ECR News European Committee of the Regions | 24th edition
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ECR President urges action on Belarus ECR President, Władysław Ortyl, spoke highly of the European Committee of the Region’s Bureau declaration regarding the deeply worrying situation in Belarus, and addressed a letter to the President of the CoR, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, stressing the need for more decisive and targeted action, as well as calling for more European solidarity with the Belarusian people. The situation in Belarus is deeply concerning and human rights, democracy and freedom must be defended.
ECR GROUP OPINIONS
Two ECR opinions adopted in CoR’s October plenary
Resilience in Veneto
EU Recovery Fund
In October the European Committee of the Regions adopted Mr Tjisse Stelpstra’s opinion on the New Circular Economy Action Plan. This bold proposal outlines how resources will remain in the European economy as long as possible, envisioning a future with zero waste. The circular economy is a vital aspect of ECR rapportuers Tjisse Stelpstra and Jarosław Stawiarski accelerating Europe toward green energy and sustainability. During the same plenary session, the CoR adopted unanimously Marshal Jarosław Stawiarski’s opinion on the European Year of Rail. Mr Stawiarski’s opinion examines how to make sustainable rail travel more common and more efficient throughout Europe.
ECR President Władysław Ortyl
Veneto’s success in fighting the pandemic
ENVIRONMENT 10 Green Deal
Green Leaf Award
ELECTIONS 12 Italian elections
12 ECR Member Roberto Ciambetti
ECR Group Secretariat Committee of the Regions
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From the very first weeks that the coronavirus pandemic unfolded in Northern Italy, the Veneto Region witnessed firsthand a tragedy developing; nevertheless, regional medical services were never brought to their knees or overwhelmed. From the pandemic’s outset, Veneto’s authorities were congratulated on their innovative management.
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ECR GROUP OPINIONS Accelerating the transition towards a circular economy On 14 October, the European Committee of the Regions adopted the opinion on the New Circular Economy Action Plan, drafted by ECR Group member Tjisse Stelpstra, regional minister for the province of Drenthe in the Netherlands. The circular economy is one of the key pillars of the European Green Deal and the opinion represents the contribution of local and regional politicians from the 27 EU Member States to the debate on the EU’s green recovery.
This opinion appears concurrently with the European Committee of the Regions’ response to the German Presidency’s request to seek the views of subnational government on the Circular Action Plan. The plan was proposed by the European Commission in March and aims to ensure that resources, once used, are kept within the EU economy for as long as possible. Key messages of the opinion prepared by Mr Stelpstra include the call to accelerate the transition towards a regenerative growth model and to incentivise businesses to adopt circularity in their product design.
Commenting on the views expressed in the opinion and the measures proposed by the European Commission, Mr Stelpstra said: “Circularity is not just about the economy, industry and the need to produce responsibly. It is about the way we live and consume, from the clothes we buy, to how our houses are built, the amount of waste we produce and the quantity of water we use. These are everyday choices and we must shift our patterns to consume with greater awareness and more sustainably in order to evolve together towards a circular society. The New Circular Economy Action Plan is a key set of tools to help us in this vast and crucial endeavour”. Accelerating the transition towards a circular economy is key not only to improving environmental standards; it is also important given the EU’s dependence on imports of raw materials from countries outside the European Union. Currently, only 12% of the total demand for raw materials in the EU is met by recycled materials, making
ECR Member Tjisse Stelpstra in Drenthe province
the EU vulnerable to disruption in global supply chains. A circular economy could increase Europe’s independence in terms of materials, as the use of recycled resources will reduce the need for primary resources. This CoR opinion is based on the result of an extensive public consultation, which provided invaluable input for the rapporteur and enabled him to consider the views of local and regional authorities, businesses and consumers alike.
2021, The European Year of Rail “Rail is a viable, sustainable and reliable alternative to aviation. During the worldwide rampage of the COVID-19 pandemic, rail has proven that economies can rely on its resilience, even in crisis situations. At a time when air transport has been put on hold, when cross-border automobile traffic has been restricted, when ships have been prevented from docking in ports, rail has continued to operate, allowing European economies to breathe,” said ECR member Jarosław Stawiarski, President of the Lubelskie region in Poland and rapporteur for the opinion on the European Year of Rail (2021), adopted unanimously at the October CoR plenary session.
President of the Lubelskie region, Marshal Jarosław Stawiarski
The opinion comprises the CoR’s input into the EU-wide campaign to promote rail as a key component of future mobility. The European Commission proposed making 2021 the European Year of Rail. Throughout the coming year, a series of events, campaigns, and other initiatives will be held to raise public awareness about the benefits of rail. The opinion will serve as the foundation of the CoR’s involvement in the campaign and Mr Stawiarski, as rapporteur, will act as the face of the CoR.
