ECR News - 27th edition

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ECR News European Committee of the Regions | 27th edition


ECR opinions in full swing Four members of the ECR Group in the CoR are currently drafting opinions on major topics on behalf of European local and regional authorities, including on the rights of persons with disabilities, future of regional airports, European Health Union and critical infrastructure. The rapporteurs are ECR President Władysław Ortyl (Marshal of Podkarpackie), Daniela Ballico (Mayor of Ciampino), Roberto Ciambetti (President of Veneto Regional Council) and Mario Guarente (Mayor of Potenza).

ECR GROUP OPINIONS Regional Airports


Disability Strategy


Health Union


Critical Infrastructure


REFORMING THE EU Recovery and Trade


EU Minimum Wage?


Renovation Wave


Interregional Cooperation






Migration 7 ELECTIONS Finland 8

ECR Group rapporteurs

Juraj Droba: vaccination will help put an end to the pandemic This was the main sentiment of ECR Vice-President Juraj Droba’s intervention in a debate on the COVID-19 pandemic with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. For Mr Droba, who also serves as President of the Bratislava region, together with preventive measures, “vaccinations are the way to get out of the pandemic”. He expressed hope that we will be able to soon overcome the pandemic and, in this regard, very much welcomed the EU’s goal to vaccinate 70% of the adult population by summer, convinced that it as an “attainable goal”.

ECR Vice-President Juraj Droba


Silesia awarded the extraordinary distinction of the European Entrepreneurial Region


MEMBERS’ ACTIVITIES Children’s Hospital


Ambassador’s visit


During the CoR March plenary session six European regions were awarded for their entrepreneurial vision of a sustainable recovery including that of ECR member, Marshal Jakub Chełstowski. Upon receiving the award on behalf of his region, the Marshal reflected on what the award means: “The label European Entrepreneurial Region 2021-2022 is a great honour for us, but above all, an obligation to undertake further activities aimed at supporting and promoting entrepreneurship in the region.”

EVENTS Cultural Sector


Stop online abuse


Europe’s Future


Local Dialogue


ECR Group Secretariat Committee of the Regions

ECR Member Jakub Chełstowski

Rue Belliard/Belliardstraat, 101 1040 Bruxelles/Brussel

Tel: +32 2 282 2375 Fax: +32 2 282 2287

ECR GROUP OPINIONS The future of regional airports What is the future of regional airports? What are the challenges and opportunities they face? Marshal Władysław Ortyl, as rapporteur in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on the future of regional airports, answered these questions and many others during the recent COTER (Territorial Cohesion Policy) commission meeting held online. timate that in 2020, airlines and airports recorded losses of more than EUR 56 billion as a result of the decrease in passenger numbers, which fell by 1.7 billion. In Europe alone, as many as 191 000 people directly involved in the aviation sector have been affected by redundancies.”

Marshal Ortyl pointed out that the opinion would form the basis of better aviation legislation, but would also provide a solution for recovery from the crisis facing regional airports today: “Each such meeting shows how important and highly anticipated this opinion is. We want to highlight the challenges that have not previously been discussed, but also the institutions that are working to solve these problems,” he highlighted.

The Marshal provided the example of RzeszówJasionka airport to show that “regional airports are the main hubs around which key industry brands from all over the world choose to locate themselves. Without an airport, they would arguably not be based in our regions,” he emphasized. Rzeszów-Jasionka airport is one of the leading regional airports in Poland, serving up to one million passengers per year. “The development of Jasionka airport has not only attracted business and services, but has also led, over the last decade, to a significant increase in investor interest in the area around the airport itself.”

Drawing attention to the global crisis in the aviation sector, Marshal Ortyl, who also serves as President of the ECR Group in the CoR, stressed the importance of airports for economic development: “business organisations, such as Eurocontrol, es-

Mr Ortyl also raised the issue of aviation in the European Union’s new financial perspective for 2021-2027 highlighting the necessity to provide EU funds, in the context of cohesion policy for 2021-2027, to co-finance investments in regional

Rzeszów-Jasionka airport

ECR CoR President Marshal Władysław Ortyl

airports that directly support processes relating to decarbonisation and the low-carbon circular economy model. For the Marshal, it is also crucial to allocate adequate European funds to the “development of safety and security infrastructure, and to make use of innovative technologies and digitalisation supporting airports in their contribution to the objectives of the European Green Deal”. Final adoption of the opinion in plenary is foreseen for July this year.

