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This Dossier, carried out with the support of the institutions and associations representing local, territorial and regional authorities in the European Union, will seek to promote the strategies implemented with regard to the Union’s policies, the different areas of priority action. It will illustrate the successes obtained, highlight the strengths and the territorial potential, highlight the exemplary actions and projects of local actors (whether public or private), and of course to detail the strategic directions and objectives for the future of Europe.
You will be celebrating your 25th birthday in 2019, could you come back to the creation of your institution, its evolutions and your positioning today vis-à-vis the other European institutions.
In Europe, as everywhere else, everything is changing. The Committee of the Regions was created in 1994 by the Maastricht Treaty to give local and regional authorities a voice.
At the time of its creation, it was not obvious. There were, at the same time, people convinced of its uselessness as there were people who wanted to make it a real decision-making body.
So the committee was set up as an advisory body just like the economic and social committee, and since then it has tried to find its place and I think it has gradually found it. The committee has the privilege of having to be asked about all the commission’s initiatives concerning local and regional authorities, but people are not obliged to follow its advice. So if you want to have an impact, the voice is simple enough. We must do what is necessary so that those who decide are ready to listen to you.
It is, therefore, a very intense relationship work to do with the parliament, the commission and the council. On the other hand, you must try to convince by the quality of what you say and there, the great strength of this committee, is that it’s the spokesman of the democratic institutions closest to the European citizen.
The European citizen does not live in the Council or the European Parliament, he lives where local and regional authorities deploy their activities and this is where he will finally judge Europe: “Is it something positive that improves my life, gives me hope, for me, my family and my grandchildren, or it’s something that bothers me, unnecessary constraints, that prevents me from evolving and that even as a result of pushing social standards down.
Through the quality of our advice, we can try to convey the views of citizens and local and regional organizations. Then, perhaps most importantly at the end, you can have great ideas and you may also have found the access to give notice and make you listen but the weight of what you say ultimately depends on what you have behind you.
The real strength is the fact that there are some 150,000 local authorities in the European Union, some 300 regions and if all these authorities, all these communities, become aware that they have something to do with our committee to evolve the European decision-makers then it becomes something that has some weight.
The history of our institution is a bit like the legislatures, but above all, we must improve our efficiency, and we want a process like that. If for the moment it may have become a little easier because we feel that in Europe something is wrong and we also feel that it is with the citizen that it does not work, then this opens a window to give weight to what citizens feel and say, and that’s what we want to do through the various operations we have launched.
Is it actually reducing the gap between European citizens and the European institutions?
Yes, there is a gap, but above all, there must be interconnectivity. On the one hand, the citizen must understand what Europe is doing, and sometimes Europe really has an art of explaining itself in such a way that at most what it says is understandable, and on the other hand it is also necessary that what is often said in a very simple way people reaches up to the ears and minds of European decision-makers. Things still remain to be done, even in the era of globalised digital communication, not all connections are not always in place.
You have launched a very important consultation entitled “Think about Europe” – we already see that important results are coming. With the positioning that you have I think of the task force on subsidiarity with the possibility of operating, or in any case, there is more than a consultation since it can be almost a possibility of blocking with this consultation. Today what are you expecting from this consultation? Will you assume all the results you receive because there is always a risk to consult and how will you use this consultation vis-à-vis the European institutions?
Before talking about this initiative “Think about Europe” maybe a word on how to participate in this kind of operation that’s an opportunity but obviously a risk. When you play in a room there’s always a risk.
We have already been able to be useful partners in many reflections on changes at the European level. I’m thinking of the task force on reducing red tape some time ago, I am thinking of an initiative to implement the Nature 2000 regulations on the pressure of nature and now with the subsidiarity taskforce, it really becomes a centrepiece that will be created. The commission decided to create this task force, it invited three partners, and two agreed to come: the national parliaments via their association and the committee of the regions. The European Parliament has not decided to associate for a lot of reasons of its own. For us this is a huge opportunity for two reasons: we are already, by the Treaty of Maastricht and even more that of Lisbon, little guardians of subsidiarity. We have the opportunity to intervene in the control procedures and we especially have the right to go to the court of law. A right that is sometimes more intelligent to mention the exercise only to actually do, but we are currently on a question where it is not excluded once we take this step. But subsidiarity is already something that plays a very big role in our work, just as it plays a very big role in the work of a lot of local authorities, especially in legislatures which, following the situation of internal law sometimes play a very active role.
