Written by Vasileios Margaras,
To provide an opportunity for deeper reflection on the role of regions and cities in the EU in the years to come, the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliamentary Research Service organised a joint discussion on 16 October 2019, moderated by Etienne Bassot, Director of the Members’ Research Service, EPRS.
First Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness (EPP, Ireland), welcomed the participants. She reminded them that, while many regions and cities were badly affected by the financial crisis and some regions have bounced back, others have still not returned to their pre-2008 level. Support for the regions lagging behind is important. In addition, many people feel a sense of disconnection between the ‘Brussels’ policy-making world and their daily life. It is therefore important to better engage people in EU politics, and a bottom-up dialogue with citizens should take place at local grassroots level. The quest for a more positive narrative for Europe is another important aspect.
President of the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development (REGI), Younous Omarjee (GUE/NGL, France), began by mentioning the many challenges (such as demography, migration, climate change, globalisation, the transition to a carbon-free economy) that European regions face. He stated that it is important for cohesion policy to have the budget allocation it deserves, so that the EU can fulfil its ambitions. Regional policy has measurable results, which are evident in all parts of Europe. However, it is very important to improve communication about this policy.
Turning to the uncertainties of Brexit, not to mention the proposed cuts in resources which will have a negative impact on the EU budget, President of the European Committee of the Regions Karl-Heinz Lambertz, underlined that delayed adoption of the next long-term EU budget, will undermine the ability of EU regions and cities to realise projects on the ground. Regarding the European elections, the President stated that on one hand, the high turnout showed that citizens are greatly interested in the EU. On the other hand, there is also a high level of frustration, resulting in large support for anti-European parties and abstention. Entering into dialogue with citizens during an election period is not enough. Citizens must be actively involved in European democracy by being able to share their views through permanent channels of consultation. As part of the foundation of EU democracy, cities and regions should be recognised as crucial partners in the further development of the Future of Europe.
In her turn, Ulrike Guérot, Professor at the Danube-University Krems, Austria, author, and founder of the European Democracy Lab in Berlin, suggested that the common good, res publica, can be the guiding principle of new proposals for a future European community. The continent can transform itself into a post-national, truly democratic, just, and fair place, a European Republic. Various important projects can help towards this idea. For instance, establishing a European identity card would, apart from its functional advantages, also serve to create a common sense of identity amongst the citizens of Europe. Ulrike Guérot also spoke in favour of a bottom-up citizens’ dialogue.
A lively dialogue followed the discussion, with members of the audience posing a number of questions on topics such as the integration of migrants, cross-border cooperation and transnational voting lists.