ECR Member Daniela Ballico appointed CoR spokesperson on rights of persons with disabilities ECR Member Daniela Ballico has been appointed CoR rapporteur-general on the “EU Strategy for persons with disabilities” during the European Committee of the Regions’ (CoR) March plenary session. She will prepare an opinion on this important topic on behalf of European local and regional authorities. Ms Ballico, Mayor of Ciampino in Italy, will draw up the CoR’s opinion on the EU’s Strategy which further expands on the previous European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 that aimed at paving the way to a barrier-free Europe and empowering persons with disabilities so they can enjoy fully their rights and participate in society and economy. Despite the progress made in the past decade, persons with disabilities still face considerable barriers and are more susceptible to poverty and social exclusion. Mayor Ballico underlined the honour for her to be a CoR rapporteur on this issue right now, saying: “it is imperative that persons with disabilities enjoy



the same freedoms and rights as everyone else, free from discrimination. This new Commission Strategy was long expected and my task will be to evaluate its value from the perspective of cities and region.” Stakeholder consultations in view of drafting the opinion are underway, and during a meeting with representatives from DG EMPL in the European Commission and from the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, Ms Ballico highlighted the importance of evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, ensuring accessibility to infrastructures at local level, promoting independent living and decent working conditions,

and encouraging exchange of best practices at EU level.

ECR Member Daniela Ballico

The ECR Group family has been active on the topic of disability not only in the CoR, but also in the European Parliament. In November 2017 a report by ECR Flemish MEP Helga Stevens on the European Disability Strategy was overwhelmingly supported by MEPs. The report followed up on the European Commission’s communication on the implementation of the strategy and set out the Parliament’s priorities for a comprehen-

sive and effective disability strategy by 2030. In June 2020 the European Parliament called on the Commission to present an “ambitious” post2020 strategy that the rights of people with disabilities and their facilities are respected, a call fully supported by the ECR political family. The opinion is scheduled for final adoption at May CoR plenary session.

Future of the European Health Union ECR Member Roberto Ciambetti’s opinion on the Future of the European Health Union was adopted by overwhelming majority during the Commission for Natural Resources’ (NAT) March meeting. As the opinion prepares to be adopted at the European Committee of the Regions’ May plenary session, Mr Ciambetti reaffirmed the right of all citizens to high quality healthcare and wellbeing and underlined the key role played in this process by cities and regions. The opinion looks at the experience gained so far from the pandemic, which has proven that cities and regions are not only at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic but in every case when it comes to protecting the well-being of citizens. They play a “fundamental role” and are called to be the real actors in the future of health due to their proximity to citizens, their ability to react to emergencies, and their role in a health system that cannot be “disconnected either from the territory or from the characteristics of the local socio-economic fabric”. The ECR member, who also serves as President of the Veneto Regional Council, aimed to obtain a clear and unequivocal recommendation, which reaffirms in Europe the right of all citizens to health defined as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not simply the absence of illness”. In this regard, Mr Ciambetti reaffirms the centrality of cities and territories in medical-health matters, as well as in the policies connected to them “because a modern health care disconnected from territorial management is unthinkable”.

Looking at the future of health, Mr Ciambetti emphasized that “there is no health or well-being without the concrete involvement of those who are in daily contact with citizens”. For him, the principle of subsidiarity proves to be an essential operational principle of reference: “regions and cities must be protagonists in the management of EU policies in order to give substance to decisions and measures quickly and promptly”. The opinion also highlights that the pandemic

ECR Member Roberto Ciambetti visiting the Fiera di Vicenza vaccination center

has shown that there must be no borders when it comes to medical rescue, and once again calls for the need to deepen and improve more and more operational strategies, forms of prevention and information in the medical-health field between regions bordering on each other. This would help to “optimise actions, prevention and containment of diseases and their spread”.

Mayor Guarente’s stakeholder meeting on the resilience of critical entities ECR Member and Mayor of Potenza, Mario Guarente, is the European Committee of the Regions rapporteur for the Directive on the resilience of critical entities. This directive will replace the old legislation on critical infrastructures of 2008. With a view to discussing some specific aspects of the directive and holding an exchange of views on the guidelines for drafting the opinion, a debate was organised with Committee members belonging to the NAT commission (Commission for Natural Resources). Mr Guarente shared his proposals and vision with Michal Šimečka MEP (tasked with preparing the European Parliament report), Lukas Mandl MEP (who is preparing an opinion on the topic in the Parliament), officials from the European Commission’s DG HOME (the directorate which drew up the directive) and representatives of the

Regional Office for Europe of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). An expert was appointed to assist Mr Guarente with the opinion: Professor Angelo Masi, a lecturer at the Università degli Studi della Basilicata. At the seventh NAT commission meeting, the

rapporteur explained that the proposal for a directive approved by the European Commission in December 2020 includes three major innovations: firstly, the implementing provisions have been overhauled: the focus has shifted from the critical infrastructures themselves to the operators which manage them, defined as “critical en-


waste water, digital infrastructure, public administration, and space. The presence of infrastructure in a region, particularly critical infrastructure, is both an opportunity for driving local development and a risk should a disaster occur which could seriously harm people, the environment and the economy.

