The president of the European Committee of the Regions warned on Tuesday (9 October) that Cohesion policy plays an important role in the European Union and should not be cut in the EU’s next long-term budget.
“Because cohesion is a policy that helps our territories to develop; because cohesion is a policy for the future, designed to tackle the great challenges of our time, while also meeting day-to-day demands,” Karl-Heinz Lambertz told the plenary of the Committee of the Regions in Brussels.
Although Lambertz has defended on several occasions Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s proposal, which envisions 10% cuts for Cohesion, he insisted on the need to preserve regional development policy in his speech. “We reject these disproportionate cuts,” the president warned.
The president admitted that the Council and the Parliament would face major constraints such as Brexit or a lack of will from member states to increase the national contributions to the budget, needed to match the challenges Europe is facing.
However, Lambertz insisted, “we must aim high because time is short.” He called on the 27 as well as the Parliament to reach an agreement on the new EU long-term budget before the next European elections in May 2019.
“The leaders of the member states give the impression that they are avoiding or putting off the work of agreeing on the next European budget,” he said, “this time-wasting is creating great uncertainty, just when Europeans need prospects for the future.”
‘Nationalism means war’
The rise of far-right populist movements is one of the main challenges Europe is facing with the parliamentary elections on the horizon and Lambertz fiercely attacked nationalism, just like Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker did on Monday.
“We must never forget that nationalism means war” while Europe, the president of the Committee of Regions stressed, “means peace.”
This peace, the president argued, is partly the result of cities and regions hard work as well.
“Day after day, our cities and regions are fighting to uphold co-existence in Europe,” Lambertz defended, at a time when antagonism and divergences are growing at national and European level.
“An exhausted Europe, lacking the means to act, would represent a victory for those who want to see its demonize,” he said.
Lambertz emphasised, as Juncker did on Monday, that Europe is “its nations and regions”.
“In the past, I have fought for Europe’s support in helping my region to develop, and today I am fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with you to ensure that our cities and regions can build Europe,” Lambertz told the plenary.
Lambertz, who regretted that Juncker had not mentioned even once local authorities in his State of the Union speech, defended the important role of regions and cities in building Europe on his own.
“The State of the Union is also – and perhaps above all – the state of its municipalities, its cities and its regions,” Lambertz insisted.
He highlighted the need for local authorities to praise the achievements of the European integration, “many of which would not have been possible without cohesion policy”.
Because regions and cities are an indispensable part of the Union, Lambertz warned, “to weaken our municipalities, our cities, our regions is to weaken our Union”. He called for a more decentralised model in which regions and cities have more to say about European policymaking.
Bringing people closer to Europe
Lambertz defended the role of the Committee of the Regions in bringing Europe closer to its citizens, as it represents local authorities. “Our assembly must become a forum where Europeans come together to shape their Europe,” the president insisted.
The Committee of the Regions’ added value, Lambertz said, “lies in the fact that we bring local and regional concerns to the European level and, in return, bring European concerns back to grassroots.”
“When the European institutions are campaigning for Europe, it is crucial that they highlight the Union’s direct contribution to improving the lives of Europeans,” he underlined.
To ensure that this system works, citizens dialogues carried out by several EU institutions over the past few years must become a permanent structure, to boost the “democratic dimension of the EU,” Lambertz argued.
Together with the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Committee of the Regions will propose establishing these continual conversations with citizens.