bianchi, Member of Morazzone Municipal Council (Varese province) and Member of the Italian Parliament, enquired about “how the historic normalisation agreements will impact the broader cooperation in the region”. With the agreements seeking to increase economic growth and job crea-

The aim of the CoR’s Working Group on Relations with Western Balkans is to foster EU’s permanent dialogue with political representatives from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, and observe the reform process in these countries, in particular the specific reforms related to decentralisation.

COVID-19 PANDEMIC Recovery funds – ECR Vice-President Marco Marsilio calls for more clarity On Tuesday 13 October, Marco Marsilio, the President of the Abruzzo region in Italy and Vice-President of the ECR Group in the European Committee of the Regions, spoke in the plenary session of the CoR on behalf of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group during a debate on the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic with the Commissioner for Economy, Paolo Gentiloni. what role the Commission will assign to the regions and how this role can be exercised in the use of the recovery fund’s resources at national level.”

Mr Marsilio emphasised in his speech the importance of cohesion underlining that economic, social and territorial cohesion are the cornerstones of the EU: “They are guiding principles that should never be disregarded, not even because of the need to deal with an extraordinary situation such as that caused by the COVID-19 pandemic”, he said. Crucially, the President of the Abruzzo region urged more clarity from the European Commission as it relates to role of regions and local authorities in recovery funding by saying: “We think that it is not yet clear

ECR Vice-President Marco Marsilio

Furthermore, the ECR Vice-President urged for immediate action on the part of the European Commission in order to avoid even more drastic economic damage: “We, the regional governors and the public on the whole, are wondering in these hours whether these funds will arrive in time to prevent the crisis from having even more catastrophic repercussions than it already has”.


European funding is helping to care for the elderly in Małopolska In October of 2020, a communications campaign promoted the “Małopolska Tele-Angel” project, which uses European funding to care for elderly people living in the region during the on-going pandemic. The campaign operated under the slogan of “European funds help care for older people” and showed viewers the stories of five people who had received help from the Małopolska Tele-Angel program. This project is but one example of Małopolska’s long-term strategy to promote the use of EU funding in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications in the region. VID-19 pandemic forced them to innovate, which they have by combining telecare with home-based care services, including issuing electronic bracelets so elderly and persons with disabilities can signal emergency workers when they are in need of help.

ECR Member Witold Kozłowski

The region had earlier used European funds to help hospitals and emergency services, as well as in promoting domestic tourism over the summer. The President of the Małopolska region, ECR Member Witold Kozłowski expressed pride at how his region had utilised EU funding to the benefit of its people, including its most vulnerable. The Małopolska Tele-Angel innovates elderly care to accommodate the needs of elderly citizens as safely as possible. As Europe ages, regional governments must find new and out-of-the box ways to care for their senior citizens. According to statistical data, pensioners make up 25% of the population of France, and 20% of Germany’s total population is 65 or older. In Poland, estimates show that by 2050 pensioners will compromise one-third of the country’s total population. The Małopolska region is no exception, by 2035 one-eighth of the region’s total population will be 75 years old or older. Therefore, responsible policies which will ensure quality elderly care are all the more important. The President of the Małopolska region, Mr Witold Kozłowski spoke on the importance of caring for the elderly and the Tele-Angel project, saying: “Due to the on-



going pandemic, measures aimed at older people should put the emphasis on them remaining in their homes for as long as possible. However, they should also be among their friends, so that, even though they are more frail they can still enjoy their lives as before. The elderly here in Małopolska want to live with a sense of autonomy, independence and most importantly, security. We will be able to achieve a greater quality of care for our elderly citizens, thanks to the usage of European funding.” The Małopolska Tele-Angel project is the largest project of its kind in Poland. Partners in the project include Caritas Diecezji Kieleckiej and the European Development Institute of Sucha Beskidzka. The CO-

