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COVID19: regions and cities demand simplified access to EU funds and sufficient time to invest on recovery

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The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) debated how EU cohesion policy and its shared management could boost Europe’s recovery with Commissioner Elisa Ferreira. The debate took place during the plenary session of the CoR, which also saw the adoption of three opinions on this topic as well as serving as the opening of the European Week of Regions and Cities 2020.
 
The CoR’s Annual Regional and Local Barometer shows that the coronavirus pandemic is widening existing social and economic disparities in the EU. EU cohesion policy, including the REACT EU instrument and the simplifications through the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII), is key to fighting this trend and spearheading the economic and social recovery of Europe as well as building resilience and overcoming regional disparities.

We must use future cohesion policy investments wisely. We cannot look at the future and reproduce the past. We have shown this year what we can do in crisis. We must show next year how we build a green, digital economy in a European way, which leaves no regions behind”, said Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, during the opening of the European Week of Regions and Cities.

Solidarity is a fundamental value of the European Union. With the intervention of cohesion policy in our regions and our cities to face the pandemic, the EU has shown that it can keep its promises. Let us not forget this in the budgetary negotiations: following the crisis, cohesion policy is more essential than ever”, said Isabelle Boudineau (FR/PES), Chair of the CoR’s Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and the EU Budget COTER.

In the CoR opinion on the “REACT-EU package”, rapporteur Mieczyslaw Struk (PL/EPP) confirms that thanks to REACT EU, cohesion policy will be better prepared to face the current and possible future crises. He notes, however, that the EUR 55 bn additional funds need to be distributed more evenly in 2021 and 2022 to ease the administrative burden at the end of the 2014-2020 programming period and underlines the need to strike a balance between fast disbursement of newly available resources and the need to avoid irregularities. He further welcomes the currently enhanced flexibility but also warns that a crisis can never justify the centralisation of cohesion policy.

Our regions and cities are the best level to take effective actions to deal with the negative consequences of crisis situations. Listening to the voice of local and regional communities and leaving competence at these decision-making levels has always worked well. We should therefore refrain from using this crisis to transfer funds from cohesion policy – managed in partnership with regions and cities – to other centrally managed instruments”, saidMieczysław Struk (PL/EPP), President of Pomeranian Region.

Also in the opinion on “the role of EU’s cohesion policy with respect to intelligent and innovative economic change in the regions against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis” rapporteur Michiel Rijsberman (NL/Renew Europe) urges the European Commission to avoid shifting power away from regions. He argues for a bottom-up approach by adding regional allocation criteria to REACT-EU and the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Regional policy has strong roots in the EU Treaties. Its principles should never be sacrificed. This policy should be a key investment tool for innovative recovery, as it puts the regions at the heart“, said Michiel Rijsberman (NL/Renew Europe), Regional Minister of the Province of Flevoland.

He further argues that innovative concepts are needed for the transition to a more sustainable, digital and resilient Europe and that these are elements where cohesion policy can play a crucial role. He highlights that it was vital for funds to not only be spent on crisis repairs but should also ensure that the EU’s objectives on climate neutrality are met.

Bernd Lange (DE/EPP), rapporteur for the opinion on “Equivalent standards of living as a joint challenge for all levels of government in Europe” believes that living standards, quality of life and business development are highly dependent on the accessibility, affordability and quality of public services and infrastructure. Cohesion policy can make a significant contribution to creating equivalent structural conditions in all Member States and all local and regional authorities, but must according to the rapporteur not remain the only means of promoting balanced development. He urges that all EU policy areas should contribute to the objective of territorial, economic and social cohesion in Europe as set out in Article 174 TFEU.

“I consider the idea of equal living conditions to be an essential part of European cohesion policy. The opinion should serve as a basis for coming debates on how European funding and legislation can jointly contribute to achieving this goal”, said Bernd Lange (DE/EPP), Head of Görlitz District Council.

The CoR members will adopt all three opinions during their plenary session on 12-13 October.

Alexandra Loy este redactor și specialistă în afaceri europene. Deține un doctorat în domeniul științe politice, dobândit în anul 2018, cu tema analizării impactului președinției României la Consiliul Uniunii Europene asupra sistemului național de coordonare a afacerilor europene. Alexandra este membru al comunității academice din cadrul Școlii Naționale de Studii Politice și Administrative.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: The last day with Great Britain in the EU, the first day of a new relationship that we want to be close

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Great Britain, the historical partner of the EU, leaves our table but remains a friend of the European Union, said MEP Vasile Blaga in a statement sent to CaleaEuropeană.ro.

December 31 is the last day on which the UK still applies Community law, and from January 1 the Brexit agreement will be applied, having already been signed by European officials.

“There are a few more steps for this agreement, concluded in extremis, on Christmas Eve: the evaluation of the agreement by the European Parliament, the British Parliament and its ratification by the Parliaments of all Member States,” said Blaga.

“We are talking about an extremely important agreement given that official figures show that over 3 million EU citizens live in the UK and over one million Britons live in one of the 27 Member States. The agreement has been worked on, and often on the brink of collapse, by a team led by Michel Barnier who deserves congratulations for the tenacity with which he defended the rights of European citizens and European companies. It is an unprecedented agreement, no other such agreement has been concluded by the EU so far, from a commercial and economic point of view. Basically, the historical partner of the EU leaves our table but remains a friend of the EU. Because not even a democratic vote can cancel a family relationship and a history like the one between Europe and Great Britain “, declared Vasile Blaga.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: “A coordinated vaccination campaign at European level, an example of unity and solidarity”

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MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, PPE) welcomes the start of the vaccination campaign at the same time in the European Union.