ECR Member Mario Guarente

tities”; furthermore, given the importance and potential strategic role of many, varied types of critical infrastructures, the proposal stipulates that the primary objective of protecting them from the natural and man-made risks to which they are exposed should go hand in hand with the broader objective of ensuring that they are sufficiently resilient; and lastly, regarding scope, the proposal adds another eight sectors to the two (energy and transport) covered by the 2008 directive: banking, financial market infrastructure, health, drinking water,

Therefore, although the bulk of legislation in this field is set at EU or national level, local and regional authorities do have major tasks and responsibilities with regard to protecting the area in which they are located. Accordingly, they must play a specific and significant role in contributing to the resilience of the critical infrastructures located in their area, bringing their own knowledge and experience to bear.

directly in order to guarantee that the operators themselves, not just the infrastructures, are sufficiently resilient. The working document also asks what specific role could be played by local and regional administrations and what steps could be taken to ensure coordination and collaboration between the various levels of governance and the various local administrations on whose patch a given infrastructure is located. The opinion will be discussed at the NAT commission meeting on 20 May. As Mr Guarente pointed out, this meeting will be preceded by a series of hearings with stakeholders.

The working document asks a series of questions with a view to discussing this role and providing general input to the framing of the new directive. Most importantly, these questions seek to establish whether the members endorse the decision to expand the number of sectors covered and to involve the operators

Wastewater treatment plant

REFORMING THE EU Recovery and Resilience Facility and European Semester lack sufficient involvement of local and regional authorities A debate on EU’s recovery and trade policy took place during the CoR March plenary and featured European Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis. Addressing Mr Dombrovskis on behalf of the ECR CoR Group was Mr Rob Jonkman, Alderman in Opsterland in the Netherlands. First Vice-President Rob Jonkman expressed concern that local and regional authorities find themselves in a position of implementing recovery plans for which they were not sufficiently consulted. Although pleased to see that the Recovery and Resilience Facility is “firmly embedded in the European Semester and that Member States are drawing up their national plans as part of their national reform programmes”, Mr Jonkman, Alderman in the municipality of Opsterland, would like to see the partnership principle introduced in the European Semester. Mr Jonkman referred to the recent report of the European Parliament on respecting the partnership principle in the preparation and imple-



mentation of national Recovery and Resilience Plans, which he is very satisfied with. For him, the partnership principle is an “essential tool” in cohesion policy, and he would push for it to be introduced in the European Semester.

man also emphasized the need to “increase our self-sufficiency in key areas such as health, agriculture and energy”. In order to cope with large-scale crises like today, “citizens needs sufficient medicines, food and electricity”.

On the topic of trade policy, he stated that “free trade has undeniably positive effects on all cities and regions, even if they are remote”, and gave the example of Opsterland’s farms and businesses being well integrated in international trade. With the European Commission’s trade strategy based on the concept of European open strategic autonomy, “municipalities like mine can only support such a concept”. Referring to the current pandemic, Mr Jonk-

ECR First Vice-President Rob Jonkman

Oldřich Vlasák argues against minimum wage setting at the EU level During a debate on adequate minimum wages in the EU, ECR Vice-President Oldřich Vlasák wholeheartedly agreed that “fair and adequate wages is something we all desire for every European”. Not only does work pay off to maximise people’s participation in the labour market, but it also “ensures economic growth and is the best way to prevent social exclusion”. However, he cautioned against establishing a “one-size fits all for the EU”, which would be a “big mistake”. For Mr Vlasák, who also serves as Councillor for the city of Hradec Králové in Czechia, fighting poverty and achieving adequate wages across the EU should be priority, but “we should let Member States decide to choose instruments that suit their needs”.

ECR Vice-President Oldřich Vlasák

help to combat and reduce poverty, but in others it could serve to increase unemployment therefore making it “harder for young and low-skilled workers to find employment”.

There are disparities in the political, economic and social developments across countries, regions, and sectors and the cost of living varies greatly from one EU country to another.

Mr Vlasák forwarded the legal argument saying that the ECR Group in the CoR were concerned to read the Commission’s proposal on “fair minimum wages” as the treaties “clearly say that wage harmonisation is not an EU competence” and therefore such proposal could breach article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.

In light of these factors, policies should be tailor-made and based on “results and not intentions”, argued Mr Vlasák. The introduction of a minimum wage in some countries could

The debate took place as part of the CoR’s March plenary session with Mr Miguel Cabrita, Portuguese Deputy Minister of Labour and Vocational Training, as guest speaker.