The opinion calls on EU institutions and national authorities to take urgent action to create a level playing field among the various modes of transport. This includes the full internalisation of the external costs of road transport and the taxation of aviation fuel in international traffic. Furthermore, the opinion draws attention to other key aspects in the development of rail, such as ensuring adequate financing for infrastructure, developing new transport corridors, restoring rail links and night trains,
and developing high-speed rail or making rail more accessible to people with reduced mobility. Additionally, this opinion highlights the differences in rail infrastructure between Central and Eastern Europe and Western Europe. To overcome these differences, the opinion calls on the European Commission to develop an integrated rail strategy covering the whole of the European Union. When drafting this opinion, on 8 June, Mr Stawiarski met with the European
Parliament’s rapporteur on this matter, Anna Deparnay-Grunenberg, MEP. Both rapporteurs agreed that substantial investments are needed in freight transport, high speed trains and night trains, as well as in digitalising and electrifying European rail infrastructure, while new transport corridors, such as the Amber Corridor, need to be developed. Rail also needs to be promoted as a cost- and energy-effective substitute for road and air transport. The European Commission proposed 2021 to be the “European Year of Rail”
Cross-Border public services in Europe Pavel Branda, who serves as the deputy Mayor of Rádlo in the Czech Republic, as well as the Vice President of the Association of European Border Regions, was appointed rapporteur by the European Committee of the Regions for the opinion on Cross-Border Public Services. This appointment was made by the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and the EU Budget (COTER).
Pavel Branda delivering a speech in the European Parliament
Cross-Border Cooperation plays a key role in strengthening territorial cohesion, in line with Article 174 of the Lisbon Treaty. With as many as 40% of European citizens living and working within border regions, making crossborder public services more efficient is vital for millions of citizens. In the context of the recent coronavirus pandemic, the need to combine resources and deepen cooperation has never been more crucial.
On 24 September, Mr Branda debated with members of the COTER Commission on a wide range of topics, from the financing and legality of the policy proposals outlined in his opinion, to their practicality. In this debate, Mr Branda also discussed the effects of the coronavirus on cross-border public services, as well as other challenges he hopes will be overcome when a more efficient system of cross-border public services is established. Illustrating the need for increased coordination, Mr Branda said: “We need concrete steps at the EU level to help us better manage public services and cooperation in border regions.” In the opinion, Mr Branda calls on the EU institutions, Member States and 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 fea-tures, but can also be
unnecessary regulations that undermine cohesion. 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. Mr Branda’s opinion 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. Mr Branda’s opinion on cross-border public services will be adopted by the COTER commission in November.
INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Marshal Władysław Ortyl appeals to the CoR to act on the situation in Belarus On 11 September, the President of the ECR Group in the European Committee of the Regions and President of the Podkarpackie region in Poland, Władysław Ortyl addressed a letter to the President of the CoR, Apostolos Tzitzikostas and the Chair of the CIVEX commission, Mark Speich, regarding events in Belarus. Mr Ortyl calls for action and solidarity for Belarus, particularly with respect to human rights and local democracy. The situation in Belarus came to a head when, earlier in 2020, the incumbent President, Alexander Lukashenko, won an election that international observers deemed fraudulent. Lukashenko has been the autocratic leader of Belarus since 1994.
In specific terms, Mr Ortyl suggests pushing for the development of the existing cross-border cooperation programmes covering LatviaLithuania-Belarus and Poland-Belarus-Ukraine. He notes that the latter of the two programmes has been especially successful in supporting cross-border development over the last sixteen years, providing lasting economic growth on both sides of the EU’s border.
Protestors call for fair elections and the release of political prisoners
In his letter, Mr Ortyl speaks positively of the CoR Bureau declaration on the situation in Belarus, but he also makes several proposals to better address the situation in a more targeted manner. Firstly, Mr Ortyl calls on the CoR to create a programme where local and regional authorities in both the EU and Belarus can exchange experiences. This platform should be modelled on the existing programme the CoR operates with Ukraine. Mr Ortyl points out that in the case of Ukraine, this exchange was viewed very positively on the Ukrainian side and programmes such as U-LEAD (in which the CoR has played an active role) are excellent opportunities to build a dialogue with local and regional actors. Doing the same for Belarus, Mr Ortyl argues, would be help achieve the goals set out in the CoR declaration.