We are a little in the heart of our raison d’être, but more importantly, even if it is difficult to define what is subsidiarity and even if behind the vocation of this principle often hide very divergent political objectives , one thing is certain, one doesn’t need be a doctoral dissertation writer to know that subsidiarity means that one begins first to exercise the skills where one is closer to the citizen. And here we are at the level of local authorities so this is the starting point. When I decided that the government should take care of something, and sometimes it is better to let people do the work but there are also great needs for political and public actions, so subsidiarity tells you first – let’s see if it can be done by the local authorities and then we need objective reasons or to objectify or objectifiable to say no, it is necessary to act at a national or European level. Subsidiarity is therefore a methodology, we must give the instruments, we must give a rationality. However, it is still at the end a political choice because according to the option I take for a certain policy I have a need for action at European level or on the contrary it is important not to act at this level. There is a good debate to be made and the definition of the tasks of the task force have been made in a very pragmatic way in three parts: first, improve the technique of subsidiarity control – “it’s something for the subsidiarity experts and there is a lot to say about that.” Then: what must be regulated at the European level, at the state and sub-national level – this is the real debate on the role of the European Union and then lastly, but also technical point – it concerns us existentially: what role should territorial governments play in this debate (subsidiarity) and the fact that the question is being asked already has meaning.
This question means at least two things: local authorities are not only and exclusively a question of the internal organization of a state. This is something that can have meaning in the way of managing the destiny of Europe and if that’s the case then it also means, if we think a little further, that it is absolutely necessary to have some form of decentralization so that it can work.
And there, look at the 27 states of the European Union after Brexit, or look at the 47 states of the Council of Europe where this exercise is used as well. So you see a tremendous diversity and maybe the Committee of the Regions is a place where this diversity is known, where we work on this issue, where we make comparisons, where we develop strategies, where we have ideas that are ideas solidly based on the everyday everyone’s experience. This is a really exciting goal. So will it lead to the big solution for all European problems, if you ask me the question, I would say that it can be a success, and it can be in any case a moment of clarification. For us, it will be in any case something that will serve us a lot for the reflection on our own future.
I believe that there are basically two aspects when I look at the social problem in relation to Europe. There are issues that Europe needs to be in control of, and then there’s also the rest where it’s important to look at what aspects of the policy in this social-environmental economic sector that needs to be addressed at the national and sub-national level or should be managed in Europe – That’s a nice debate and it’s really about the future of Europe.
This consultation seems to me essential and really important to sensitise the citizen and moreover on the eve of the European elections, but how do you get the message to say that you have real weight and that they have to talk now because you will be heard?
First, to reposition and reframe things, it is an attempt at clarification that can lead to results but no one can tell you what will be done with these results.
The only thing we know is that if we finish on time, the Austrian Presidency has said that it wants to make this debate a priority for the next six months. But I believe more fundamentally that Europe should now, before the European elections, manage to settle a number of things so that they are well on track. Compared to citizens I do not feel that he will now change his mind about Europe because somehow more or less intelligent people are thinking about subsidiarity. No, I believe that for the citizens the thing is actually simpler: as long as in his mind Europe is Brussels, Luxembourg or Strasbourg “these people in Brussels” and as long as he did not understand that the real European decision-maker must be where he lives with his local leaders and as long as every mayor, every regional leader, does not conceive as fundamentally as a European politician, we will not have arrived at a good destination. People live politics as a result and when you explain to them, “no it’s not me it’s the other one, it was not me the mayor, or it’s the president of the European Commission or Ministers x or y.” You can make speeches but you will not convince people of the value of the policy. The whole thing has to be integrated and here what is done in Europe has to be really understood and also implemented at local and regional level. What happens there must be the basis of what is decided in Europe or at least one of the bases of what is taking shape in Europe – and this process is stuck.
So with “Think about Europe” we try to change things, also without too many illusions, how many attempts at citizen dialogue have we already lived for fifteen years. Hundreds and hundreds of initiatives by the commission, by the parliament, by the national information offices, by everybody, by citizen initiatives, associations, many people do that. The thing we’re talking about most now is the initiative launched by the French president with its democratic conventions that now become citizen consultations so already semantically it becomes very interesting to analyse. There really is a certain helplessness which is reflected in the fact that everyone is trying to imagine dialogues, but at the same time, it is also a necessity and an opportunity. Today, I believe that European and national decision-makers are much more aware than before that there is really a need to do this and also at the Committee of the Regions we responded to a request from Mr Tusk at the time. We have tried with our means, with our members, with our possibilities for action in the communities to do something and to initiate debates. But for us now the most important thing is to land safely. We have already created the runway on which we want to land, our runway is our annual debate on the state of the union seen by local authorities that we made for the first time in October 2017 and will repeat in 2018. We will make it culminate with a very strong message at the upcoming Summit of European Cities and Regions before the Grand Summit states and government heads of state. Then we will redo a debate in October 2019 with the new parliament and the new commission. Now we try to condense the messages to avoid both the trap of too much technicality but also the trap, at least as big, too many phrases formulating banalities and that it is an effort that must be done now and it’s not that simple. But the key is also to be so attentive that we also perceive a nuance, a citizen debate in the south of Italy is not the same as a debate in eastern Poland or center of Germany or west of France.
Can we say that one of your missions today during your mandate is to convince even more territorial elected officials?
