5th Dec 2023


State of the Union? Cities and regions will be pivotal

  • Gdansk. 'Too many of the initial coronavirus measures were taken at national level, and often overlooked the crucial role that our local and regional governments were playing' (Photo: kishjar?)

It's the political highlight of the EU political season: Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will make her first State of the Union speech on Wednesday (16 September). Needless to say, she will be doing so during one of the EU's most difficult periods, with a renewed wave of Covid-19 and an unprecedented economic contraction.

With loans and grants worth €750bn, the European recovery plan constitutes an historic act of solidarity for our continent and a turning point for our Union.

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Let us be clear: without this new financial windfall, we will not be able to overcome a crisis of colossal proportions like the current one. But we need to look further: the EU is not only about money and the recovery plan should not be seen simply as a series of numbers.

To power the recovery plan, we, mayors, local and regional leaders from across Europe, call for strong and effective partnerships between all levels of government, not only to lead the way out of the crisis, but to lay the foundations for a resilient and sustainable Europe.

Early mistakes

We must avoid repeating the mistakes of the early weeks of the crisis.

Too many of the initial measures were taken at national level, without European coordination, and often overlooked the crucial role that our local and regional governments were playing in their constituencies. Coordination between the different levels of governance can and must be improved.

Cities and regions have been at the forefront of managing the crisis - but they are hurting.

Cities and regions have provided essential services in social care, waste management, sanitation, mobility and healthcare, while doing their utmost to limit the risk of further infection.

With the European economy forecast to contract by over eight percent in 2020, there will be severe consequences for workers and businesses, including in the retail, cultural and hospitality sectors.

Municipalities and regions are also suffering from huge shortfalls in revenue – estimated in the billions and up to 20 percent of local taxes in some countries – threatening their ability to provide public services. The situation is critical for us all.

Our cities and regions have already proven their ability to contain the pandemic and protect our citizens' well-being.

Covid-19 is local, not just global

In many countries, management of the pandemic is being localised as it has proven that tailored measures are most effective.

This is why we, as mayors and regional leaders, will not accept being mere implementers of European and national public policies, without having our say. We want to be and must be agents of change.

To ensure this, we need a paradigm shift for governance in Europe We, as leaders representing all municipalities and regions in Europe, call on EU and national leaders to work with us and mobilise all our energies to build the new model of development our fellow citizens expect.

Covid-19 is nature's warning sign: we must not rely on an economic model out of harmony with the environment.

The EU's Green Deal should be the motor for a recovery that transforms our economy, making it more sustainable, inclusive and resilient to future shocks.

Cities are already paving the way. During the crisis, kilometres of bike lanes were built, streets were transformed to make way for improved walking paths and a higher number of city centres were pedestrianised.

As member states draw up their own national recovery plans, we have to make sure that local and regional leaders will be fully involved in their design and implementation.

This will be the only way to guarantee that the recovery plans truly ensures the wellbeing of our citizens.

One million politicians elected at local and regional level across Europe deliver vital services for their people and communities. Who could be better placed to ensure that EU money is spent in those sectors that really need our support?

To succeed, our territories need to be empowered.

In recent years, cities and regions have witnessed an increase in responsibilities, while their access to national funding has dwindled.

This is why the European commission should ensure direct and simplified access to EU funding and extend flexibility for state aid assisting local businesses.

From a broader and longer-term perspective, we urge the commission to establish a permanent dialogue with us through our representative organisation, the Council of European Municipalities and Regions.

Now planned to last until the summer of 2022, the Conference on the Future of Europe is another opportunity not to be missed to strengthen cooperation with local and regional governments.

This conference offers a historic opportunity for the EU to consult and engage all levels of government. European and national leaders must develop a permanent dialogue with us and, through us, with a wide range of citizens.

Europe's recovery plan has great potential not only to reinvigorate our economy, but also to transform our way of doing.

By working with and empowering our cities and regions, our Union will emerge from this crisis stronger and better able to tackle the coronavirus crisis, the climate emergency and the future challenges ahead.

Author bio

Stefano Bonaccini is president of Emilia Romagna region and president of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions. Yordanka Fandakova is mayor of Sofia. Jan Van Zanen is mayor of The Hague. Aleksandra Maria Dulkiewicz is mayor of Gdansk.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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