Renovation Wave: an opportunity to speed up actions ECR Member Marshal Witold Kozłowski highlighted to participants in the European Committee of the Regions’ plenary session the huge opportunity offered by the Renovation Wave initiative to overcome the economic crisis caused by the pandemic – it will allow the creation of jobs, improve people’s well-being and combat energy poverty. Stressing that if we are to take advantage of this opportunity, then it is essential to “absorb funds effectively and provide advice to citizens”, urged the Marshal. For him, the Renovation Wave is in fact “already under way in many European regions”. As Marshal of the Małopolska region, he provided it as an example: “here we have replaced outdated furnaces, promoted renewable energy sources and improved control systems”. They have also set up specific support programmes for those at risk of energy poverty. The Marshal pointed out that “change can be achieved in a short period of time”, for example, between 2013 and 2019, by getting rid of almost 60 thousand solid fuel boilers and stoves in Małopolska, they were able to re-

Source: Biuro Prasowe UMWM

duce the PM10 concentration levels by 30% in his region. The Marshal sees the Commission’s ambitious Renovation Wave plan as an initiative that will allow local governments in Europe to speed up the actions they are already implementing. Of utmost importance for the EU programme to fully achieve its objectives, according to the Marshal, is helping citizens to understand them. For example, in the Małopolska region they have implemented the idea of ecoadvisers under the EU’s LIFE programme, for which Małopolska received EU funding. Mr Kozłowski mentioned that it may be worth considering the idea that every European municipality could have an eco-adviser who would provide support and guidance on making good use of existing funds. He concluded his intervention in this debate on the Renovation Wave with the European Commissioner responsible for Energy, Kadri

ECR Member Witold Kozłowski

Simson, by expressing his appreciation for the support they have received, whilst encouraging all regions to develop a network of ecoadvisers and for the European Commission to continue its support in this regard.


Interregional cooperation can help reduce impact of pandemic on economy During a plenary debate on the coordination of border management during the pandemic and impact on local communities and commuters, ECR Member Cezary Przybylski, Marshal of the Lower Silesia region in Poland, recounted the many challenges they faced following the onset of the epidemic emergency in March last year. Amongst others, the challenges included the closure of borders between countries and the return of border controls, “a reality that we have not faced for many years”, he observed. This situation has caused, and continues to cause, significant complications in the daily lives of citizens and businesses in the border area. Marshal Przybylski says he fully understands that we have to look after the safety of our citizens by taking “difficult decisions at both national and regional level”. However, for the Marshal, this reduced mobility can cause many additional problems for citizens, in particular, cross-border workers. It means that businesses are trying to function normally but often have to “slow down their operations” due to a lack of workers. As Marshal of the Lower Silesia region, he has intervened and will continue to do so when-

ever the “good of citizens and the economic development of the region requires it”. In this context, Marshal Przybylski emphasised the importance of good neighbourly relations in cross-border cooperation and partnerships at regional level. The Marshal provided the example of interregional cooperation whereby he repeatedly called for measures to facilitate border traffic for the benefit of the economy, together with the leaders of Czech and German regions. They made appeals both for the opening of closed border crossings to reduce queues and for changes to regional rules, for example on the frequency of COVID-19 testing.

ECR Member Cezary Przybylski

CURRENT CHALLENGES Marshal Ortyl highlights Europe’s vaccine shortage and difficult situation of regional airports to Charles Michel In a debate on the pandemic, economic reconstruction and European democracy with Charles Michel, President of the European Council, Marshal Władysław Ortyl drew attention to the fact that over half a million people have died in the European Union of COVID-19 and that as local government authorities, “we are doing our best to put a stop to these terrifying statistics”. For the Marshal, who also serves as ECR President, vaccinations are the only rational way out of the pandemic. He referred to the Podkarpackie region in Poland, informing the participants that the region has completed the vaccination of medical personnel, among whom they could observe a visible decrease in the number of cases.

“These funds can be used to finance working capital to meet urgent liquidity needs and overcome financial difficulties.” He also expressed hope for an improvement in the economic situation through the Recovery Fund, counting on the possibility of “flexible spending of these funds”, and remarked that the “crisis does not

The Marshal reiterated the difficulty in accepting delays in the supply of vaccines after the huge efforts local and regional governments have employed in the fight against the pandemic and questioned President Michel on when one can expect an increase in vaccines in Europe. Marshal Ortyl also highlighted the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Drawing attention to the actions that have been taken so far by the authorities of the Podkarpackie region in order to counteract the crisis, he gave the example of investing PLN 260 million to help businesses.



have to be a destructive force”. The ECR President, who is also rapporteur in the CoR on the issue of regional airports, referred to their dire situation caused by the pandemic and lockdowns. According to him, they need financial support that would allow them to continue functioning and surviving. The Marshal urged for coordinated action to be taken by both by the European Commission and by individual Member States, regions, the world of science and business in order “to return aviation to the path of rapid growth, as well as build up resilience for future crises”. Addressing Charles Michel, Mr Ortyl concluded “I encourage you, Mr President, to try to take up the topic of support for regional airports and the principles of granting state aid at one of the future summits of the European Council”.

President of the European Council Charles Michel, ECR CoR President Marshal Władysław Ortyl

This debate took place on the first day of the CoR’s March plenary session.