In relation to our mission and our structural capacity, our first recipient is the regional and locally-elected representative. We, the senior vice-president and others, try very hard to be present in elected associations. I visited an activity for example in the context of the conference of mayors of France and we regularly receive associations of Greek, German or Polish municipalities, it is very important to have contacts with associations but also with people themselves. Obviously, we can not make an appointment with each of the 150 000 mayors, but sometimes we have the opportunity to discuss with a hundred mayors in half a day, and that’s something extremely rich in lessons.
Do you think that the members of the committee or those you represent are satisfied today? Do you have any means to judge or analyse this satisfaction?
I do not need many ways to know that we still have a long way to go, but we still measure a little and sometimes there are some encouraging results but we must move much more. It’s a tremendous job and you have to start all over again because elected officials change, but it’s good, and that’s what’s concrete. We must try to combine the possibilities for all our members to be in situations where they can talk with colleagues or citizens about what are the major issues at the level of Europe at the beginning of the 21st century and what that we can do concretely on the ground on subjects such as climate, public investment, for example, social justice on subjects that are just naturally appropriate for this type of exercise.
What do you think of the announced multi-annual financial framework for cohesion funds?
It’s necessary to really approach the policy of cohesion with all the available horns! It’s fundamental! It’s a priority! We are fierce advocates of cohesion policy. We have taken a clear position and said that we want a strong cohesion policy endowed with substantial resources and open to all regions without any kind of conditionality. That was a strong message that is widely shared, and we see a lot of people who defend most of this especially recently by a joint resolution of the German Länder and the French regions that are still not anything in Europe. Moreover, we also know that at the end of all this, we will talk about money and when we talk about that the friendship is often limited a little bit. We look at what it brings back. But this debate on the long-term financial perspective is fundamental. Now, unfortunately, we really have something to defend and that is not so much in the context of a subsidiarity task force. This is rather our action here with reporters very active on different aspects. More importantly, we launched what is called a “Cohesion Alliance”, where we try to gather as many people as possible on nine specific points and spent a lot of time gathering signatures for this Alliance. We want to put pressure on this subject that is necessary because nothing comes by itself. The budgets for 2020-2030 are in preparation, it is the substance of the debate and with the exit from England, we now know that these budgets will be somewhat limited.
Regarding the European budget, If Europe is really this big after the War project then fantastic, who survives during the enlargement and the crisis, and how could we believe that 1% of the GDP could be enough?
It’s actually ridiculous. If we want to get out of this rotten debate net contributors when in reality everyone was net beneficiary of Europe, as the German Foreign Minister recently said in a forum, and it doesn’t matter if it comes from that side. If we want to get out of this we have to have a real system of own resources.
We will have no miracle, and we will have the consequences of Brexit. We’ll have a need for funding for new tasks and will have somewhere to land with a budget between 1.1% and 1.3%, as asked by the parliament.
We will need creativity and ideas to keep our policy alive and continue to develop. It is also a subject on which the committee spends a lot of time.
How is the cohesion policy important for the regions and the European project?
In the first place, I think it is important to emphasize that cohesion policy can benefit all regions. This project was created with the aim of levelling out the inequalities that exist between the different regions of Europe.
This cohesion policy is also the main investment tool in a crisis situation. Thus, during the last financial crisis, while some states have already paid in retirement and pensions, the first budget cuts have invariably affected investments. Several countries, including Greece, have received full funding for their investments from European funds.
In some countries, notably in Eastern Europe, the European Union still finances 80% of public investment. And the richest regions are not left out. In fact, wherever pockets of poverty persist, Europe invests significant resources in public structures, such as hospitals and schools.
While working on our own modernisation for several years, we are working to better meet the needs of the regions, both in terms of infrastructure and research and innovation; these two components are the real engines of growth, and that’s why the pursuit of the cohesion policy seems to me, essential today.
Today, we are here to highlight the importance of cohesion policy and to increase our visibility and, above all, to make our proposals heard in all European regions. According to our figures, more than 70% of Europeans do not know that it’s Europe that directly finances the schools where their children study, the hospitals that treat them or the roads they use every day. It is, therefore, necessary for me to be aware of the extent of European commitment in such fundamental areas. This commitment is essential to express the social and economic solidarity between the Member States.
What role do you think regions will play in the future of the European project?
Regions are of paramount importance, and I am committed to representing them in the various commissions. Of course, I defend their development needs, especially when resources at the national level are insufficient.
We have just celebrated 30 years of cohesion policy, and we hope to continue our mission for the next 30 years! We would also like to help all regions of the Member States to improve the quality of life of their inhabitants because this is our ultimate goal.
Conducting a cohesion policy is not an end in itself; our objectives are concrete: to improve the quality of a citizen’s life, their safety, their health, to participate in the fight against climate change, or to invest in innovation and research. We are working on many fronts, so I think that the specialisation strategies put in place by the regions to strengthen their strengths will pay off. Of course, not all regions are designed to look like Silicon Valley, but they are rich in many other important specialties, such as agribusiness or aeronautics. Always with a view to improving the quality of life, it is very important to work hand-in-hand with the regions, at the local level with the mayors and on a larger scale with the regional presidents.
