In Bucharest, local leaders call to rebuild the EU from the bottom

Aleksandra Dulkiwicz, Mayor of Gdańsk Markku Markkula, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania and Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions, during the presentation of the 'Bucharest Declaration'. [European Union / Denis Closon]

Hundreds of European local and regional leaders demanded a bottom-up approach to rebuild the EU, during the 8th Cities and Regions summit in Bucharest ahead of the informal European Council on the future of Europe in Sibiu in May. 

“We, European Union politicians elected at the regional and local level, are convinced that the European Union needs its regions and cities as much as they need the European Union,” they stated in the so-called ‘Bucharest Declaration’. 

A thousand participants filled the corridors of the vast seat of the Romanian Parliament, the second largest administrative building in the world, which hosted the event aimed at providing a space for discussion among local leaders. 

The document signed is the result of months of consultation between the members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), a consultive body of the EU. 

Leaders of regions and cities defended the need for a more subsidiary and decentralized Europe after Brexit, to “increase transparency, accountability and quality of policy-making with better engagement with citizens.”

At a time when European citizens are losing confidence in the institutions, they claimed, “the link between the Union and its citizens should be reinforced.” Here, cities and regions play a fundamental role. 

“(The) EU’s cities and regions, and their elected representatives provide proximity, trust and stability in the Union at a time when divergences and antagonisms are growing,” the Bucharest Declaration states.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis praised the link between local and regional leaders and citizen as did President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in a video message.

“This direct connection with the citizens gives the Committee of Regions extra legitimacy, and when we speak of governance, legitimacy is a crucial aspect,” Iohannis said, “you are the institution that feels Europe’s pulse in the best way.”

“If you lose trust in Europe, then, there is no Europe,” Tusk stressed.

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A three-dimension Europe

Local and regional leaders claimed that the governance in the Union should not bi-dimensional – involving national governments and EU institutions – but tri-dimensional and therefore include the cities and regions in the decision-making process, also on the debate of the future of Europe. 

“Nobody can rebuild Europe on their own. We have to mobilize the representatives elected by the European citizens in cities, regions, countries and in the European Parliament,” Karl-Heinz Lambertz, the president of the CoR, said. 

“The European Union needs its cities and regions just as much as the cities and regions need the European Union,” he stressed. ”To rebuild trust, to reconnect with its citizens and to renew Europe, the EU needs its over one million local and regional politicians,” Lambertz said. 

The president of the Committee called on regional and local leaders “to recognise the Europe dimension of their work as well.”

“To shape the EU we want, we have to do work together at all levels, including local and regional,” Tusk agreed. 

More social cohesion

Globalisation, the digital revolution, climate and demographic chang are the main challenges Europe is facing, according to participants.

“If we do not want Europea integration to become a reversible process, these transformations,” the CoR warned, “have to be accompanied, shaped, and regulated through a concentrated effort at all levels of government.”

The Bucharest Declaration highlights the need for the EU to keep investing in territorial and social cohesion beyond 2020. 

The Committee of the Regions “together with the heads of state and government,” is committed to building a Europe of cohesion, “a united Europe of solidarity.” A Europe, president Lambertz said, “that provides us with the necessary resources to act effectively and to support European citizens.”

“A Europe that ensures economic and social progress for all citizens of the Union, wherever they live,” he stressed. 

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Brexit as a wake-up call 

The focus on reconnecting with citizens is not by accident. The summit was intended to take place only a few weeks ahead of the European Council in Sibiu, before the UK’s departure from the EU.

The star-speaker was the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier who, in spite of the recent developments in London, decided to join the debate on the future of Europe after Brexit, stealing the show. 

As the House of Commons voted for an extension of the Article 50 negotiations, Barnier was still walking down the corridors of the Romanian Parliament. 

The EU’s chief negotiator took stock of a two-year negotiation, which has been technically but not politically concluded. He warned the British that “if the UK still wants to leave and wants to do it in an orderly manner” the withdrawal agreement, as it is, is the only option. 

“The consequences of Brexit are innumerable and were largely underestimated in the vote and even after,” Barnier said. The deal “provides legal assurances, certitude, there were Brexit has created uncredited.” 

The decision of the Commons on Tuesday (12 March) to reject it “only prolongs and worsen this uncertainty,” he warned. 

“Brexit is a wake-up call for those who believe in the European Union and for those who believe they can live without it,” the president of the CoR told the audience during the Cities and Regions summit in Bucharest.

“We will not live better outside Europe. In a globalized world, we are never stronger alone,” he warned, “let’s hope that the adventure does not end up in catastrophe,” Lambertz stressed.  

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