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23rd Jan 2021

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'Ask the locals' on future EU, says outgoing regions chief

  • 'In Brussels, you need to make people 'regional-minded' and not only 'European-minded', president of the Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, said (Photo: European Parliament)

The president of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), Karl-Heinz Lambertz, has warned that the European Union must give a stronger voice to regional and local authorities in order to bring Brussels policy-making closer to citizens.

"I am sure that making stronger the local and regional dimension of the European framework is the only way to bring the European Union closer to citizens," he said.

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Lambertz, who ends his mandate as CoR president this week, hopes that the EU's assembly of local and regional representatives will have more influence in the European decision-making process in the near future - especially in the context of subsidiarity and during the 'trialogues'.

The Conference for the Future of Europe - aimed at reconnecting to citizens - will be an opportunity to increase the visibility of the institution, but "we should be correctly represented to have a substantial contribution," he said.

"Each big challenge in the 21st century has a European dimension, but EU policies can only be correctly implemented if they take into consideration the local and regional diversity on the ground," he told EUobserver.

"In Brussels, you need to make people 'regional-minded' and not only 'European-minded'," he warned, adding that this connection with the reality on the ground is a unique selling point of the CoR.

The CoR can help in two ways, he said: firstly, through the connections with more than 300 regional representatives in Brussels, and secondly visiting and making contacts in situ.

However, the presidents of the European Commission, European Parliament and the European Council are not always 'regional-minded', but it is the function and the obligation of the CoR to bring this dimension into the discussion and ensure that it will not be neglected, he told this website.

'Frugal Five' vs 'Friends of Cohesion'

Europe has suffered one crisis after another during the past 25 years, and current problems, he says, are not smaller than before - but maybe even bigger.

"We have less common values and there is still a great difference between the north and south and west and east," he warned, insisting that this plays a crucial role in many policies, such as the ongoing negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) or the Green Deal.

In the context of the MFF, the so-called 'Frugal Five' - Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark - advocate for a reduced budget, due to the departure of the UK, while the 'Friends of Cohesion' - Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - defend a fully-funded cohesion policy.

It was a "real challenge" for the CoR to come up with a position on the MFF in time for the parliament's vote, Lambertz said.

However, the opinion of his institution was clear: calls for smaller cohesion policy funds are not possible, as Europe needs a future where the differences between regions are not growing but convergent, he said.

"Among others, environment, digitalisation or innovation are priorities for the cohesion policy [so] there is no contradiction between the Green Deal and cohesion policy," he said.

Meanwhile, the EU must ensure sufficient regional investment through its cohesion policy, as well as through the just transition fund (JTF), to achieve the objectives of the Green Deal, but these mechanisms should not undermine each other, Lambertz warned, ahead of the presentation of the JTF earlier this month.

"The new European Commission had a strong start with the Green Deal, but what will be the result of it? You must take into account the regional and local dimension before you take any European decision because the most important question is how these policies can work on the ground," he added.

There are still many challenges ahead, "we do not have all the answers now, but the response must be European," he concluded.

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