Juraj Droba: vaccination will help put an end to the pandemic This was the main sentiment of ECR Vice-President Juraj Droba’s intervention in a debate on the COVID-19 pandemic with EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. For Mr Droba, who also serves as President of the Bratislava Region, together with preventive measures, “vaccinations are the way to get out of the pandemic”. He expressed hope that we will be able to soon overcome the pandemic and, in this regard, very much welcomed the EU’s goal to vaccinate 70% of the adult population by summer, convinced that it is “attainable”. Mr Droba mentioned that at the onset of the pandemic last March Slovakia counted very few COVID-casualties, but today, in stark contrast, his country is facing one of the worst situations in Europe. Thanking countries such as France as well as other Member States for helping them with extra vaccines, he also highlighted that while vaccination strategies are the responsibility of the state, he believes that “regions can handle it bet-

ter with the local expertise”. He gave the example of how his region has now started its own pilot-program for vaccinations. “Nevertheless, in order to continue vaccinating citizens and progressing with the vaccine roll-out, we must accelerate the distribution of vaccines”, urged Mr Droba. There is an urgent need to put pressure on the pharmaceutical companies to “increase the production of vaccines and to also make deals on the price of the vaccines”. In addition to the lack of vaccines, Mr Droba spoke about the problematic strong pro-Russian sentiment in Slovakia and the growing interest in the Sputnik V vaccine, which he reminded “has not been approved by the EU”. Expressing frustration at the bad reputation surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine, Mr Droba could not understand why people in Slovakia are refusing to take

ECR CoR Vice-President Juraj Droba

this vaccine considering it is a UK/Sweden product – made in countries that are known for their reliability and trustworthiness in Slovakia. This debate took place during the 143rd plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions.

Integration of migrants is a two-way street In a debate on the integration of migrants and the fight against radicalisation with Commissioner Ylva Johansson, ECR Member Matteo Bianchi repeatedly called for economic migration to be “controlled” and in the “hands of democratically elected central governments”. If this is not the case, Mr Bianchi outlined the risk of “frustration in our communities growing and radicalisation increasing”. Mr Bianchi, who also serves as Councillor in Morazzone, Italy, offered insights into how the integration of economic migrants can be successful starting with looking for “well-qualified” economic migrants, “eager to become part of our societies”. People who migrate to Europe

ECR Member Matteo Bianchi

should be able to address our talent shortages and “adopt our Western way of life”. This is an important aspect for Matteo Bianchi as, for him, “integration is a two-way street”. Coming to Europe, migrants receive access to “our job market and health and education systems” but in return they must “accept our traditions, learn the language and contribute to our economy by paying taxes”. He provided the examples of Italy where there has been a very successful integration of people from Albania who represent almost 10% of the overall foreigners in the country, and Poland where millions of Ukrainian and Belarusian workers integrated very well into the labour market. The ECR Member also attributed these successful cases of integration to the fact of having the “same cultural background”.

On the other hand, Councillor Bianchi referred to the many examples of cities where integration of migrants failed. In 2017 police in Brussels uncovered that of more than 1,600 organisations and NGOs registered in the neighbourhood of Molenbeek, 102 were suspected of having links with crime, and another 51 were linked to terrorism. Places like this are – as the then Mayor of Molenbeek described it – “breeding grounds for terrorism”. The ECR Member highlighted the key role of local and regional authorities in the integration of migrants but emphasized that is the “central governments’ responsibility for making sure that we attract people who want to integrate and in adequate numbers”. And what is the role of the EU institutions in


this context? Mr Bianchi concluded that they “provide a good platform to exchange our experiences on integration of migrants, but they

should not try to take any competences in this field away from the national authorities”. For him, competence should remain with the local

and central governments who know and understand best the needs of our societies.

ELECTIONS Ilpo Heltimoinen: were Finnish municipal elections moved for political reasons? At the ECR Group meeting on 15 March, Ilpo Heltimoinen, Bureau Member of the ECR Group at the CoR, questioned whether Finnish municipal elections had been postponed because of political reasons and not because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had been put forward as the excuse. The decision to postpone was announced after the nine parliamentary parties’ secretaries met in March. Eight parties supported the decision with the Finns Party the only one in opposition to it. “Finland has a much better coronavirus situation than other countries in Europe,” Mr Heltimoinen observed, “and the parties in the current administration have struggled with registering enough candidates”. Finns Party has been very successful at registering candidates. Registering as many

candidates as possible is an important contributor to electoral success in the Finnish electoral system where a vote to a candidate is also a vote for the party. Mr Heltimoinen also emphasized that these elections are particularly important and that it is not “guaranteed that the coronavirus situation will be better in June” and could therefore be moved again with the same reasoning. The infection rates were much higher in the United States in last November’s elections, and also in Poland – after moving its elections from May to June (first round) and July (second round). Elections have been held in several countries in Europe in 2021. Although Finland’s cases have been rising lately, it still has one of the lowest infection rates in Europe.

ECR Member Ilpo Heltimoinen

Mr Heltimoinen’s Finns Party in the last municipal elections in 2017 was the fifthlargest party with 8.8% of the vote; and in recent polls, it has hovered around 20% taking turns in the top with the Social Democrats.