The Vice-President of Małopolska, Łukasz Smółka spoke on the technological benefits of these bracelets, saying: “These bracelets are outstanding, they have a built-in SIM card, a microphone and speaker, so that any person wearing one can speak to an emergency worker if the need arises. These bracelets also have an SOS button which connects the person wearing it with the telecare centre. The bracelets also have a GPS localiser so health care personal can act quickly when they are called upon.” The cornerstone of the Małopolska Tele-Angel project is the “telecare centre” which is operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is staffed by competent and kind-hearted workers who have made thousands of live-saving calls to emergency workers and offer their support to elderly locals in the region while still respecting regulations in regard to the pandemic. The telecare-angel project also set up an extensive support system where local people are able to offer their services to elderly neighbours they may have. The charity of neighbours in Małopolska has been instrumental in helping elderly people in the region receive help if they need it, with 1,177 people receiving support and home-based care provided by their neighbours. Currently, 5,310 elderly and disabled people living in Małopolska are covered by the Tele-Angel project, which represents a record number receiving telecare support under a single project in Poland. A further 690 people, who are already in the next stages of being enrolled in the system, will

be included in the near future. The region hopes to have more than 6 000 people living in Małopolska to receive tele-care services.

Małopolska Tele-Angel is particularly important today. The COVID-19 pandemic represents the greatest risk for older people, those who are already ill and the disabled.

Tele-Angel has proven to be of an immense help to them, by allowing them to continue to live their lives with maximum dignity and security.

ECONOMY & JOBS Rob Jonkman discusses responsible recovery investments On the final day of the CoR’s autumn plenary session, ECR First Vice-President Rob Jonkman, an Alderman of the Opsterland municipality in the Netherlands, delivered an intervention on the subject of the European Investment Bank’s recovery funding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 virus. Speaking on this, he said that “the lives of our citizens as well as their livelihoods must be safeguarded as a matter of priority.”

Mr Jonkman praised the actions of the European Investment Bank (EIB). This was specifically in relation to how the EIB acted in taking some of the weight off the shoulders of local and regional authorities by offering tangible investments to local communities in order to help avoid more negative fallout as a result of the recession. ECR First Vice-President applauded the EUR eight billion to support small- to medium-sized enterprises and the EIB’s investment in ground-breaking medical research relating to finding treatment for the

Alderman Jonkman then discussed the EIB’s role in funding sustainable and green projects. While he was content to discuss the green transition projects that simultaneously contribute to the economic recovery (such as EIB investments in carbon neutral transport in Rotterdam), he underlined the following: “The EIB should prioritise those investments which accelerate economic recovery and bring tangible benefits for our citizens. With that I mean increasing energy efficiency of the building stock, circular economy projects and developing smart cities

ECR First Vice-President Rob Jonkman

and smart villages.” The President of the European Investment Bank, Mr Werner Hoyer was also present at the debate and gave his preliminary remarks.

The European Investment Bank can do more to help local communities On the last day of the 140th session of the European Committee of the Region’s plenary, the President of the Bratislava region, Mr Juraj Droba, who is also a Vice-President of the ECR Group in the CoR, spoke on the European Investment Bank’s (EIB) funding efforts which are intended to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ECR Vice-President Juraj Droba

Mr Droba spoke in response to Mr Werner Hoyer and Ms Lilyana Pavlova, the President and Vice-President of the European Invest-

ment Bank (EIB), who attended the plenary and gave a presentation on the current efforts of the EIB. The President of the Bratislava region spoke of his own experience in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications. Mr Droba detailed how the regional government of Bratislava assisted local citizens and worked hard to ensure that the lives and livelihoods of citizens could be preserved despite lockdowns and lingering health concerns. Nevertheless, these economic stimuli and recovery efforts have left the regional

budget rather low. Mr Droba pointed out that many regions are suffering similar dilemmas and that the EIB can take a proactive role in assisting regions in recovery efforts, thus taking some of the weight off the shoulders of municipalities, villages and regions. Across Europe, autumn 2020 has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases. Many regional governments are now facing an increased demand for public assistance and economic interventions, despite having exhausted much of their respective budgets.


