Europe – invest and connect

AG Editor, Laura Evans, and Adjacent Oil and Gas Editor, Katy Edgington attended the 7th European Regions and Cities Summit in Bratislava. Here they report on the 2 day event and how investment and collaboration is key for Europe to move forward…

A week after Slovakia took over the Presidency of the Council of Europe, around 700 politicians including local and regional leaders, met in the capital city of Bratislava to discuss investment in the regions. The event, which was organised by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), the Bratislava Self-Governing Region, and the City of Bratislava, aimed to tackle the investment gap experienced by some regions in the EU.

One of the key outcomes of the summit was the adoption of the Bratislava Declaration. The summit, where the slogan of ‘Invest and Connect’ echoed throughout the 2 days, was the perfect place to launch the declaration.

Throughout the meeting, members of the CoR gathered to join in debates and round table events on the topic of the persistent investment gap which represents a threat to future growth and job creation across EU cities and regions. The need to consider how to improve the effectiveness of the €351.8bn of EU funding (almost a third of the total EU budget) set aside for Cohesion Policy, was also highlighted.

One of the key speakers in attendance was Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions. During a number of keynotes he stressed the role of cities and regions for creating sustainable growth and the importance of creating an investment plan for Europe.

“Growth and investment gaps in the EU’s regions are still widening 8 years after the financial crisis, severely hindering long-term growth,” he said. “We must encourage all levels of actors and mobilise private and public resources to reverse this trend and achieve tangible results on the ground.”

Brexit was also still fresh in everyone’s mind at the conference, and at the opening press conference, President Markkula described the result as “especially unfortunate, given that it comes at a time when, in Europe and across the globe, we should be focussing our resources on tackling burning social, economic and environmental challenges”.

Jennette Arnold, Deputy Chair of the London Assembly, spoke at the summit about the disappointing result and how the City of London may be able to benefit from it.

“As you know, London is a global city. It has an excellent international reputation, as a tolerant and respectful city, two key markers of its success and its attractiveness,” she said.

“The next Prime Minister must work with the Mayor of London to build on this reputation so that the capital can maintain its position as a leading World and European City.

“Over 800,000 EU citizens live in London, contributing to our communities, they underpin the social fabric and economy. It is therefore vital that EU nationals working and living in London feel fully reassured that they are welcomed, and that they will continue to be appreciated, in London and the rest of the UK, now and in the future.”

As the investment gap for regions and cities gets bigger – local and regional governments account for 60% of public investment, with their money going notably into education, health, social spending, transport and general public services. This gap makes it all the more important to ensure fuller and more effective use is made of EU funds, and guarantee there are greater synergies between the funds and other financial instruments.

Throughout the event, Politicians highlighted the need to tackle growing regional disparity. Pavol Frešo, Governor of the Bratislava Self-Governing Region also spoke, saying: “EU funding accounts for around 80% of investment by public authorities in Slovakia, so EU money is crucial to Slovakia’s development. But we need to do more with that money especially following the uncertainty following the UK’s EU Referendum result “Maximising investment requires work not only by the

EU, but also by national, regional and local authorities in every country. EU funds must also be extended to cover education, social affairs, health and transport so I am glad to see this reflected in the Bratislava Declaration.”

A recent report by the OECD revealed that many of Europe’s regions and cities have seen public investment drop substantially since 2008. The Bratislava Declaration praises a special investment fund created by the European Commission in 2015, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), saying that it is “showing great potential”. The Declaration calls for it to be combined with the EU’s Cohesion Policy to ensure other regions also benefit from the fund, which uses public investment to leverage private investment.

The EFSI is an initiative which was launched jointly by the EIB Group – European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Investment Fund – and the European Commission to help overcome the current investment gap in the EU. As one of the 3 pillars of the Investment Plan for Europe, the EFSI aims to mobilise private financing for strategic investments.

Vice-President of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen echoed the comments made by Markku Markkula and highlighted his commitment to encouraging local and regional local authorities to take full advantage of investment opportunities provided by the EU.

“I also want to stress that the combination of Structural Funds with the European Fund for Strategic Investments is possible, both at project and at investment platform level. We rely on the help of our local and regional partners to spread the message about the opportunities that exist under the Investment Plan.”

Speaking to members at the event, Vice-President Katainen started that people should “be active and look at what other countries have done. Investment opens your eyes to fascinating opportunities that are at your disposal.”

Supporting the transition of cities to smart and sustainable cities was another topic on the agenda. Highlighting the role of smart cities and regions was one of the keynote speakers, Professor Jeremy Rifkin. An adviser to the EU and to national leaders for more than 10 years, Rifkin argued that the advance of the digital economy, which is one of the priorities of the European Commission, signifies a third industrial revolution. The convergence of the familiar ‘communications internet’, the developing ‘energy internet’, and an ‘automated transport internet’, he says “… will allow small businesses, large companies, whole regions to use this new digital technology for communication, energy and transport to dramatically increase their aggregate efficiencies across the value chains”.

The majority of speakers agreed that investment and collaboration are key in order to create cities for citizens of the future. The overall message received from the event was that we need to unlock the investment potential of EU regions and allow them to be Europe’s pioneers. As President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula said: “It’s time to act and think outside the box – we must invest and collaborate together to connect Europe.”

Laura Evans

Editor

AG

Katy Edgington

Editor

Adjacent Oil and Gas

editorial@adjacentopenaccess.org

www.adjacentgovernment.co.uk

www.twitter.com/Adjacent_Gov

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