What conclusions do you draw from this morning’s meeting?
The main purpose of this meeting was to report on the number of organisations supporting cohesion policies. This initiative, therefore, seems to be positive for the millions of citizens who are directly concerned, as well as for the Heads of State and the European Commission.
On 2 May, the committee will present its draft for the next EU financial period. The future of cohesion policy is found among the main legislators.
What is the role of regions in the future of the European project?
The future of Europe depends on the involvement of regions because we connect the European project more closely to its citizens. It is important that regions have a greater role in building a better future for Europe, not only when it comes to making EU policies work, but also in helping to define those policies so they support growth and prosperity.
The CPMR is an organisation that represents around 160 regions and 200 million people across Europe, and we think it is crucial that the voice of local and regional authorities is heard in discussions at EU-level on Europe’s future.
What is the added value of a network such as the CRPM for European debates?
The CPMR can bring the perspective and opinions of the regions to the attention of the European institutions, such as the European Commission. It’s not only a question of the CPMR being a lobby group, or relaying the positions of regional and local authorities, it’s also a think-tank that thinks about the challenges facing not only regions but also the challenges facing the European Union as a whole.
We are committed to the European project and we want it to succeed. Regions bring added value because they have a much closer perspective on what is important for citizens.
Let me put it this way, there are two steps for the future of Europe, beginning with the process. I think it’s important for the European Commission to take a stand on this issue and not only provide scenarios, but lay out a plan showing this is where we want to go and this is what we think should be done.
Secondly, I think it’s important for the Commission to have a very clear and firm understanding about what it considers to be the best policies for the European project
This brings us to the discussion about the EU Cohesion policy and the fact it is vital for the Commission to recognise the policy’s importance and to proactively convince others of its importance. I think there is a lot of work to do in the coming months to strengthen this policy, which is a crucial investment policy for regions.
This is why the CPMR is a member of the EU-wide Cohesion Alliance, a coalition of those who believe that Cohesion policy must continue to be a pillar of the EU’s future, so it can make a difference to the lives of citizens across Europe. This discussion is not only about resources, it’s not only about financing, it’s not only about money, it’s about the European dream itself.
Why is Cohesion policy important for regions?
Cohesion policy is one of the policies that matters most because it ensures that Europe works for the average citizen. A new school in your local area, or a new research or health facility, has been made possible because Europe has a policy that recognises regional and territorial cohesion must be achieved. That’s why the cohesion policy is so important.
You are the Vice President of the New Aquitaine Region, from your point of view what is the role of regions in Europe’s future?
The role of the regions is fundamental to Europe’s future, since 2014, the regions manage the European structural funds. It’s the cohesion policy, these budgets are one-third of the budget of the European Union; they are absolutely colossal amounts of euros that affect all our territories. There is really this contact, this mediation of regions in relation to the decisions of Brussels or Strasbourg and what is happening on the ground.
This is because we are the ones who know best where to invest, how to invest, and who to support based on our key regional priorities.
You chair the working group of the European Committee of the Regions on the budget of the Union, you are also a member of the CPMR; what’s the role and the added value of these organisations in the European debate?
This is an added value that is growing especially because of the public opinion problems throughout Europe and the rise of Euroscepticism. I would say that we are sensors for the Commission, since the Commission, which tended to directly propose a certain number of proposals to the Council which proved to be unpopular, more and more today we consult upstream of the drafting of their projects in order to gather our opinion. We represent the territories and are able to express the opinion of the citizens.
What is your opinion on the first trends in the budget proposed by the Commission this morning?
So there were first scenarios announced by the Commission on February 12 or 14, which were absolutely unacceptable. A pure provocation with three scenarios, two of which excluded a large number of regions from this cohesion policy which is already a major intellectual anomaly, since the cohesion policy must be universal by definition and addressed to all.
If you start to unravel Europe by saying you are contributing but there are only some countries that are entitled to this help then we are heading towards a sure-fire disaster. These proposals were totally unacceptable with even 30% reduction assumptions in the cohesion budget.
We noticed this morning that we return to more reasonable things. We also might wonder if this provocation was not a little overplayed in order to announce to us this morning that finally, it will be only 5%.
Are you satisfied with this minus 5% on the cohesion budget?
Of course not, even 5% reduction is absolutely unacceptable; we have a big need for investment in the European Union and in each of our regions. We observe that territorial inequalities are increasing and these disparities must really be borne by European cohesion funds. These funds are used for this purpose. We need to pay particular attention to all our territories, and to ensure a balance between the metropolises that create wealth and the more rural territories that need this wealth to develop over the entire territory.
We take charge, for example, of the economic development of SMEs – they are not all located in Metropolitan France, and this economic fabric that we know well can be supported by these cohesion funds. Thanks to these funds, we can support small farmers, support the creation of laboratories, fight against territorial inequalities. This struggle is fundamental and the European cohesion policy helps us to do this. We could not do it without the EU, surely not so well!