Mr Ortyl also calls on the CoR to begin traineeship programmes for local government staff, as well as for graduates and students from Belarusian universities. This could be done by creating a database of Committee members willing to take on Belarusian trainees. Mr Ortyl expands on this point in his letter, by arguing that the European Commission should set up a special traineeship fund for this purpose. The letter goes on to argue for a spirit of overall enhanced cooperation between European institutions, for example with the European External Action Service and the EU Delegation in Minsk. Lastly, Mr Ortyl argues that the CoR should improve funding for cross-border programmes.
Mr Ortyl hopes that his letter and the outlined proposals will “put the (CoR) Bureau’s declaration into practice.” The ECR Group in the CoR is monitoring the situation in Belarus as it develops and supports proposals that would advance the democratic process and liberty.
ECR President Władysław Ortyl
Position of the ECR CoR Group on the unilateral decision by the Turkish authorities to convert the Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque Group (ECR) at the European Committee of the Regions, express our regret at the decision by the Turkish authorities to convert the renowned Hagia Sofia museum into a mosque. We underline that the decision was a unilateral one and was not approved beforehand by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The Hagia Sofia
The following statement was issued by the ECR CoR Group in August this year: We, representatives of local and regional authorities from ten Member States of the European Union and members of the European Conservatives and Reformists
In connection with the above, we call on the European Committee of the Regions, both the President of the institution and all political groups, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to issue a joint appeal to the Turkish authorities to reconsider its decision to adapt the ancient
Christian basilica for the purposes of Islamic worship and to maintain the status of the Hagia Sofia as a museum that is open to all. We believe that only a strong, internally consistent and solidarity-based position by all EU institutions can help find a compromise on the issue of this historic place of worship in Istanbul. President Władysław Ortyl said: “The Hagia Sofia was a Orthodox Cathedral for around one thousand years, later it was turned into a mosque and then, just before the start of the Second World War, a museum. The recent decision by the Turkish authorities to convert the museum back to a mosque is very disappointing, not only to Christians,
but also for all Europeans, for whom the Cathedral was a place of dialogue among peoples and religions. Our political group therefore calls on the European institutions to adopt a clear stance on the issue of respect for common heritage.” First Vice-President Rob Jonkman echoed this sentiment, saying: “Since 1934, the Hagia Sofia has been a symbol of shared heritage of different religions; it is very regrettable that the decision has been taken to allocate this beautiful building to exclusively one religion.” Vice President Marco Marsilio also weighed in: “Our regret at seeing the Hagia Sofia museum turned into a mosque is even
greater, since many Islamic countries are condemning this unilateral action by the Turkish government. In one move, President Erdoğan has drawn upon himself the hostility of several Arab countries, the whole world’s cultural institutions and the whole of the European Union. We are therefore calling on Turkey to not continue along his path but to restore to Hagia Sofia the role it has played thus far.” Vice President Juraj Droba said: “It is with great concern that we in Slovakia observe Turkey’s gradual withdrawal from the secular approach. I am a strong believer in the rule of law and civil society, both of which are currently being repressed in Turkey.”
President of the Abruzzo region, Marco Marsilio
ECR Vice-President Oldřich Vlasák attends first meeting of CoR-UK Contact Group On 22 September, the first meeting of the CoR-UK contact group took place. Following the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the European Committee of the Regions has deemed it imperative to play an active role in the negotiation process accompanying the UK’s withdrawal, as well as in building a prosperous future relationship with the UK. serves as a city councillor in the Czech city of Hradec Králové represented the ECR Group at this meeting.
ECR Vice-President Oldřich Vlasák
The Contact Group will act as a forum for constructive and civil dialogue and is scheduled to meet twice a year. The priorities for the period of 2020-2022 include future EU-UK trade relations and cross-border and territorial cooperation, as well as discussions on the future of the free movement of goods, services and individuals.
Continuing to develop a constructive dialogue and political partnership with the United Kingdom is a European priority, particularly as it relates to cross-border issues, but also in other policy domains. Oldřich Vlasák who
Negotiations on a withdrawal agreement have currently stalled, largely over two key points: the role of state aid to companies and the future of fisheries, in light of the fact that the EU will have an external coastal border with the
UK. The Withdrawal (Brexit) agreement entered into force on 1 February 2020. If no free trade agreement is reached by 15 October, “both sides will have to accept the situation and move on,” said British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. The ECR Group believes in establishing a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with the United Kingdom, as neither the EU nor the UK would benefit from isolationist or protectionist policies. Given the established, historic, cultural and economic ties between the two sides, the ECR Group is hopeful a fair and reasoned agreement can be reached. During the contact group’s meeting Mr Vlasák echoed this sentiment, saying: “Connections, community, industry and trade are all critical, both for us and for our friends in the UK”.