Underscoring this urgency, Mr Droba said: “measures to fight the pandemic have depleted the budgets of many regions throughout Europe and I worry even more about the negative economic consequences for regions with the worsening of pandemic and further measures that we have to undertake. Redirected financing toward costly measures has meant that regions are slowly

losing their ability to implement long-term development and infrastructure projects.” In addition, since more developed regions like the Bratislava region receive rather a small share of funding via cohesion policy, it will be difficult for such regions to move towards recovery. Mr Droba also pointed that for many regions there is no option to

take a loan from the EIB due to a growing incapacity to repay the loans and difficulties even accessing loans because of a critical state of regional finances. He suggested the EIB should deploy special financial solutions, which will help the regions to overcome the budget shortfalls and that will not be counted toward public debt.

Proactive & region-specific solutions rather than regulations create jobs The third and final day of this autumn’s plenary session of the CoR (14 October) saw a debate on the subject of social affairs and jobs with Nicolas Schmit, the EU Commissioner for jobs and social rights. the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC), Mr Matteo Bianchi, spoke in response to the Luxembourg Commissioner. While agreeing that the intentions of the Commission were good, he argued that the way to achieve better results for European citizens would be through adopting policies that integrate the regions and respect national and regional outlooks in relation to local economies and jobs. ECR Member Matteo Bianchi

The debate opened with Mr Schmit outlining the European Commission’s plans to create more jobs despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and to improve working life for European citizens. Mr Schmit also discussed the idea of implementing an EU-wide “minimum wage”. ECR member and vice-chair of

Mr Bianchi started by describing the jobs situation and state of the economy in Italy where he serves as a member of Morazzone Municipal Council and a Member of the Italian Parliament. The ECR member illustrated how various sectors, especially tourism, had suffered and, as a result, how thousands of people had lost their jobs, saying: “We in Italy, like our friends in Spain and Greece, rely on tourism and the disposable income of EU citizens for our economic growth. The

decline of tourism because of COVID-19 has greatly disadvantaged our workers, especially seasonal ones.” On the subject of the proposed “EU minimum wage”, Mr Bianchi cautioned against this, warning that a minimum wage that does not take into account various factors like the widely differing cost of living throughout Europe could actually be detrimental, specifically to young people who want to acquire skills and could actually be priced out of the labour market by an EU minimum wage. “Two million young Italians have left Italy since 2008 because of lack of work. Instead of creating an EU minimum wage we should adopt policies that reflect national distinctions and allow young people to remain in their home regions and acquire skills so that they can pursue higher level jobs and start families.”

EU funds for modern transport solutions in the Lubelskie region - By Marshal Jarosław Stawiarski, CoR rapporteur on the European Year of Rail Thanks to EU funds distributed under the Regional Operational Fund of the Lubelskie region in Poland for the 2014-2020 period, the region will gain a modern transport node in the form of a metropolitan station in Lublin, connecting various means of transport: city buses, intraregional and long-distance buses, and railway. In addition, EU funds will also be used to modernise one of the region’s essential railway



line sections, in accordance with the idea of the 2021 European Year of Rail. A project called “Integrated Transport Centre for the Lublin Functional Area” will be implemented under priority axis 5, “energy efficiency and low-emission economy”. The project will involve constructing a bus station in the immediate vicinity of the railway station along with the accompanying infrastructure (at the moment,

there is a considerable distance between these two stations). This will make it easier for passengers to change means of transport. Building the multimodal transport node will also make the railway a more attractive option and will make it more accessible to residents who do not have direct access to it. The ease of changing between buses/regional buses and trains will enable passengers to conveniently use various means of transport.

The modern facility will also be equipped with a number of environmentally-friendly solutions. Installations will be fitted that will reduce the building’s CO2 emissions and improve its energy efficiency. Integrating collective transport systems and applying smart passenger service solutions will considerably improve the quality of the service and thus make collective transport more competitive in relation to individual transport. The investment will also cover new greenery, including a terrace to be built on the roof of the building, where people will be able to wander. Moreover, all the facilities will be able to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The value of the investment will amount to more than EUR 65 million, of which EUR 40 million will be financed by the EU. This is a historic moment. After many years of hard work, Lublin will have a station fit for the 21st century. It is an extremely important strategic investment for the region, as well as being one of its biggest, and is being co-financed by EU funds. We will build a functional public transport node for the whole region, connecting the city of