You said that last October when you were appointed the chair of the European Committee of the Regions working group: “we will ensure that the future multiannual financial framework preserves structural funds that irrigate our regions, our provinces and our cities”.
How are you going to do it?
Yes, it is indeed a showdown, however, we had the satisfaction this morning following the intervention of our parliamentary colleagues to see that we are exactly on the same wavelength. MEPs Jan OLBRYCHT and Isabelle THOMAS prepared reports on the future of the budget in the next multiannual financial framework.
We are talking about 2020 and the next seven years, what will be the budget requirements?
Their position, which we fully share in the Committee of the Regions, is that the overall budget must be increased by 1.3%.
Only then can we face the new skills we give ourselves, the new ambitions that we give ourselves. Everyone wants more solidarity, everyone wants the defence to become European, to welcome refugees with dignity, to put the package on the climate plan, border security. It’s good, we must and will face new challenges, but that can’t be to the detriment of the cohesion policy that has proven itself and is absolutely necessary.
We can not talk about competitiveness, innovation and territorial equality if we begin to draw money from the cohesion or CAP budget, thinking that in any case, we have to finance the new challenges. I say yes to the new challenges, but not abandoning the traditional policies that make the heart and sense of the political action of the European Union.
Will the fight really start after May 2nd?
Yes and no, the financial framework of the upcoming budget will be published 2 May by Commissioner Günther OETTINGER; it will indeed be the beginning of the negotiation. But it is a very important document and we know that when it is written, it is difficult to find real room for manoeuvring because the Member States have already given more or less their opinions on the subject. That is why we are already fighting before its publication to defend and imply that cohesion policy should not be sacrificed.
Could you please illustrate us the strong points of Tuscany Region?
Tuscany is a very heterogeneous region. Art, history and landscapes have made it famous all over the World, but it is also a very dynamic territory, characterized by highly advanced manufacturing firms, a natural vocation for the export and very specialized Universities.
After the 2009 Crisis, the Tuscan export has met an increase to an extent of +4,2% in 2017. Furthermore, Tuscany Region’s exportations increased more than the German ones demonstrating, considering also the length of the observation period, an assimilated competitiveness on foreign markets.
The sectors which met, more than others, a significant development are the manufacturing sector and tourism. For instance, the 2017 summer tourist season closed with an increase of 4% in terms of visitors, and this percentage has overcome the national average (3,7%).
In 2016, the manufacturing sector registered a 2,6 % growth, more than 1,7% as compared to the previous year. Other outcomes have been reached thanks to the Smart Specialisation Strategy, a requested conditionality by the cohesion policy, which is supporting an important digitalization process in the business fabric. In this regard, the Region has adopted a Regional Platform on Industry 4.0 in order to enhance SMEs and their competitiveness on international markets, improving their organizational dynamics and reorganizing internal production chains.
Tuscany Region can be defined as an average region at the national and European level, in terms of GDP and nominal GDP. How do you think to intervene in the EU Cohesion policy?
Tuscany Region has approximately a GDP of 104% compared to the EU Regions’ average and of nearly 104 billion in absolute terms. Regarding structural funds, its financial plan for the period 2014-200 is empowered by EU Funs, for an amount of 1,5 billion euros, which translate into investments, aid to companies, fight to youth unemployment and they constitute an excellent tool for the canalization of public and private financing. Tuscany can be certainly defined itself as an example of virtuous region which has made the most of cohesion policy’s resources. In the last planning we were even able to spend more than the 100% of allocated resources.
Notwithstanding, as all the Regions with a nominal GDP near to the EU average, it has showed the so-called “average income trap” (as economists define it). As highlighted in the 7th Cohesion Report, these intermediate regions have labor costs too high to compete with Convergence Regions, but their regional innovation systems are not sufficiently strong to compete with big European capitals like Paris, London or Berlin. For this reason, Tuscany is struggling in order to maintain a Regional Policy addressed to all European Regions and not only to those with a GDP lower than 75% of the EU average (convergence) and for a cohesion with a budget at least equal to the current amount.
In this regard, new challenges for the EU (Defense, Security, Immigration) could constitute an opportunity to relaunch the entire European Integration project. Starting from a revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework empowered by “more European” own resources, exiting from the national contributions’ logic and leading us to a debate among States based on the “I pay more than I receive” issue.
The introduction of an European Financial Transaction Tax- the so-called Tobin Tax- or on CO2 emissions, or on large digital industries would not affect the EU Budget or even less in the pockets of EU Citizens.
Which are the sectors that benefit from the cohesion policy, thus receiving European funds?
Tuscany Region pursues the Europe 2020 strategy goals through a growth, innovation and job creation-oriented process.
In particular, we focus on improving innovation performance by strengthening the technology transfer system and business competitiveness, as well as on fostering the transition toward a low-carbon economy, promoting social integration thanks to Urban Innovation Projects and enhancing bringing cultural heritage online.