ECR Members attend historic Visegrád Regional Governors Forum On 3 and 4 September, the first “Governor’s Forum” took place in the Central Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. This forum was a unique opportunity to emphasise the regional and local dimensions of innovative sciences, SMART technologies, environmental conservation, tourism and economic growth. This forum was organised in cooperation with the European Committee of the Regions. In addition to representatives from the Visegrád Group (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary), representatives from Germany,
Ukraine and Austria also attended. ECR members Cezary Przybylski, President of Poland’s Lower Silesia region and Jozef Viskupič, President of the Trnava Self-Governing Region in Slovakia, were among the diverse group of
regional policy-makers attending the event. The forum was opened with a speech in which the hosting governor emphasised the need for bottom-up initiatives as well as regional cooperation. These two elements
are more critical now than ever before, as European regions continue to struggle with the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr Przybylski expanded on the point of cooperation, saying “I am convinced that the regions will continue working on initiatives that will better harness their own potential, as well as working more closely with one another”. As the President of Lower Silesia, Mr Przybylski had overseen close cooperation with the German region of Saxony in combating the coronavirus earlier this spring. Mr Viskupič referred to the funding that many regions would receive from various
Mr Viskupič (far left) and Mr Przybylski (second from left) at the Visegrád Regional Governors forum
European programs in the 2021-2027 period and encouraged regions to use this to bolster cohesion. Addressing the forum, Mr Viskupič said: “Our goal should be to increase the quality of life for the inhabitants of all regions. To achieve this goal, we must look beyond the specific interests of individual cities, regions and countries; instead, we should emphasise a holistic approach”.
need for coordination and cooperation in order to improve the quality of life and governance in not only the Visegrád countries, but in the entire EU.
Digitalisation and cyber security were two salient issues that were also discussed extensively at the forum. The forum was the first of its type, but will surely not be the last, as the participants agreed on the ECR Member Jozef Viskupič
ECR Member Cezary Przybylski
Władysław Ortyl chairs meeting of the Carpathians Interregional Group The Carpathians Interregional Group held its first meeting since the COVID-19 outbreak via videoconference. The chair of the Carpathians Interregional Group is Marshal Władysław Ortyl. The Carpathians Interregional Group includes members of the CoR from the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. Mr Ortyl served as rapporteur for a CoR opinion on “A macro-regional strategy for the Carpathian region,” which was adopted at the CoR’s 137th plenary session, and was cited by
ECR Group President Władysław Ortyl speaking at the meeting in Brașov
MEP Tomasz Poręba when he recently directed a question to the European Commission regarding the establishment of the macroregional strategy and economic growth in the Carpathian region. This action highlights the continued importance of investing in this macro-region. The meeting discussed the future objectives for the group in the coming term. These goals include involving regional authorities and communities in the implementation of the macro-regional strategy. Members also discussed how it is crucial to build integrated ties between communities in the Carpathian region and the CoR by underlining mutual goals such as facilitating economic development. The Group also concluded that it would like to cooperate with national governments and take the initiative in framing the macro-regional
strategy by submitting a formal proposal to the European Council. The mayor of Cugir, Romania, Adrian Teban, was a prominent speaker during the meeting. He discussed how in March, a delegation from Podkarpackie led by Mr Ortyl came to Brașov and met representatives of Romania’s Centru region. During that meeting, a joint appeal was signed regarding proposals for the economic development of the Carpathian macro-region. Local authorities from the Centru region sent the signed document to various European institutions, as well as to the Romanian prime minister. Responding to Mr Teban, Mr Ortyl said: “The appeal we signed in Brașov is having a huge impact in the Carpathian regions. We received incredibly positive responses from our partners
in Slovakia and Ukraine. The Carpathian strategy was one of the main points discussed at the meeting of the Slovakian regional presidents earlier last month. The Slovaks are planning on drawing up a similar appeal to
send to Brussels. I encourage other local and regional authorities in the Carpathians to be equally proactive.” The meeting concluded fruitfully and was successful in boosting cooperation between
members serving the Carpathian region. The Carpathian Interregional Group remains committed to ensuring the region’s continued growth and prosperity.
COVID-19 PANDEMIC Economic recovery and COVID-19 During the July plenary debate with Thierry Breton, Commissioner responsible for the internal market, Rob Jonkman, First VicePresident of the ECR Group, stressed that the EU should concentrate its efforts on a speedy economic recovery. He said: “the internal market is the greatest achievement in the history of the European Union. Nevertheless, the future of the internal market is at a crossroads. The European economy has been estimated to contract by 7.4% because of COVID-19.” Mr Jonkman underlined the point, saying: “this figure is of course an average and some industries, such as tourism, which are generally small family-owned operations, are suffering a disproportionate amount of economic loss. Start-ups and SMEs which depend on free trade, are in a struggle that has no parallel in our lifetime”. Mr Jonkman continued: “it is now vital we redouble our fight to help local and regional economies. Simple rules of public procurement, increased liquidity and improved access to finance are excellent tools at our disposal to better assist our businesses, and SMEs in particular”.