ECR Member Jarosław Stawiarski

Lublin’s internal transport with regional and long-distance transport. I firmly believe that this investment will be a model example of a modern transport solution for other cities in Poland and Europe as a whole. Another project, “Revitalisation of railway line no 30 on the Lubartów-Parczew section” (priority axis 8, “regional mobility and green transport”) will also receive considerable financial support from the EU. The idea behind the project is to improve the efficiency of railway transport in the region. Applying new technological solutions to-

gether with adapting the infrastructure so that it can handle passengers with disabilities will help increase travellers’ comfort and safety. Improving railway lines’ technical conditions will eliminate numerous limitations and barriers, as a result of which it will be possible to increase the maximum speed of passenger trains to 120 km/h and freight trains to 80 km/h on this section. It is estimated that the investment will help to improve service provision for more than 350 journeys within a year. Additionally, safety on 13 level crossings will be improved and passengers will benefit from 10 modernised train stations. Developing railways at regional level is in keeping with the idea of the 2021 European Year of Rail. It helps to promote rail travel as a means of transport that is comfortable for passengers and sustainable for the environment. According to EU Cohesion Policy, modernising collective transport and combating communication exclusion indirectly translate into economy growth for the region in question and diminishing development gaps.

Lublin station visualisation. Source:


ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY Reducing pollution requires pragmatism, realism and cooperation On 15 October, the ECR Group in the CoR held a panel discussion regarding the subject of air pollution in Europe as part of the “European Week of Regions and Cities”. Panellists discussed the importance of effective EU cohesion funding and cooperation as well as the role of the EU in accelerating energy sustainability. Others also highlighted the responsibility of citizens to be more conscious of cleaner methods of consumption.

The participants of the ECR workshop

The discussion began with Mr Ortyl underlining the need to act on carbon emissions. He also discussed the steps being taken by the Podkarpackie region to embrace sustainability. Mr Ciambetti gave the example of how Veneto was acting to reduce the use of solid fuels so as to bring down the levels of PM10 (fine particulate matter) which damages lungs. He said that due to Veneto’s geographic location, cooperation with neighbouring local and regional authorities is vital for lowering levels of airborne pollution. Mr Ciambetti went on to elaborate on how the Veneto region was making public and private heating systems more effective in the region, thus lowering pollution, especially in winter. Ms Záčková spoke next on how effective EU cohesion funding has been in helping Eu-

ropean countries reduce pollution, thereby improving overall public health. This emphasis on cohesion and cooperation was echoed by Mr Tobiszowski MEP, who claimed that the EU must play a pivotal role in accelerating energy sustainability in countries such as Poland, saying: “The level of EU funding for the green transition must match its ambitions to be successful.” Mr Chełstowski explained that there are still many jobs in the Silesian coal industry and that a green transition must take into account the wellbeing not only of those working in the coal industry, but of regional economies overall. Tjisse Stelpstra was the final speaker, and discussed the role played by individual consumers and localities in reducing airborne pollution. Fundamentally, it is people

A cleaner society for future generations On 19 October, during a conference on the subject of “localising the European Green Deal” organised as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities, ECR member and President of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, Massimiliano Fedriga, detailed a



ECR Member Massimiliano Fedriga

who have to be conscious of cleaner methods of production and consumption. Drenthe province is in a very different situation from Silesia in that its emissions come mainly from neighbouring provinces. The discussion was adjourned by Mr Ortyl who thanked the participants, viewers and organisers, while also pointing out that only those solutions which factor in regional characteristics and economic situations in local communities will be successful in reducing emissions in the long term. The panellists included Roberto Ciambetti, President of Veneto Regional Council, Lucie Záčková from the European Commission’s DG REGIO, Grzegorz Tobiszowski, ECR MEP, Jakub Chełstowski, President of the Silesia region, and Tjisse Stelpstra who is a Regional Minister for the Drenthe province in the Netherlands.