AWARDS The Silesia Region awarded for best strategy for supporting entrepreneurship During the March plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), Mr Jakub Chełstowski, Marshal of the Silesia region and also ECR Member in the CoR, received the title of the European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) on behalf of the Silesia region. The Silesia Region was awarded for supporting and boosting entrepreneurship and SMEs in a sustainable way by considering the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. When the pandemic started last year, the region’s authorities responded quickly. Silesia was one of the first regions in the European Union to make changes to the Regional Operational Program for 2014-2020. It provided immediate support for companies from the SME sector. The largest regional aid instrument for en-



trepreneurs in Poland was created, in the form of the Package for the Economy, worth approximately 1.4 billion PLN. It supplemented the state support provided under the so-called anti-crisis shield. In October 2020, the regional assembly of the Silesia region also adopted the 2030 Green Silesia Development Strategy, which is a main response to the environmental challenges faced by the region. Its provisions are also intended to contribute to the improvement of living conditions and running a business

in the region, including the improvement of the quality of the environment. The above-mentioned efforts made the jury unanimously decide to award the Silesia Region the title of European Entrepreneurial region, together with five other regions. The award confirms that in these difficult times of fighting the pandemic, the regional authorities are working efficiently and in constructive cooperation with the European Commission.

The region is implementing further support for the tourism industry. Thanks to European funds as well as our own, there is a way to help communes who rely on tourism in the region as well as entrepreneurs providing tourism services there. ECR Member Jakub Chełstowski receiving EER Award on behalf of the Silesia region

“We did what the regional government should do. In extensive cooperation with the European Union and the national government, we proposed an effective solution that allowed many companies to survive a difficult time and keep their jobs” - emphasized Marshal Jakub Chełstowski.

Preparations are currently underway for an important event called “The European Forum of the Future”, which takes place this autumn. The event will be a great opportunity to discuss the future of regions as well as the consequences and stages of overcoming the crisis caused by the coronavirus. There will be sessions on many aspects of economic life, key challenges, barriers and goals related to the development of Europe. Forum participants will discuss Eu-

rope’s digital future, transition and climate neutrality, innovative economy, and climate and air quality issues. The three-day event initiated by the Marshal of the Silesia region Jakub Chełstowski will be held with the participation of many distinguished guests from European Union Institutions, government and local government, as well as experts from the world of science and business. During the forum many events will take place in parallel including the 25th anniversary of economic zones in Poland, meeting of regional development funds, Medicine 4.0 Conference, a plenary debate on “Various forms of European cooperation”, as well as numerous events promoting Silesia as a tourist region.

MEMBERS’ ACTIVITIES Małopolska: an era-defining investment at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the first of its kind in over 140 years Following almost three years of intensive construction work, a project worth over PLN 40 million has reached its conclusion. The redevelopment of St. Louis Regional Specialist Children’s Hospital in Kraków has resulted in the establishment of the Małopolska Centre for Paediatrics and Comprehensive Treatment of Children with FASD (Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders).

Marshal Witold Kozłowski and Vice-Marshal Łukasz Smółka at the opening of St Louis Marshal Witold Kozłowski and Vice-Marshal Children’s Hospital Łukasz Smółka at the opening of St Louis Children’s Hospital

At a total cost of more than PLN 40 million, the investment included the following: PLN 28 million from EU funds, almost PLN 2 million from the national budget, just under PLN 3.5 million from the Małopolska regional budget, and PLN 7.4 million from the hospital’s own resources. “After three years of extensive work, we can now see how much has been achieved and how much has been gained by the St. Louis Hospital in Kraków. Thanks to European funds, subsidies from the national budget,

funds from the Małopolskie region and financial support from the hospital, we have implemented a project worth more than PLN 40 million. The scope of the work carried out, described in the hospital itself as an historic, era-defining investment, greatly expands the hospital’s capacity. This is very good news for all patients. I am happy to see that leading specialists at the institution have acquired such a modern space and tools to help our youngest patients as effectively as possible,” said Marshal of the Małopolskie Region and Member of the ECR Group at the CoR Witold Kozłowski. “Protecting the health of Małopolska’s residents is one of the top priorities of the regional government. There is a need for consistent investment and action in this area which plays a strategic role for all of us. It is the cornerstone of our shared safety, symbolised over the past year by the Małopolska Anti-Crisis Shield, with a broad and continuously developed medical package. With this large-scale investment at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, it is crucial that we create the best possible conditions

for our youngest patients to get back to health,” said Lukasz Smółka, Vice-Marshal of the Małopolskie Region, and member of the ECR Group at the CoR. The historic, 145-year-old building in the centre of Kraków has been thoroughly modernised and gained an additional floor. New departments have been created, including for anaesthesia, intensive care and paediatric surgery as well as an operating block worth almost PLN 1 million. Modern medical equipment in the Kraków hospital will make it possible to carry out not only general surgery, but also operations in the area of orthopaedics and laryngology. “What the hospital lacked most was surgical and intensive care units, with anaesthesiology available around the clock. The operating theatre itself has been fitted out with very high-level equipment. This complements comprehensive care for children, which has long been provided through other hospital departments, basic healthcare and specialist clinics. In addition, patients in need of rehabilitation following