Finally, the ECR First Vice-President stressed that “this is not the time to pursue overambitious EU objectives”. “We need to stay pragmatic and realistic. All newly adopted proposals need to be subject to a recovery test.” Mr Jonkman was referring to a proposed “recovery test” in which every accepted policy that did not also help the recovery from the economic fallout relating to COVID-19 should be delayed for the time being. Mr Jonkman concluded by emphasising pragmatism and realism. ECR Group First Vice-President Rob Jonkman
Roberto Ciambetti describes the Veneto Region’s crisis response as exemplary From the very first weeks in which the coronavirus pandemic unfolded in Northern Italy, the Veneto Region witnessed at firsthand a tragedy taking place; nevertheless, the region’s medical services were never brought to their knees or overwhelmed. From the outset of the pandemic, Veneto’s authorities were congratulated on their innovative management. “Thanks to the foresight of the president of our region, Luca Zaia, we were the first to
ECR Member Roberto Ciambetti discussing COVID-19 in the CoR’s July plenary
carry out blanket testing and thus to identify asymptomatic people carrying the virus, when the WHO was still telling us that doing so was pointless. We opened large numbers of sub-intensive care beds to treat thousands of patients. Our outstanding capacity for emergency management has received international recognition”. These were the words of the president of the Veneto Regional Council and head of the Italian delegation to the CoR, Roberto Ciambetti, at the plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions during the debate with Janez Lenarčič, the European Commissioner for Crisis Management.
The ECR Member noted that, instead of concerted European-level purchasing of medical equipment on the global markets, we have seen a trade war of sorts develop between EU Member States. “I’m sorry to have to say that Europe missed a rendezvous with history” – he said: – “just at our moment of need, Europe’s absence was glaringly obvious to our people. Europe’s response was not only late, but there was an initial miscalculation, thinking that it was no more than an exogenous, symmetric shock. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that European integration still has a very long way to go” said Mr Ciambetti.
Proposals for new own resources must be evaluated with extreme caution Pavel Branda, Deputy Mayor of Rádlo in the Czech Republic and ECR COTER coordinator, addressed Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Budget and Administration, during the debate on the EU’s next Multiannual Financial Framework at the July plenary session. Mr Branda stressed that our Union is facing a major crisis. “Our economy requires a stimulus and our people require financial aid. Throughout Europe, businesses are struggling to stay open and the hits taken to trade, tourism and industry have been felt by our whole communities.” Furthermore, Mr Branda stated that “We need an ambitious financial plan but, more importantly, we need to channel support to our citizens as fast and as simply as possible.”
Mr Branda then turned to the European Commission’s proposal to introduce new EU own resources. He said: “one may say extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary solutions. However, we are talking about new European taxes, which is money diverted from citizens. I call on you, Commissioner, to evaluate the proposals on new own resources with extreme caution and choose only those that do not put any Member State in a disadvantaged position.”
ECR Member Dr Pavel Branda
Małopolska anti-crisis shield operating at peak efficiency On 24 August, firefighters from Małopolska received fifty specialised tents as part of a medical package, financed partially through European funding. ECR member and Deputy Marshal of the region, Łukasz Smółka oversaw the distribution of equipment to the State Fire Service in Kraków. These tents are specifically designed to function as a field emergency room in the event of hospital overcrowding. They are uniquely designed to not only accommodate needs, but ensure sanitary and high quality medical care as well. outbreak, we directed our initial activities toward medical care, in order to best protect the health of our constituents. We also remembered the support our firefighters provided for us in this fight. Thanks to EU subsidies and effective cooperation with our partners, we were able to quickly provide care when and where it was most needed”.