unique initiative being taken by the Italian region. Called the “Grandchildren” (nipoti) project, this innovative and multi-faceted strategy is designed to reduce carbon emissions steadily over the course of years in Friuli-Venezia Giulia so to ensure a progressively cleaner and more sustainable region in the future. Speaking on the project, Mr Fedriga said: “we must commit ourselves to delivering a healthy environment for future generations, including young people. We will reduce our emissions by 4% annually through increased energy efficiency and targeted investments in renewable energy sources.” Mr Fedriga is also working on regional le-

gislation that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the circular economy through sustainable consumption of (especially) local resources. Moreover, the region is also looking for new ways to promote a sustainable bioeconomy.

pendence, reducing the amount of waste

During the conference, Mr Fedriga also underlined the importance of energy inde-

ban areas as well as rural, mountainous and

produced and increased recycling as well as the opportunity presented by using EU cohesion policy. Mr Fedriga said: “we can use cohesion funding to help revitalise urborder regions.”

The European Green Deal can not leave rural areas behind On 14 October, the second day of the 140th plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions, ECR Group First Vice-President Rob Jonkman addressed Mr Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Green Deal. With more than half of Europeans living outside large cities, Mr Jonkman underlined that any green transition must take into account their needs and livelihoods. “I have the feeling that we often forget about real people in our political discussions. Especially those living far away from Brussels, in our villages”, said Mr Jonkman.

ECR First Vice-President Rob Jonkman

He added: “Little is being said in the Green Deal about non-CO2 emissions such as methane, perhaps because emissions

that come as a result of the agricultural process are much more difficult to mitigate than CO2. Our farmers will therefore need real support and tangible investments to implement ambitious goals set by the European Commission.”, said Mr Jonkman. Apart from being a Member of the CoR, Mr Jonkman serves as Alderman in the rural and agriculturally rich municipality of Opsterland.

Strong financial support is needed to implement the European Green Deal On 13 October, during the second day of the European Committee of the Region’s autumn plenary session, Mr Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, opened the debate on the European Green Deal. Speaking to Mr Timmermans, ECR Member and Marshal of Małopolska region, Mr Witold Kozłowski, highlighted the need for more EU funding to be allocated to regions which are in the relatively early stages of the energy transition to greener alternatives.

achieve this, but said that additional finan-

The ECR Member, who also serves as our Group’s Deputy Coordinator in the CoR’s Environment Commission, said that “achieving climate neutrality requires more support, including a stimulus in the form of additional financial resources”. The goal of these funds should be to address the social and economic impacts of the transition.


cial support for the most struggling regions will still be needed. He emphasised the need for a unified approach to reduce carbon emissions that is inclusive and mindful of the specificities in all regions throughout “A system must be put in place that combines a just environmental, economic and social transition. The Just Transition MechaECR Member Marshal Witold Kozłowski

nism, which aims to help eliminate the ne-

The Marshal praised the EU’s proposal to establish the Just Transition Fund to help

gative socio-economic effects of the energy transition, represents a great opportunity


for a just energy shift in the regions, inclu-

The Polish region ranks 11th among Euro-

ding Małopolska. But access to additional funds will be needed”, said Mr Kozłowski.

pean regions in terms of the number of jobs

Małopolska is a region whose energy mostly comes from coal. The region started its energy transition in the 1990s, but the closure of two coal mines at that time has had negative economic and social consequences that last until today.

material and 12th in terms of the risk of the

linked directly to extraction and use of this socio-economic impact of the energy transition. The region is taking ground-breaking steps to improve air quality and protect the climate. A LIFE Integrated Project that concerns air quality is being carried out

and another climate-related project will begin in 2021. What is more, Małopolska is one of the seven regions in Europe that is carrying out the START project, with the technical support of the Platform for Coal Regions in Transition. This cooperation has resulted in the development of a range of plans for pilot projects, whose total value was estimated at over PLN three billion.

European cooperation and unity is needed for the Green Transition to be successful ECR Member and President of the Silesia region in Poland, Mr Jakub Chełstowski, was a key speaker in a debate on the European Green Deal “Achieving Climate Targets (2030) and supporting the Green Transition at a local and regional level”, which took place on 10 November as part of the Commission for Environment, Climate Change and Energy (ENVE). In his intervention, he focused on the need for good cooperation at all levels of government in order to reduce carbon emissions.

