EU ignoring regions’ Lisbon Treaty rights: Vienna mayor

european_flag1.jpg [Reuters]

National administrations and the European Commission are ignoring the regions' new right to shape EU decisions under the Lisbon Treaty, Mayor of Vienna Michael Häupl told EURACTIV in an interview.

Häupl, a social democrat who has been citizen-in-chief of Vienna since 1994, is also president of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), a post to which he was elected in 2004, succeeding former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing.

Speaking to EURACTIV before a Brussels meeting with EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who is also from Vienna, Häupl argued that many national administrations are failing to maintain the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty.

The treaty, he stressed, was designed to reinforce the democratic input of national and regional parliaments in EU decision-making, via the so-called subsidiarity principle (see 'Background').

But as a result of national intransigence, he claims powerful regions such as Vienna are losing out and must start to make their voices heard, pressuring national governments into fully recognising these changes.

Häupl said he intends to mobilise CEMR members in the coming months to obtain full recognition of regions' rights under the Lisbon Treaty.

The CEMR is the largest organisation of local and regional government in Europe, bringing together more than 50 national associations of towns, municipalities and regions from 38 countries. Together these associations represent some 100,000 local and regional authorities.

Commission also ignoring subsidiarity?

According to the Vienna mayor, the European Commission is also failing to live up to its pledges on subsidiarity.

In its recently published work programme (EURACTIV 01/04/10) and its draft 'Europe 2020' strategy for green growth and jobs, there is "no mention at all" of subsidiarity, Häupl claimed, arguing that "the Commission is to a certain extent ignoring the role of cities and regions in its continuous work".

"I think the Commission has not realised what this new treaty really is in respect of cities and regions," he said.

Recognise the role of cities

As for the debate on the future reform of regional policy currently under way in Brussels and beyond, Häupl is in favouring of earmarking a certain percentage of EU regional funds for "big picture" targets, such as sustainable urban development, innovation and green research and development.

He also argued that it is possible at the urban level to measure precisely what EU funds are achieving, and he called on the EU to bring in more stringent assessments in order to analyse the results of regional funding targets.

"We want the urban dimension to be given sufficient attention in all the relevant sectoral funding mechanisms," he concluded.

Hahn is the man

Finally, the Vienna mayor backed his compatriot Hahn to do a good job for the regions, despite his being on the opposite side of the left-right political divide.

Häupl does not believe Hahn's focus will be too city-centric, as some Brussels regional players are whispering.

Vienna, as well as being a large city, is also a region, he points out, which has given Hahn the background of a "really good urban citizen" who has a strong policy knowledge of EU regional structures.

The Lisbon Treaty enshrines the principle of subsidiarity into EU law. It is intended to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made as to whether action at Community level is justified in the light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level.

EU regions have welcomed the changes as a positive step to ensuring more effective bottom-up governance across the EU. In fact, many regions actively expect to play a stronger and more prominent role in EU decision-making in future (EURACTIV 10/02/10).

For the first time "territorial cohesion" is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty as a fundamental objective of the European Union. The treaty also recognises local and regional autonomy and provides for greater subsidiarity monitoring by national and regional parliaments with legislative powers (such as the German Landtage).

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