ECR Members Witold Kozłowski (front) and Łukasz Smółka (back)
As part of the region’s “Anti-Crisis Shield”, 47 partners in the Małopolska region received medical equipment, including PPE, ambulances and the aforementioned tents to help combat COVID-19 and treat patients effectively. The President of the Małopolska region, Witold Kozłowski stated that “After the (COVID-19)
to save lives and contain the spread of COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, Małopolska received PLN 190 million from the EU to support its efforts in providing healthcare and stateof-the-art equipment for its people. This act of integration and cohesion strengthens ties between the EU and Poland, as well as between the EU and the people of Małopolska
The Deputy Marshal, Łukasz Smółka expanded on this point saying: “While planning the logistics of the Anti-Crisis Shield, we worked to ensure the use of modern technological solutions and the best available equipment. EU funding was a critical tool in helping us succeed in this respect. However, we must also bear in mind the firefighters, whom we knew we could count on to help us distribute the materials and work with us to fight against the virus; they have been a tremendous help”. The Małopolska Anti-Crisis shield was one of many regional efforts which used EU funding
Polish firefighters unload vital supplies in the Małopolska region
Regions must play a role in the implementation of the EU recovery programme On 24 September the COTER commission in the European Committee of the Regions, hosted the Director General of DG Budget at the European Commission, Gert Jan Koopman who discussed the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027 and the Next Generation EU recovery plan. During this debate, ECR Vice-President and the President of the Bratislava region, Juraj Droba delivered an intervention stressing the need for Member States to coordinate with regions when constructing recovery plans with the usage of EU funding.
billion. In order to receive funding from the New Generation EU, Member States have to draw up Recovery and Resilience Plans in which they demonstrate what reforms they intend to incorporate to boost their own post COVID-19 recovery.
Juraj Droba during the COTER commission meeting
The European Council has come to an agreement on the new proposed MFF for 2021-2027. However, this proposal for the new EU budget must still be ratified by the European Parliament. The proposed EU budget totals 1.824 EUR billion. This is in part because the new MFF will include the Next Generation EU recovery fund of 750 EUR
Speaking on Next Generation EU, Mr Droba said: “I call on the European Commission to motivate Member States to develop their reform plans and flagship initiatives in line with the partnership principle so to ensure a swift-post pandemic recovery.” Mr Droba also said: “Regions have the best knowledge of their own territories and citizens, thus they can help to develop recovery plans based on their real needs.” Mr Droba went on to criticize the fact that the Commission`s Guiding document to Member States on the Recovery and Resilience Plans
lacks any references to involving local and regional authorities. Currently negotiations are underway between the European Parliament and the German Presidency on the Council. The Parliament and the Presidency are hoping to reach an agreement by the end of September. The ECR Group has expressed concerns on the new MFF, namely with regard to some new EU-wide taxes and conditionality for receiving EU funding which is not necessarily objective. Nevertheless, the ECR Group is hopeful that the negotiations will be fruitful and that Europe can soon begin its road toward both recovery and sustainability. However, this recovery will need to be a bottom-up approach that will need to take into account the needs of local communities, as Mr Droba emphasized.
Silesia demonstrates how to manage a crisis Jakub Chełstowski is President of the Silesia region, in addition to being a member of the ECR Group at the European Committee of the Regions. Mr Chełstowski, with the help of Vice-President Wojciech Kałuża, and the Silesian Regional Executive, has helped navigate the Silesia region through the year 2020, which included the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe socio-economic ramifications that came with it. and by providing support to small and mediumsized enterprises.
ECR Member Jakub Chełstowski, President of Silesia region
With the onset of the pandemic, the Silesia region took quick and decisive action. Under Mr Chełstowski’s leadership, the Silesian Regional Executive was among the first local government bodies to work in concert with the European Commission to support the efforts of the medical community, as well as understanding the needs of business owners and the general public. Most notably, the Silesian Regional Executive was able to renegotiate the “Regional Operational Programme” with the European Commission. This fruitful cooperation enabled EUR 75 million to be redirected toward fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences by supporting, for example, the healthcare sector, economic regeneration, social inclusion
Specifically, the aforementioned changes in the Regional Operational Programme also allowed the Silesia region to directly support thirty local medical facilities so that they were able to obtain critical sanitary and medicinal supplies. The redirection of EU funding made it possible to purchase and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), respirators, defibrillators, breathing aids, etc. to regional hospitals and doctors’ surgeries that were dealing with an influx of patients suffering from COVID-19. This heightened state of preparedness ensured that the life-saving equipment and supplies designed to protect the lives of healthcare workers was as available and plentiful as needed. Speaking on the redirection of funding, Mr Chełstowski said: “the redirecting of funding in the Regional Operational Programme does not mean we have abandoned the goals outlined in our projects, rather, thanks to the European Commission’s flexible approach, we were able to increase funding to those institutions that needed it most in the region, whilst maintaining the spending criteria established in the previous
ECR Member and Deputy President of Silesia region, Wojciech Kałuża
budgetary period. This has allowed us to manage the crisis responsibly”. In addition to supporting the medical staff and front-line healthcare workers, the Silesian Regional Executive developed an economic relief package to support citizens and businesses struggling in the pandemic. In particular, small and family-owned businesses were among the hardest hit by the lockdown restrictions. The Silesian Regional Executive moved quickly to ensure that small and medium-sized firms, which are often the cornerstone of local communities, were able to keep their doors open. By quickly establishing a criteria and selection procedure, SME’s are able to apply to receive government financial assistance for up to six
months. Selection is decided on a case-by-case basis, however firms in particularly vulnerable industries such as tourism, services, leisure, etc. were recognised as being in the most urgent need of help at the time of the lockdown. Funding can cover up to 85% of business operating costs for eligible firms, and as of June, over 200 firms
have signed a funding agreement in which their costs are partly subsidised by regional and European funding, with more expected to be signed throughout the year. Commenting on the economic dimension of the crisis and the stimulus granted to businesses, Vice-President Wojciech Kałuża said: “We are confident in the
framework we created, it incentivises businesses to maintain a competitive edge and create jobs through innovation, development and ingenuity. The funding provided also allows businesses to prepare for a possible resurgence of the pandemic, thus minimising the potential economic impact of such an occurrence”.