treatment in Kraków are offered a stay on our second site – the Małopolska Rehabilitation Centre in Radziszów,” highlighted Stanisław Stępniewski, Director of the St. Louis Regional Specialist Children’s Hospital in Kraków. Hospital patients now have, for the most part, single and twin rooms with comfortable beds and chairs for parents, each with their own shower and toilet. The staffroom for doctors and nurses has also been renovated as part of the investment. Małopolska’s health services also include

Poland’s only comprehensive diagnostic and treatment centre for children with FASD (foetal alcohol spectrum disorders), which forms an integral part of the St. Louis Hospital. It is worth adding that, as part of the medical package of the Małopolska AntiCrisis Shield, which is implemented partly through European funds, the regional hospital has received more than PLN 2 million. This has been used to purchase specialised medical equipment and laboratories have been fitted out.

St Louis Hospital operating room

Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain visits Podkarpackie “We must look to the future, make plans and think about implementing joint projects so that we are ready to take action as soon as the pandemic is over.” With these words, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain to Poland, Francisco Javier Sanabria Valderrama, started talks with Władysław Ortyl, Marshal of the Podkarpackie Region and ECR CoR President, on his arrival in Podkarpackie on 17 March 2021 for a courtesy visit. key stakeholder. Indeed, the first Forum of the Regions of the Three Seas Initiative took place in Podkarpackie, and Podkarpackie is also the leader of the flagship road project to build a multimodal transport route, the Via Carpatia, developed under the Three Seas Initiative. Ambassador Francisco Javier Sanabria Valderrama and Marshal Władysław Ortyl

This was the Ambassador’s first visit to Podkarpackie, and he stressed during the conversation that it would not be his last, since the location of Podkarpackie made it an important strategic partner not just for EU countries, but also for partners beyond the eastern border. The potential of the region represented a broad range of opportunities for cooperation in the spheres of business and tourism, as well as culture. The Ambassador also addressed the issue of cooperation under the Three Seas Initiative, whose activities have recently been developing, and in which the Podkarpackie region is a

The Ambassador also talked about preparations for the meeting of the Polish and Spanish governments planned for July 2021, during which the issue of regional cooperation will be very much to the fore. “We are shaping regional policy based on government priorities, but how well this cooperation works will depend on us at regional level. The Ambassador said that our strength lies in the potential to create a local environment that directly shapes the region and its population”, said the Marshal. The Ambassador also gave credit to Poland and to the Podkarpackie region in relation to take-up of EU funding. Mr Ortyl noted that the development of road infrastruc-

ture, and modernisation or revitalisation of infrastructure would not have been possible without additional external funding, which the regional government had been successful in accessing. The Ambassador also pointed to the rapidly developing economic relations between Poland and Spain and steady increase in trade between the two countries. Poland is currently Spain’s eighth biggest trading partner in the EU. Despite the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a significant impact in Spain, interest in trade cooperation remains considerable. With reference to the Podkarpackie region, Mr Ortyl pointed to the smart specialisation on which the region relies and which the regional government is successfully developing. He also noted: “Our region’s strength lies in combining culture, ancient traditions and a conservative outlook with innovation. Podkarpackie is an excellent example of how these elements can interact and create a strong regional brand”.

EVENTS ECR Members welcome Dace Melbārde MEP to their Group Meeting to discuss cultural sector revival The ECR Group in the CoR were delighted to welcome Dace Melbārde, Latvian Member of the European Parliament, to our group meeting on 15 March in the context of the European Committee of the Regions’ March plenary session. Ms Melbārde was invited to discuss the importance of protecting cultural heritage across the EU and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sector.



Revenue losses in the sector are estimated at amounts of 200 billion euros in 2020 with the crisis “affecting EU regions disproportionately – Central and Eastern Europe being among the hardest hit”. The onset of the pandemic led to tourism coming to a halt and cultural heritage sites, libraries and museums closing doors. Staff were not able to work remotely so the “functioning of cultural sites was impossible”. For Ms Melbārde one of the biggest challenges is the fact that “heritage operators cannot adequately plan for the future”. ECR MEP Dace Melbārde

Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 has been “dire” for the culture sector and it has been amongst the “most severely hit because of the pandemic”, said Ms Melbārde.

So what does the future look like for the cultural sector? At the same time that culture needs support to recover from the pandemic, it “can also play a role in helping the European Union emerge from the crisis”. Financing is needed for the sector in the short

Latvian museum of modern art

and long term and local and regional authorities must play a key role in this. According to Ms Melbārde culture is not just about “spending money” – it has a huge impact on regional development and social inclusion and we must “educate people through data” of its huge economic and social value. Ms Melbārde was rapporteur in the European Parliament for the report on ensuring the long-term political effects of the European Year of Cultural Heritage, which was adopted in January 2021.

