Europe’s future lies in the hands of its regions and cities

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions, during his opening speech in the Regions and Cities summit in Bucharest. [European Union / Denis Closon]

As heads of state and government of the EU member states meet in Sibiu on Europe Day, Karl-Heinz Lambertz urges them to work towards a more cohesive, sustainable and democratic Europe.

Karl-Heinz Lambertz is the president of the European Committee of the Regions.

When national leaders sit together today in Sibiu, they need to offer more than just symbolic words of European solidarity. They need to be vocal that populist-led Euroscepticism offers no credible answers to the challenge of globalisation, the environmental crisis and or inequality.

They must lay out a vision for a more cohesive, democratic, fairer and sustainable future, acknowledging that only by working together, with its regions and cities, can the European Union deliver.

What is at stake is a European model that combines social security, solidarity and shared values of freedom, democracy and rule of law. Regions and cities – each of our communities – are a central pillar of European democracy.

All levels of government – EU, national, local and regional – have a shared responsibility to uphold these founding values. Empowering Europe’s one million local and regional leaders is a means of protecting the European Union.

Moreover, despite record highs of employment, regional disparities exist, youth unemployment in many countries is unacceptably high, and too many people are struggling to make ends meet.

The social dimension of the EU should, therefore, be strengthened putting social rights on par with economic rights. The EU is more than just a market. Whether it be youth unemployment or integrating migrants, regions and cities are on the frontline.

Our Committee’s Integration initiative is one example that whilst national governments fight over migrant numbers, regions and cities are guided by openness and pragmatism.

Our world is warming, biodiversity degrading and without urgent action, the impact immeasurable. Some member states are proposing that the EU becomes carbon-neutral by 2050, something our Committee – the EU’s assembly of 350 local and regional leaders – have been calling for since 2015.

We only need to look to the EU’s Covenant of Mayors, where more than 7,500 local and regional authorities voluntarily agreed to surpass the EU’s climate and energy targets, to demonstrate that local ambition is driving the global climate agenda.

The climate crisis will only be overcome by working as a Union, investing locally, to ensure all regions to make the transition.

The European Union needs its regions and cities as much as regions and cities need more European integration. No ambition can be reached without ambitious resources.  Member States must provide an EU budget equal to 1.3% of the EU’s Gross National Income.

It must focus this investment on tackling economic, social and territorial inequality, whilst supporting an ecologically just transition. The main tool to achieving this is the EU’s regional policy – cohesion policy – which is the only EU policy managed in partnership between all level of government that is responsive to the specific needs of each community.

Without cohesion, we will have no Union. This is why our Committee launched the #CohesionAlliance – supported today by more than 12,000 supporters covering 97% of the EU population – which demands cohesion policy to be one-third of the next EU budget for all regions.

The last stone to build a more integrated and effective Europe is to set up a “new way of working” giving regions and cities a stronger role throughout the decision-making process. It is all about ensuring closer proximity to people. This needs to be complemented by increasing the democratic participation of citizens within the EU through a permanent system of citizens’ dialogue.

For the EU to show unity and be more responsive to the need of its citizens, it needs its regions and cities. As citizens go to vote to decide the kind of Europe they want, we must offer more than words but a new vision that transforms the way it works, giving a greater voice so its regions and cities can deliver. It’s future, our children’s future,  that is at stake. 

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