ENVIRONMENT ECR President spoke on the Green Deal goals in the context of COVID-19 The concerns regarding public health and economic recession in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic were the focal points of discussion at the European Committee of the Region’s plenary session, which ran from 30 June to 2 July. The plenary took place in a hybrid form, with most members joining the session remotely and a few attending the plenary in Brussels in person. Due to health concerns and the need for social distancing, this was the first CoR plenary where voting took place remotely. debates. One of the most salient and relevant debates, in the context of COVID-19, was the debate on the European “Green Deal”.
ECR Group President, Władysław Ortyl
This summer’s plenary featured debates on the EU recovery plan, demographic change, crisis management, the EU budget, and the European “Green Deal” among other topical European issues. These debates featured several prominent and relevant guest presentations to open the
Władysław Ortyl, President of the ECR Group in the CoR, spoke during the debate on the European Green Deal, saying that “We must now focus on ensuring a swift economic recovery and building economic resilience for the future. Before the pandemic, the Green Deal was the principal EU strategy for economic growth, but the world has changed since then. This requires us to look at the plan and adjust it accordingly. We must modify it, especially the parts that hinder our economic recovery, while also prioritising Green Deal elements that will help us rebuild our economy”.
Mr Ortyl’s call for revaluating some Green Deal goals were complemented by his calls for climate realism. In the debate, he stressed that not all European regions have the same economic starting position. Some regions are still reliant on solid fuels and that for many of them, a gradual shift to district heating supplied by natural gas is one of the few realistic options. Therefore, district heating supplied by natural gas should not be excluded from EU funding. Lastly, Mr Ortyl reemphasised the need for pragmatic and level-headed solutions for meeting Green Deal goals, while also saying that we should not dismiss nuclear energy, as a clean energy source and an alternative to fossil fuels.
Lappeenranta, leading the way The City of Lappeenranta in Finland has shown itself to be an example in sustainability and innovation in terms of achieving the goals outlined in the European Green Deal. Due to its excellent reputation as a green city, Lappeenranta applied for the 2021 European Green Leaf Award, an initiative promoted by the European Commission. that achieving sustainability should incorporate the needs of rural, urban and highly urbanised communities. Regarding the Green Leaf award, Lappeenranta has been shortlisted, along with three Danish municipalities, and one Bulgarian municipality.
Unlike the Commission’s European Green Capital Award, the Green Leaf award is granted to smaller or more rural municipalities in order to emphasise
ECR Group Member Ilpo Heltimoinen serves as a city councillor in Lappeenranta, where he played a key role in advancing common-sense polices that both reduce carbon emissions and stimulate economic growth. Currently in Lappeenranta, 70% of district heating is carbon dioxide-free, as is 100% of the electricity used by the city. The
ECR Group Member Ilpo Heltimoinen
municipality has also reduced its total emissions by 46% between 2009-2017 and has ensured that 100% its waste is recycled. In both preserving the regions natural beauty and reducing emissions,
Lappeenranta municipality provides 2 000 jobs in energy and environmental protection, proving that green energy and economic growth are not mutually exclusive goals.
The shortlisted candidate municipalities now proceed to the next stage of the competition. Regardless of the final result, Lappeenranta has shown itself to be an example to the rest of Europe.
Świętokrzyskie region innovates with the bioeconomy Between 1 October 2017 and 30 September 2020, the Świętokrzyskie region in Poland has been heavily involved with respect to a unique project regarding bioeconomic policies as part of the European Union’s strategy for the Baltic Sea region (EUSBR). This innovative project is called “RDI2CluB,” and its fundamental goal is to help rural areas in the Baltic Sea region reach their full potential through a more efficient and circular bioeconomy.
