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15th Apr 2024

EU regions: pandemic should force decision-making rethink

The delayed Conference on the Future of Europe should take place as soon as possible as it is a "timely opportunity" to debate how to make local and regional authorities fully-involved in the EU-wide response to Covid-19, the Committee of the Regions warned on Friday (11 September).

The planned conference, a two-year initiative which aims to reconnect citizens with Brussels, was initially scheduled to start on Europe's day (9 May), but the coronavirus pandemic postponed it.

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Although the three main EU institutions have not reached a common position yet, the regions committee expects the conference to be launched under the current German presidency of the European Council - most probably with an online format.

"The committee is ready to team up with the German laender [regions] in order to bring forward the voice of the EU's one million locally and regionally-elected representatives," said the president of the committee Apostolos Tzitzikostas.

"Now is the time to ensure that, in addition to the national and EU authorities, regional and local authorities are recognised, once and for all, as one of the three dimensions of our European 'house of democracy'," he added.

While EU countries ruled out treaty changes in the wake of the conference, local and regional authorities consider that the event cannot be just a forum for discussion. Instead, it needs to pave the way for concrete changes and reforms decided "collectively".

The German secretary of state for federal, European and international affairs for North Rhine-Westphalia, Mark Speich, urged leaders to leave an open door for treaty changes.

"We need to reflect on the future architecture of the EU, and the conference is a vital opportunity to do it. We need the courage for change, even for treaty changes," Speich said.

For his part, Christophe Rouillon, mayor of the French commune Coulaines, said the conference gives institutions the chance to create a public space to discuss matters of concern - such as housing, taxation, digital platforms and health.

'First line of defence'

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has raised questions about the bloc's response to major crises - especially since the first reaction from EU capitals was often to take unilateral decisions, and put their national interests first.

"[But] from managing the return to school, to coping with the pressures on health services, to securing jobs and supporting SMEs, regional and local authorities continue to be the first line of defence during this tragic pandemic," said Tzitzikostas.

He stressed that member states are relying on local and regional authorities to overcome the challenges of the second wave of the pandemic.

The pandemic also put pressure on all levels of EU governance to work together effectively, setting higher expectations from the European Commission's Better Regulation Agenda, the committee said.

"Local, regional, national and European actors must combine their efforts - in this way we can ensure that we not only bounce back from the crisis but bounce forward, building a green, digital and fair Europe," EU commissioner for inter-institutional relations Maroš Šefčovič told members of the committee.

EU regions insisted that their technical feedback, at an early stage of implementing EU law, is key for success, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Future of Europe Conference: Council urged to move now

MEPs want to launch the delayed two-year event in September, which would require a joint position of the three main EU institutions before summer. EU commissioner Maroš Šefčovič is optimistic about reaching an EU Council's position under the Croatian presidency.

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