The EU and its Member States have faced unprecedented challenges in recent years. Citizens rightly demand more jobs and long term sustainable growth. They expect a more effective response to migration. They want to see all governments maintain stability in and outside EU borders. These issues directly affect Europe’s local and regional governments and the communities they serve which is why they are priorities for the European Committee of the Regions. The answers lie in deepening cooperation among all spheres of society and delivering a new entrepreneurial mindset. We need to engage all levels of government and strive to create a Europe that meets these 21st-century challenges.
Realising this change in mindset must start by making better simpler EU legislation that delivers jobs and demonstrates the added value of the EU. Unemployment has fallen from 11.5% in 2014 to 10.5% in 2015 but this is not enough. This is why first and foremost economically profitable, socially inclusive and sustainable growth is the priority for local and regional governments. We recently held a Europe-wide survey with the OECD which showed that public investment has fallen in over 40% of local and regional governments since 2010. Recovering from the crisis and creating a prosperous Europe must start by closing this development gap. Investment has fallen due to increased social burden and falling tax-income, but also due to the inability to deliver innovative collaboration between all levels of government.
Sustainable growth can only be delivered by pulling resources from all sectors and through joint collaboration between the public, private and civil sectors. The EU must listen to the knowledge, experience and understanding of those delivering legislation on the ground to progress and move forward. Given three-quarters of EU laws are implemented by local and regional governments, creating an EU that works must take into account the territorial impact of its policies and initiatives.
The Committee – the EU’s institution of local and regional leaders – is committed to supporting entrepreneurialism, investing in start-ups, growing industries and driving partnerships based on smart specialisation. As local and regional leaders we know what works and what investment is needed. For many regions and cities, the €350bn of EU structural funding and the recently launched EU Investment Plan are lifelines that can make the difference in delivering services and attracting private investment. This is why the Committee is working in partnership with the European Commission and the European Investment Bank to exploit the opportunities offered by these 2 financing tools.
Given the impact on communities and public services, managing migration in Europe is high on the political agenda. Part of the response must be through building ties across borders. The Committee is continuing to work through platforms, such as the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM), where local and regional leaders from in and outside Europe meet to share challenges and co-create solutions. Only in January, we agreed during our ARLEM meeting in Cyprus to co-create “The Nicosia Platform” which will assist Libyan cities.
What is clear is that we must try new methods to build a better Europe. We need more open innovation. We need more experimenting, piloting and rapid prototyping. We need to use the knowledge and expertise in all sectors to create new jobs, drive prosperity and create sustainable communities. The EU needs to reinvent itself to reflect the changing times of our world and show it can reform. It needs to reassert the fundamental principles it was founded upon – a progressive Europe built on aspiration, social cohesion, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, guided by subsidiarity. We must always ask ourselves before introducing new EU laws or deciding how to spend our precious resources: how does it benefit citizens.
European Committee of the Regions