Students interested in the bioeconomy from the Świętokrzyskie region
By using renewable resources and circular economic models, RDI2CluB was launched with the goal of ensuring effective and sustainable economic growth, as well as climate change mitigation. The RD12CluB was co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund in cooperation with the INTERREG Baltic Sea Region Programme for 2014-2020 and was led by the JAMK university of Applied Sciences in Central Finland, with which the Świętokrzyskie region has enjoyed close cooperation since 2004. The project included support from twelve partners in Finland, Poland, Norway, Estonia and Latvia, as well as six associated organisations. Each country was represented by a consortium that included experts in administration, science, energy and business. This diversified approach was echoed by the project itself emphasising the role of regions and local authorities in growing a successful bioeconomy.
This emphasis on the local approach was also underlined in the EU’s own bioeconomic strategy. RDI2CluB took it a step further, by constructing regional bioeconomic profiles of partner regions and action plans tailored to the specific characteristics of individual regions. Importantly, RDI2CluB also oversaw the creation of a one-of-a-kind, digital platform called Biobord.eu. This online hub serves as both a virtual work environment and a setting where young professionals, experts and enthusiasts can discuss, exchange and cooperate on ideas relating to sustainability and the circular economy. Furthermore, partner regions (such as Świętokrzyskie) have been able to launch pilot programmes as part of RDI2CluB project. One such example relates to improving air quality throughout Poland, which has been a public health concern there in recent years. Furthermore, the RDI2CluB helped encourage communities, such as Busko Zdrój and Solec
Zdrój in the Świętokrzyskie region, to finance the replacement of coal furnaces throughout the city. Due to its close associations with the RDI2CluB, and its commitment to innovating the bioeconomy, the Świętokrzyskie region has also been running an educational campaign called “Don’t turn the world grey”, to raise awareness regarding air pollution. These examples illustrate how the RDI2CluB project, allowed for closer and more integrated cooperation between local communities and experts on how to best advance the goals of a more sustainable and cleaner bioeconomy, while also
The President of the Świętokrzyskie region, Mr Andrzej Bętkowski
encouraging local authorities and individuals to take action themselves. However, perhaps one of the most successful aspects of the RDI2CluB project, was the degree to which young people and young professionals became inspired to help innovate and propose initiatives in order to assist in the growth of the
bioeconomy. Specifically, the Youth Parliament of Świętokrzyskie became especially interested in the project. Sustainability and mitigating climate change have been an especially salient issue for many young people in Świętokrzyskie, who are looking to ensure a brighter future, for not only the Baltic Sea region, but for society on the whole.
ECR Member and the President of the Świętokrzyskie region, Andrzej Bętkowski expressed pride in not only his region’s cooperation with the project, but the large degree of input many young people had in it. While the project may have ended, it was very successful in spreading awareness regarding
the bioeconomy. By popularising terms such as the “circular economy” and raising public consciousness regarding carbon emissions, air quality and sustainability, the project was fruitful, but more bottom-up initiatives, dialogue and cooperation are still needed in all European regions.
ELECTIONS Congratulations to our Members for their successes in the Italian regional elections! On 20 and 21 September, regional elections took place in seven out of twenty Italian regions, these being the Aosta Valley, Campania, Liguria, Marche, Apulia, Tuscany, and Veneto. These regional elections were initially planned for earlier this year, but had to be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They ran concurrently with a constitutional referendum, which will reduce the number of MPs and senators in the Italian Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. The regional elections proved to be successful and a resounding victory for conservative policy-makers and voters, as the centre-right coalition won key victories. In the Veneto region which was among the first to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the incumbent President, Luca Zaia was re-elected with a decisive victory (winning 76.79% of the votes). Mr Zaia is also an ECR member at the European Committee of the Regions. In the same region, Mr Roberto Ciambetti (Head of the Italian delegation at
The President of the Veneto Region, Luca Zaia
Council), who is a member of the ECR Group in the CoR, was successful in his bid for re-election.
The President of the Liguria Regional Council, Alessandro Piana
the CoR and President of Veneto Regional Council) was re-elected as a Council member. Notably, in the Marche region in central Italy, Francesco Acquaroli of the party Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) was successful in unseating the incumbent Social Democratic President of the region and took control of the regional government after 25 years of the left-wing rule. Furthermore, the centre-right coalition secured the elections in the Liguria region, where Giovanni Toti has been re-elected President of the Region. In the same region, Alessandro Piana (President of the Regional
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The new President of the Marche region, Francesco Acquaroli
The ECR Group at the European Committee of the Regions extends its congratulations to all the successful conservative politicians for a resounding victory in Italy!