ECR Member Jakub Chełstowski

Mr Chełstowski took the floor in the debate on achieving climate targets and pointed out that in order for the energy transition to be successful there must be a spirit of cooperation and coordination, not only between regional governments and the European Commission, but also with the central governments. The Marshal underlined that the green transition cannot leave smaller or less wealthy areas behind. “European investments cannot be applied exclusively to large cities; small to medium sized towns cannot be

forgotten.” Mr Chełstowski also discussed the importance of investing in heating, renewable energy sources and green public transport, stressing the need for European unity and cooperation in achieving climate goals as most regions will lack the funding needed to carry out Green Deal goals. “The Just Transition Fund is a good idea to help regions with economic transformation. However, this and other measures proposed in the Green Deal don’t fully take into account the diverse capabilities and different starting points of European regions. This means that the Green Deal’s goals can be considered overly ambitious in the context of the resources it allocates to local communities”, said the ECR Group Coordinator in the ENVE Commission. Earlier this autumn, the European Commission announced a new framework to reach

its goal of reducing emissions and counteracting the effects of climate change. Specifically, this includes reducing emissions by 55% by the year 2030 and embracing sustainability in all sectors of life more broadly. By next summer, the Commission will present legislative proposals that will illustrate how Europe can move toward sustainability and emissions reductions in a substantive way. Some of these policies will include: a revision and expansion of the EU Emissions trading system, raising CO2 standards for road vehicles and the adaption of the Effort Sharing Regulation among other measures. The debate featured other key representatives and experts from various EU institutions, including those representing the German Presidency of the Council to discuss sustainability, the EU Green Deal and the Just Transition Fund.

ELECTIONS ODS victorious in Czech regional elections The Czech Republic held regional elections on 2 and 3 October throughout the country with the exception of the Prague region which follows its own procedure. The ODS (Civic-Democratic Party), an ECR member party, obtained 114 seats. ODS supported candidates also won five senate seats and a sixth was won by an ODS supported candidate, this was after a second round of voting. The ODS also managed to have five party members appointed as presidents of regions. This showing makes the ODS the strongest opposition party at national level, while working in various coalitions with other parties on the local and regional levels. In this election cycle, the motto of the ODS party was “Let’s put the Czech Republic



back on its feet!” By running on a platform that emphasised economic recovery from

COVID-19, limited government and subsidiarity, the ODS had one of its most success-

ful showings in recent years with high levels of support even from the beginning of the campaign. The final results from the regional elections and the Senate elections show that the ODS is committed to coordination and cooperation with other opposition parties to create a substantive change in policy across the country. The ODS hopes to build and expand on this result in the coming elections so more Czech citizens can have their voices heard, and that fundamental rights and freedoms can be defended.

The ECR Group in the CoR has two Czech members who are also ODS members, Mr Dan Jiránek and Mr Oldřich Vlasák. Mr Jiránek serves as a Councillor of the City of Kladno while Mr Vlasák is Councillor of the City of Hradec Králové. The ODS did especially well in the Hradec Králové region, making significant electoral gains and finishing at the top of the regional polls. The ECR Group in the CoR congratulates the ODS politicians and lawmakers on their result.

ECR Vice-President Oldřich Vlasák

ODS politicians celebrate their victory

AWARDS ECR Member Atanas Stoyanov receives “Mayor of the Year” award ECR Bureau Member Atanas Stoyanov, who serves as mayor of Sandanski in Bulgaria, has received the prestigious “Mayor of the Year” award, after having garnered the most votes in the category of “medium-sized municipalities.” Competition for the award was fierce with leaders from 265 municipalities across Bulgaria taking part. Citizens from all over Bulgaria were eligible to cast their vote in the competition to show their appreciation and encouragement for the work and efforts of local authorities.

ECR Member Atanas Stoyanov

Mr Stoyanov received the award on 30 October at an official ceremony, which was presided by deputy Prime Minister Mariana

Nikolova. The deputy Prime Minister personally acknowledged the hard work of Mr Stoyanov and thanked him for pursuing a brighter and more prosperous future, not only for the citizens of Sandanski but for the people of Bulgaria. The ceremony was broadcast on Bulgarian television. The ECR Group in the CoR congratulates Mr Stoyanov on this excellent achievement!


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