Sunday

16th Jan 2022

Opinion

Conference on Future of Europe must listen to local voices

  • The Conference on the Future of Europe can be a bridge to local communities (Photo: Alice Latta)

Throughout these difficult times, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the one million regional and local elected politicians in more than 300 regions and 90,000 municipalities it represents, never stopped working to serve the people living in regions, cities and villages across Europe.

As the pandemic crisis has clearly shown, our Union's foundations lie in our local communities. As local leaders, our responsibilities are great – from running health services and schools to providing social services in these troubled times.

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Despite the unprecedented difficulties, we have found new ways to encourage research, support businesses, adapt the local economy, and work with civil society. We have been fighting side by side with doctors and nurses.

The months ahead will continue to be difficult for all of us, but there is light at the end of the tunnel if we work in solidarity and continue striving for a smooth and comprehensive vaccination campaign. We must make sure that our key values of cohesion and solidarity remain the principles for the vaccination strategy in the EU and its regions.

We must avoid competition for vaccines between member states and within member states and avoid a 'vaccine divide' that would increase inequalities between our regions, cities and villages.

Europe must emerge from this crisis more resilient and formally recognise the central importance of local and regional administrations. We are a cornerstone for the health, prosperity, resilience and vibrancy of our local communities.

We must ensure that EU funds are used effectively to help the recovery of our local communities. We must be fully involved in designing and implementing EU and national recovery plans.

Our contribution is key to forging policies that manage the fundamental societal transformations we are facing. Covid-19 is one of those transforming forces. So too are the climate crisis, the digitalisation of our economies and the demographic evolution.

Trust will pull us through this crisis, and we, locally and regionally elected leaders, are the most trusted level of government. We know best the citizens' needs and concerns and we know how to address them via concrete actions on the ground.

'House of European Democracy'

If we are to boost the European project we must enhance its democratic functioning. We must build together our common 'House of European Democracy' with its roof - the European Union, its walls – the member states, and its foundations – the regions, cities and villages.

The Conference on the Future of Europe is a great opportunity to strengthen the democratic functioning of the EU.

The conference is not an objective per se : its goal must be to honestly engage with people, also via the European Committee of the Regions that represents the vote of the citizens living all across Europe.

We can make sure that citizens participate in this process and have their say because local and regional authorities are the closest and most trusted level of government.

By listening to our people, the conference must allow an honest reflection through a profound democratisation process. We want less institutional complexity and more democratic representation of people's trust via their vote in the European, national, regional and local elections.

Our recently established high-level group on democracy led by former European Council president Herman van Rompuy will strive our committee's contribution to the conference.

We will team-up with the business sector and the civil society, the youth associations and the territorial European and national associations and of course with the three EU institutions which are steering the conference – Parliament, Commission and Council.

Our local dialogue on 9 May marks the territorial dimension of the conference and in addition to many local dialogues across the UE, we will organise the summit of regions and cities during the French EU presidency in early 2022 in Marseille.

As governors, presidents of regions, mayors, regional and local councilors we have been at the forefront, fighting the pandemic, and now we are ready to start the recovery. Today Europe and its people need trust and leadership.

The Conference on the Future of Europe can contribute to this process if it genuinely and concretely involves our local communities and if it gives voice to people in our regions, cities and villages. This is key to avoid a top-down exercise that would only feed the demagogic and anti-European false narrative of populists and eurosceptics.

Our purpose, as the European Committee of the Regions, is to establish a strong regional and local dimension of the entire conference in all EU member states, by engaging with citizens at regional and local level.

We are fully convinced that by working together, based on mutual respect, we can increase the trust of our citizens in our common European project, strengthen the EU democratic architecture and bring Europe closer to its people.

Disclaimer

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

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