The ERDF has an overall budget of Euro 792 million: 35% of its resources (i.e. around Euro 275.1 million) are committed to research, development and technology transfer; 25% (i.e. Euro 196.7 million) is earmarked for environmental sustainability; 6% are committed to programs of urban regeneration and almost 4% to the most important museum.
Other resources are allocated for ultra-wideband deployment projects (i.e. 10%); for the SMEs competitiveness (i.e. 16%) and for technical assistance (i.e. 7-4%).
The ESF investments have a special focus on young people, relevant training sectors, more efficient services, especially those addressed to employment, children, old people and people with disabilities.
To give an example, the Tuscany Region has earmarked 35% of its overall budget that amount to Eur 732 million, to promote the economic independence of young people (age 15-29). Many actions have been designed to facilitate the achievement of professional employment for young people: assistance in education, university and training fields, apprenticeship training, self-employment interventions, internships, civil service, high-level study plans that aim at enhancing attitudes, personal growth and facilitating job-placement.
7.000 internships have been financed so far, as well as 2.500 new engagements on civil service projects, 360.000 actions employment services for young people, more than 800 engagements on technical higher education.
From your point of view, what would be the consequences of extensive cuts to European resources, namely European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund, and Cohesion Fund?
The Structural Funds represent the main tool to guide the regions’ economic and social policy. They channel programming strategies; they attract new added value investments and they encourage regional public investments in the territory. These funds are used to implement infrastructures, business assistance, to contrast unemployment, to promote research and innovation, to contrast climate changes. In Southern Europe, Structural Funds and the less important national resources, represent more than 50% of the total capital expenditure.
Two of the three budgetary cut scenarios, as described by the Commission in the recent Communication, are based on potential cuts for Cohesion Policy of 15% or 30%. This means that Italy will receive a lower share of funding, Euro 42 billions of structural fund less, as well as Tuscany will lose Euro 1,5 billion in seven years.
“GiovaniSì” project, with a budget of Euro 250 million, has created 2.500 new employments, 12.000 internships, 150.000 professional trainings, and it is has inspired “Garanzia Giovani” EU project. With a lower budget available at regional level, it could never be possible.
Moreover, the Cohesion Policy is the only policy focusing on investment and European growth, and it is a clear example of how the EU is close to its citizens. Its downsizing would gradually foster a general sense of mistrust toward the European project and a growing euroscepticism.
On the contrary, what would you advocate in order to renew the Cohesion Policy for the post 2020 period?
I hope the Cohesion policy will keep being addressed to all region, thus not only to those poorer, with an adequate financial envelope, at least equal to the current one.
The Cohesion Policy should also be renewed by introducing multi-fund operational programs that are made up by different structural funds. The benefits coming from these programs would be, first of all, to overcome a sectorial approach and then to exploit funds synergies in order to set up projects referring to several areas and with different goals.
Otherwise, new synergies could be boosted among indirect funds or funds directly managed by the Commission (as Horizon2020). This way it will be possible to focus on the most important economic and social priorities of each territory, as for instance by the implementation of a Smart Specialization Strategy.
The actions carried out by Tuscany are focused also on development cooperation: could you describe the regional most recent projects, their funding and their objectives?
In the last years Tuscany’s cooperation with the Mediterranean and the Middle East areas has concentrated in some countries on some preeminent themes:
Our primary countries are Tunisia, Palestine, Israeli, Lebanon and Morocco.
Tuscany continues to bring up many projects in Palestine in the field of “Med Cooperation Program” in partnership with different Palestinian and Israeli municipalities. The aim is to promote the mutual comprehension, the reconciliation and the pacific coexistence of Israeli and Palestinian populations. The achievement of these purposes has to start from the consolidation of the existent relationships between the Med Cooperation partners and their communities by encouraging the social and economic development at the local level through the enhancement of the representative local contexts in the north of Cisjordanie and Israel.
The cooperation between Tuscany and Lebanon has started since the first interventions after the war emergency in 2007; now we have structured a solid partnership with local, national and international actors in the Lebanon context. The activities of the last years have focused on supporting local authorities in the furniture of social and health basic services in favour of the most vulnerable population sectors by following the approach that actively involve local administrations, schools, universities and primary health centres. In the last 18 months four Lebanese ministers have adopted this approach as a model to be implemented in all the country.
Tuscany is active in Tunisia since 2010 after the explicit request of the European Arrest Warrant and of the Tunisian embassy in Italy. About 1.600.000,00 euros from the regional resources have been invested in international cooperation and 2.000.000,00 euros from the national and international resources have been activated up to 2016. In these years the actions aimed to encourage social and inclusive economy, to support maternal and child health, to reinforce the administrative decentralisation processes and to promote young’s associations as a growth factor for civil society.
The imminent elections that could be considered crucial for the future of Europe, which concrete actions will you undertake in Tuscany? Which message do you want your citizens and all European citizens to know?