„The debut of the European level vaccination campaign, which is more or less simultaneous in all European Union states, has not been able to mobilize the EU to be able to provoke the annulment of all countries.” It is clear that you are critical of the address of the module in the European Commission to manage the contracting seminar with vaccines, tattoos, but through care, the moment of this moment, the functioning of the European Union, according to the European Plan.

The European MP informed Romania about the 150,000 vaccine dose of Pfizer BioNtech: „The European Commission has allocated 10 million vaccine doses for Romania to COVID 19″, said Vasile Blaga.

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Op-ed: Biden can help unite Europe. A closer political union is the rational outcome for Europe, and a globalist U.S. President can assist even passively

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A closer political union is the rational outcome for Europe, and a globalist U.S. President can assist even passively, writes former Romanian PM Mihai-Răzvan Ungureanu, in a joint op-ed with two US experts. The op-ed released to CaleaEuropeană.ro is published as an epistemic response to a piece authored by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Klaus Leggewie in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung calling for a German-French Federation as a “breath of fresh air” for Europe. 

By Robert Braun, Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu and Dan Perry

The incoming Biden Administration is expected to break with its predecessor’s obsessively transactional foreign policy, enabling progress on issues ranging from global warming to international trade to human rights. An important consequence, not obvious from headlines at the moment, involves Europe.

Outgoing President Trump’s evident disdain for global cooperation, supranational governance and the European Union in particular has had a devastating effect on those who yearn for greater European political union. It emboldened the UK’s Brexiteers, Euroskeptic leaders in the east and nationalists in almost every country, creating a paralytic continental bad karma. Trump’s departure holistically offers a moment for the European Union to regain its ambition, boldness and creativity.

The EU embodied a successful economic vision, but failed to transform that business case into a shared political values to an extent that could drive action. The treaties of Maastricht and Rome ultimately amounted the rhetorical flourishes and bureaucratic advances that could not sweep aside nationalist resistance. This is now best exemplified by the  Polish-Hungarian effort to derail the European budget and halt political oversight over individual countries’ authoritarian practices.

If Europe is to make its mark in the world, it needs a bold vision for political union: tighter control over exploitive and corrupt practices of local and multi-national companies, an inclusive social net with universal basic income, a welfare system socially and economically strengthening unions and representation bodies, and safeguards for the independence of the free press, of universities and of civic-cultural institutions.

A unified Europe can be a beacon of progressive values and modernity to the world. This should be the response to those in the world who derided Europe as an ossified vessel of yesterday while benefitting from its values. 

This will strengthen Europe, and make it a better partner to a rejuvenated, post-Trump United States – and to other democracies. It is a vision that the new U.S. Administration will be able to get behind.

Of course, this is not currently the direction of things, nor will it be without an electrifying course correction. In theory, there would be a variety of ways to shock the system. We’d like to throw our support in favor of constitutional unification of Germany and France, an idea floated recently by French MEP and 1960s student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit and German political scientist Claus Leggewie.

France and Germany have fought bitter wars, and can view each other through a narrow lens of stereotype and historical grievance. They have different labor market politics and instincts about fiscal and monetary policy. They speak different languages, and each possesses a profound patriotic instinct that may seem at odds with a ceding of national sovereignty. France is also more interested than Germany in a European security mechanism independent of the United States.

And they both have fostered business interest, sometimes at the expense of others in the European Union, that were grounded in “nation first” ideals.

And yet, France and (West) Germany are the two largest founding members of the European Economic Community that grew into the EU of today. The differences between their political and economic structures are minor when one considers their common fealty to Western and European values of the post-Renaissance and Enlightenment.  They are also the two strongest forces for political union among major EU members; there is a scenario where they agree to blaze the path.

A constitutionally unified, politically strong core would create economies of scale – combined population of 151 million and GDP of 6.73 trillion that make up 40% and 44% respectively of the bloc with the UK factored out – that would be irresistible, and prove that language need not be a barrier in a world in which English (ironically in light of Brexit) and innovation are unifying forces. 

Different languages may pose a challenge. But Canada, even with succession initiatives in Quebec, proves community and understanding are more about shared values than similar languages. Respect for different cultures and strong compassionate leadership are at the core of New Zealand’s political success. There is real reason to assess that a successful Franco-German unification would soon draw in an essentially liberal and internationalist countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark, linguistic satellites like Austria and Luxembourg, and then large countries of the southern cone like Italy, Spain and Portugal. 

What of former east bloc countries where populist nationalists currently hold sway?  The euphoria of expansion was driven by both idealism and business interests, and while it yielded economic growth for the East it also left many in that region with resentments about a perceived neocolonialism, yielding a nationalist backlash.  Deft political diplomacy and considerable sensitivity will be required to avoid a repeat. A strong European political union may create the political momentum to rejuvenate a progressive urban electorate in Eastern Europe as well. Western European politicians should also find ways to acknowledge that peoples east of Vienna are valuable beyond picking asparagus, caring for the elderly and doing menial jobs for less. 

It seems far-fetched today. Nations tend to wait for crises to break established paradigms. We propose getting ahead of the curve. Germany and France can jump-start the process of European unification.

National identity – indeed tribalism – has been one of the building blocks of civilization. The question has always been granularity.  Right now, what is needed for stability, prosperity and global impact is a European identity.  It won’t be easy, because local identities are strong. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Quite probably, very much lost.

* * *

Historian Mihai Razvan Ungureanu was prime minister and foreign minister of Romania. Social Theorist Robert Braun was a top aide to Hungary’s prime minister and is a senior researcher at Vienna’s Institute for Advanced Studies. Dan Perry was Europe-Africa Editor and Mideast Editor of the Associated Press news agency and is managing partner of the Thunder11 communications firm.

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