Online abuse must not be tolerated ECR Member and Mayor of Ciampino, Daniela Ballico, highlighted that only by speaking out against the threatening and unfair online abuse women are subject to on a daily basis can “we move forward”. For her, it’s imperative to fight against the tirade of abuse women get “simply because they are a woman and in politics”. Daniela Ballico’s first experience with online abuse was when she entered the mayoral elections in her city of Ciampino. Although she had worked in a trade union and was often the only woman as well as the youngest, nothing could have prepared her for the severe online attacks she was about to be subject to. Having had her laptop stolen and the content subsequently shared, in addition to threatening phonecalls, she was nearly at breaking point and questioned whether she could continue her political campaign for the position of Mayor of Ciampino. However, she decided to take a stand and for-

mally complained to the electoral committee and the police who then carried out a swift investigation resulting in the perpetrators being caught. Fortunately, she received a lot of support from voters and other candidates.

Daniela Ballico’s intervention in this online conference entitled “For more women in politics” was organised by the European Committee of the Regions in the framework of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

“It is not easy for women to come into politics” but Mayor Ballico urges women to stand up and speak out against abuse. “We must move forward by supporting each other”, she said. She also mentioned that the attacks against conservative female politicians are particularly strong, making a reference to constant media attacks on the female leader of her political party Fratelli d’Italia, Ms Georgia Meloni.

ECR Member Daniela Ballico

The future of Europe is localism ECR CoR President Władysław Ortyl, Marshal of the Podkarpackie region, spoke at “The Future of Europe is Localism debate” hosted by Romanian ECR MEP Cristian Terhes, which he opened by emphasizing that the ECR Group – both in the European Parliament and in the European Committee of the Regions – “distinguishes from all other groups by their strong feeling that the decentralisation of the EU is in the common interest of the entire Community”. For the ECR CoR President, one of the biggest issues as a result of the constant transfer of competences from the national level to the EU

level is the “very limited influence citizens have on shaping the political reality”. Although responsible for the implementation at local and

regional level of more than 70% of EU legislation and most EU investment programmes, local government authorities are “de facto largely


While Marshal Ortyl recognises the obvious positive impact of the EU on the lives of citizens such as “new sales markets have opening up for our entrepreneurs”, as well as the “improvement of infrastructure” in less developed regions, he also expressed disappointment at the attempt by the EU to impose a specific worldview – “often contrary to the traditions and culture of individual countries or even regions”. On Friday 26 February, Bucharest, Romania, hosted the fourth event in the ECR Group in the European Parliament’s conference “Europe’s Future - A New Hope”. devoid of influence on its shaping”.

Deal or the mobility package as European

The ECR CoR President continued to say that one of the group’s aims in the CoR is to “strive to have more influence on the EU so that it systematically prepares territorial impact assessments”. He gave the examples of the Green

Commission proposals that have “costs and impacts” that are not only “distributed unevenly among the Member States but also among European regions” and require additional territorial analyses.

The ECR Group in the European Parliament launched the European tour on the Future of the EU in December 2020. The tour takes the form of a series of live broadcasts from 15 European capitals, in which citizens of European Member States are consulted. Warsaw, Sofia, Zagreb and The Hague have already played host to the travelling conference.

Pavel Branda: closure of borders was not the answer to the pandemic Even before the pandemic the inhabitants of border regions were already facing many obstacles on a daily basis such as commuting and administrative challenges, and the closure of borders served to only further “exasperate the situation”, including, in some cases, the “splitting up of families and friends”. One-third of EU citizens live in border regions and Mr Branda - who played host to an online local dialogue initiative on the future of cross-border cooperation and border regions in Europe - asked what the EU could do to overcome a similar crisis and to ensure that repercussions are not as hard-felt for these border region inhabitants. How can border regions continue collaboration and cooperation in the future even in times of crises? For Mr Branda, also Mayor of Rádlo in the Czech Republic, the first response of Member

ECR Member Pavel Branda

States to close borders was not the answer to managing the pandemic and the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In fact, what we should have been doing is the opposite – “collaborating even more across borders”. Looking forward to see what lessons could be drawn from such an experience and to ensure no further closures of borders Mr Branda evoked the idea of a minimum level of cross-border cooperation: “I call on Member States and the European Commission to define a minimum level of cooperation that has to be preserved under any circumstances even in a crisis”.

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With the devastating impact that the unprecedented situation of border closures had on these regions, Mr Branda urged for a more “defined vision of cross-border cooperation in Europe and to clarify the role of regions that lie at the border”. Mr Pavel Branda launched this local dialogue initiative on the future of cross-border cooperation and border regions in Europe in cooperation with the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), which took place online on 21 April. Mr Branda was CoR rapporteur on ­cross-border public services.


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