We are in a crucial moment, because in several European Countries euro skeptical parties are on the rise. At the next election in 2019, these parties could represent an important force inside the Parliament in Strasbourg, which could constitute a risk for the entire integration project launched by the founding fathers in our Continent.
For this reason, we have to remind to National Governments that downward policies empower populisms, giving even more tools in the hands of euro skeptical parties: they don’t have to be chased in their field of action, but they must be fought by convincing arguments and concrete facts.
We do not have to forget collective advantages linked to the membership in the largest single market worldwide, equivalent to 500 million consumers, which the cohesion policy aims to counter-balance since the times of Jacques Delors.
The message that I would like to convey is, first of all, to vote for European elections and, after, to remember how much the European Union has contributed to the development of our territories and how many benefits it gets us every day.
The peaceful coexistence among peoples is an essential and unique aim and the economic, social and territorial cohesion model, established in the Treaties, is an example which is the envy of the world.
This politically desired cohesion ensures the functioning of the internal market and it has as its ultimate objective the overcoming of income inequalities among regions and the development of an interregional, and sometimes also trans-national, cooperation.
Which are the challenges you will have to face after 2019?
Tuscany is emerging from this long crisis having proved a remarkable degree of resilience especially for the results obtained on the international front: exportations and tourism have unexpectedly grew up permitting the regional economy to partly contain the effects of the serious fall of the internal demand. Nevertheless, the number of unemployed is doubled and the same happened to the number of poor families, making these two serious problems – interlinked each other – an issue on which Tuscany must focus on.
The growth that we are experiencing in these last months on one hand reveal the exit from the crisis, on the other hand seems inadequate to face the two problems above in reasonable time. For this reason, the involvement to strengthen the growth becomes urgent and, in this regard, EU funds will have to cover an important role because they are one of the few resources able to support investments, which have collapsed during the Great Crisis.
We must look even further. The future that await us presents us with three big challenges: The demographic challenge, the climatic one and the technologic one. In the recent past, the changes on these three fronts, that were evident, were faced by Tuscany in a positive way, thanks to its happy inclusion of immigrants, to its ability to ensure an environmentally friendly development, to its capacity to combine traditional productions with innovation processes. Today some of these events are becoming faster and bigger than the past, so they must be ruled with wisdom knowing that the market itself is unable to rule them.
In which way, do you think it is possible to face new EU challenges (defense, immigration, Brexit) with a declining budget? Do you think these challenges could be an opportunity to relaunch the European project and specially to promote new own resources?
The worst signal that we can provide to people is a pared – down EU budget for post 2020.
The most recent reports made by the members of the EU Parliament Jan Olbrytcht in the multiannual financial framework and by the member Janusz Lewandowski on EU’s own resources ask to Member States, respectively, to bring spending to 1,3% and to include new European own resources.
Indeed, the new European challenges need not only more resources, but even new forms of income, as suggested by the “High – level Panel on resources”, guided by Mario Draghi.
A Financial Transaction Tax (Tobin Tax) could be the base for a new own resource for the EU budget, together with a tax on plastics, on Co2 emission or on big digital enterprises. All of these resources could contribute to the EU budget without burden over Member States or Consumers and that could get out from the Member States’ logic “I pay more than I receive back”.
Mr. President, what’s the role of Veneto Region for the future of the European Project?
Luca Zaia: The role of Veneto in Europe is to share its cultural background full of experiences in order to bring forward a real challenge: creating a Europe of the Regions, that means a Europe that is less controlled by bureaucrats and by the member States.
What is the added value of the network such as the CRPM for the European debate?
LZ: The added value of CRPM is mainly to bring experiences as well as best practices and to share this common challenge which overcomes the borders of the European States. I think that the different measures carried out show that we are up to date.
What’s your opinion about the European debate concerning the future of the post-2020 budget?
LZ: My opinion about the European budget, and everything concerning it, is that we must save the national and regional productive identities and we don’t have to cut the resources of those who work and produce in the territory. Moreover, it would be useful to cut the resources concerning waste, that is so common in Europe.
In a few words, why is Cohesion Policy so important both for Regions and for Europe?
LZ: Cohesion Policy is important and this is proved by visible outcomes. It would be useful to see in my Region how we have invested EU funds to understand that Cohesion Policy hasn’t been thrown away.
I wish you a good work for the future. Thank you.
This poll “Reflection Europe or give your opinion on Europe” is the result of an opinion formed by the Committee of the Regions, which I proposed three years ago, and which was intended to reconnect Europe with citizens. We start from the fact that the Europeans do not understand how Europe works and that they feel they’re not heard. So we set up two devices: First citizen dialogues that take place throughout Europe: France was a pioneer at my initiative, and then so that these citizen dialogues are not just “bottles lost at sea” and have no follow-up, we have set up this questionnaire with open and closed questions. It allows for a collection of all the opinions of those who have given an answer and which will serve as a support for the drafting of an opinion of the Committee of the Regions on the question of the future of the union.
What is citizen dialogue, a meeting of citizens with their communities in a given place?
A citizen dialogue is a meeting organized by the members of the Committee of the Regions with the participation of European parliamentarians, local people, representatives of civil society to discuss a particular subject. For example, we went to talk about immigration in the Maritime Alps, we talked about origin appellations in the Jura and we talked about fishing problems in Brittany, etc.
We went a little bit into sensitive themes by listening to citizens where they have concerns, fears and anger. These, in very short formats, are not academic meetings with people who make long speeches but rather questions & answers, and a way to organise the debate so that everyone can give their opinion.
Did you decipher these returns a bit to build your questions and possible answers?
We reported on these meetings, but at one point we said that we needed to go further and that we needed to organise a questionnaire at the European level. By broadcasting it on the Internet, the aim is to collect tens of thousands of opinions from Europeans throughout Europe.
Have you set or imposed volume goals?
We hope to reach 30,000 – 40,000 answers by the end of the year. We are already at 13,000, which is not so bad.
We will also step it up a gear as part of citizen consultations. They will be set up at the initiative of France and we have a goal, in liaison with the European Commission, to organise 400 citizen dialogues in 2018. The aim is to go to all regions and to be able to multiply these citizen meetings, which will now be called democratic consultations, to show Europeans, before the European elections, that those who are the European decision-makers are there to listen to them, to put their opinions back to the European institutions and to respond to the order of Donald Tusk who wished to have this opinion of the Committee of the Regions as part of the reflection of the commission on the future of Europe.
In anticipation of the European elections of 2019, isn’t it a great tool for mobilising European citizens?
We want European citizens to know what Europe is all about and the importance of Europe and to move from systematic criticism to constructive criticism. Europe is a tremendous asset, it does a lot and if growth starts again, it’s because of it. However, we need criticisms that go in a positive direction, the exit of the European Union is a disaster – we see it with Brexit, so today we must dare to say together how can we improve the European Union.
What are the stakes and the risks of such an investigation because you do not master the answers, you can only analyse them?
When we ask a question we do not always know the answer, it’s in the nature of things, but the biggest risk would be not to ask questions or listen. So we are a bit in danger because we do not know what will come out of these questionnaires but it is a chance to know what the Europeans think and also to be able to collect their opinions.
Every European citizen can have a good idea for improving Europe. The European elections are going to be a truly crucial moment in the future of Europe, which is why we want to contribute to the deepening of the European Union and its success. An essential thing for each and every one of us, both for the continent as a whole and for the everyday life of every European in the territories of the European Union.
Will the European Committee of the Regions fully assume the achieved results?
We will assume, play the transparency card, or give the opinion of the Europeans overall and I think that it will be one of the important elements for the restoration of the confidence of the citizens in Europe and also for the objective that I had initially; that is to reconnect Europe with its citizens.
Can you explain what the CPMR is, and your mission?
I am Secretary General of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) which was created more than forty years ago now. We represent 160 member regions, which recognise the added value of an association like ours.
The CPMR was created to support the interests of peripheral and maritime regions. This involves daily work with the European institutions. Our goal is that all citizens from all over Europe feel that we are watching over them, their economic, social and territorial activities.
This is what I call the ‘Regional Focus’ that makes us live and makes us tick. This is the purpose of our existence! Our mission is to promote the ‘Regional Focus’ to European and national authorities, to bridge European, national and regional and local government policies.
This morning there was a very important meeting with two European Commissioners on the future of Cohesion policy. What is the CPMR’s position on the subject?
Indeed, Commissioner CRETU, in charge of regional policy, and Commissioner OETTINGER, responsible for the European budget, spoke on Cohesion policy. The Budget Commissioner spoke about the previous announcement on 14 February, today announcing a drop of less than 5% instead of the 30% previously announced. This is better, but we need a more ambitious budget to continue the development of the peripheral and maritime regions and to fight against rising territorial inequalities.
We understand that many important challenges await us, such as security, control of our borders, and believe me our peripheral regions live them every day. However, the Cohesion policy budget should not be reduced to feed this news priorities, as important as they are.
I think we need to increase the EU’s budget to face these new challenges and to maintain an ambitious Cohesion policy.
Let us not forget the studies carried out by the Commission on the disparities between the regions of Europe and the problems of economic and social development which, by their nature, led to Cohesion policy and therefore to European investment funds for the regions. To continue to exist, some regions have a vital need for this policy.
Are you satisfied with this announcement of a 5% cut, instead of 30%?
It should be understood what the 5% is, before we welcome the Commission’s proposal. This still represents a cut in the Cohesion budget. Of course it’s better than the -30%, but we should wait until 02 May, when the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) will be formally announced by the Commission to judge. It will then be necessary for the CPMR to turn to the Parliament and the Council to continue its actions.
In the meantime, the CPMR continues to mobilise to preserve a budget for Cohesion at the service of European citizens through the regional authorities, in general and peripheral and maritime regions in particular, worthy of our ambitions and those of Europe.