Markku Markkula, President of the Helsinki Region and Chair of the Espoo City Board in Finland (EPP Committee of the Regions -CoR member, SEDEC and ENVE Committees) and Emil Boc (EPP CoR member), mayor of the Romanian city Cluj-Napoca and the president of the Association of Municipalities in Romania (AMR) expressed on Wednesday their strong commitment to sharing knowledge and best practices in order to attain stronger regional cohesion in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic by tapping into the local innovation pool and employing technology. Using the resources of the newly adopted Recovery and Resilience Facility, they also committed to further the societal development and increase the economic wellbeing of the citizens they represent in the framework of the digital and green transition.
The pledges were made during the online local dialogue themed “New Normal” in cities using innovation and resilience to tackle the impact of COVID19 on the local economy of cities, organised in Wednesday, February 10th, by the EPP Group in the European Committee of the Regions (EPP-CoR).
The EPP local dialogue featured a debate with Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj-Napoca and member of the European Committee of the Regions (COTER Commission and SEDEC Commission), and Markku Markkula, President of the Helsinki Region and Chair of the Espoo City Board, former President of CoR and EPP-CoR member.
Markku Markkula stressed the importance of regional cooperation between cities in the EU for knowledge-sharing in adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to foster development for the benefit of the citizens from the perspective of the green and digital transitions by use of the funds available through the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) adopted recently by the European Parliament.
„Many cities and regions are ready to use the recovery funds. In my region, we had several meetings last fall and we went through the proposals of cities and industry, both working together, and not only cities and big companies but several smaller companies, several universities and research centres also joined in, and we were especially looking at how we can combine the measures and actions for climate and digitalization. We must now define the values we want to represent in the future, we must affirm locally the commitment that the Member States have made in the fight against COVID-19 and the same commitment must be put to work in the fight against climate change. It can be seen among the citizens that when you put together European best practices with a concrete plan at the local level, then only something good can come out of it. We are ready to share with our friends the proposals we have made for the use of European funds that we hope will reach us as soon as possible”.
The Finnish regional leader also pointed out that Espoo and Cluj-Napoca can be drivers of change if the cities join efforts and share their plans on how the recovery funds can be spent on reforms and development projects.
We have tried together to analyze how the measures provided for in the national plan can best be combined so that there are synergy effects that we can exploit. We need to work together, at least at the level of leading cities. I think there is the potential to accelerate, to drive things forward. (…) I think my city, Espoo, and Cluj-Napoca can work a lot together on the new ways to operate and especially now during the COVID-19 crisis. I think this is important so that the people everywhere see that we’re working together, that we bring the best European knowledge to active use everywhere so we can get results. We should be ready to share the proposals on how we are planning to use the recovery funds and learn from each other”.
At the same time, Emil Boc, mayor of Cluj-Napoca, believed that the essence of local & regional leaders is to create and provide prosperity and solidarity for our citizens.
„Our purpose is to inspire citizens and the business community to create an ecosystem that generates talent, jobs, ideas and a better life for our citizens.” In this context, the Romanian local leader is convinced that RRF will successfully provide better jobs, connectivity and address brain drain.
However, as the EU prepares to make the next ten years its Digital Decade and set the pace for innovation globally, countries like Romania should put all the effort to not lag behind and recover the disparities in technological advancement which can bring economic prosperity and level the field between cities, regions and countries like Finland that are well ahead in terms of living standards.
As such, Emil Boc pointed out that „innovation cannot be forced upon you from Brussels; it happens at local level, in our cities in our regions, but at the same time, we have to make sure that this gap in the field of innovation is reduced by offering additional opportunities to late comers, such as Romania, because we need to catch up with the rest of Europe”. „The digital and innovation divide needs to to decrease, to disappear if we want a more cohesive, stronger, more resilient Europe”, added the local representative.
The European Commission stressed that for Europe to remain competitive internationally, all economic sectors must be able to reap the benefits of digital transformation. Therefore, building on a European network of Digital Innovation Hubs, the Commission aims to help companies improve their processes, products and services through the use of digital technologies.
To this end, mayor Emil Boc hoped that Cluj-Napoca will be able to participate in this innovation hub proposed by the EU, which is to be financed with money coming from the recently adopted RRF.
„The talented people working in innovation clusters with the local administration can make sure that Cluj remains a pool of innovation. This will have a future including because we have our local universities that are focused on similar programmes ranging from nanotech to artificial intelligence and these will create the future, well paid jobs for our citizens. Because yes, free movement of people is almost a religious talk at European level; it’s clearly not debatable. But then again, you shouldn’t be forced to leave your city, your region for economic reasons. And this new RR facility, gives us a tremendous opportunity, it will allow Romania to close the gap separating it from the rest of Europe and through innovation, create better jobs at home”.
Furthermore, he announced the that Cluj’s innovation strategy builds on three perspectives that include the launch of a local innovation fund, the transformation of the city as a “solution testing place” and a permanent connection to the jobs of the future.
“This year we will launch a local innovation fund to support start-ups, a fund that will initially have around 500-600 thousand euros, public and private, and which will offer the chance to entrepreneurs and innovators from Cluj to be able to develop their own business “, said Boc, specifying that this proposal is in line with the objectives of the European Commission. „Our objective is to switch from <<made in Cluj Napoca>> to <<invented in Cluj Napoca>>. We would like to become the place where companies can invent to become a centre of innovation, where we create IT, digital and artificial intelligence solutions”, he added.
At the same time, Markku Markkula said that his country, Finland, had received hundreds of proposals from the private sector to create digital innovation hubs in their reach, but in the end there will only be four of five of them, with one of them hosted in the capital region of Helskini, as the country is home only to 5 million people. He also added that both Espoo and Cluj-Napoca, where the tech industry is thriving, can cooperate and assist each other with supporting the local start-ups as to create an ecosystem that encourages innovation and the sharing of knowledge and good practices.
Both Cluj-Napoca and Espoo were among the six finalist cities of the “European Innovation Capital 2020” competition, both municipalities winning a prize of 100,000 euros each and the recognition that they supported innovation to establish connections between citizens, the public sector, academia and business, in order to bring societal benefits to communities.
The event, moderated by Dan Cărbunaru, director of Calea Europeană online platfom, was livestreamed on www.caleaeuropeana.ro, on Calea Europeană Facebook Page, on the Centrul de Inovare și Imaginație Civică Facebook Page, on the Facebook Page of Mayor Emil Boc and on the Facebook Page of Cluj Napoca City Hall.
MEP Vasile Blaga: Tourism recovery must be a major component of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan in all EU countries
MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) reiterates the importance of recovering the tourism sector with the help of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.
„I believe that the relaunch of tourism is key to overcoming the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no less important to outline a common strategy for the whole of the European Union on tourism by establishing uniform criteria for travel safety and limiting restrictive measures as much as possible. Quarantine, considered to be the last resort for the spread of COVID 19″, said the EPP MEP.
The resolution on an EU strategy for sustainable tourism, adopted by 577 votes to 31, and 80 abstentions on Thursday, notes that the COVID-19 outbreak has paralyzed the EU’s tourism sector, with 6 out of 27 million jobs at risk. MEPs highlight that the tourism and travel sectors account for around 10% of the EU’s GDP. They, therefore, urge EU countries to include them in their recovery plans and to consider temporarily reducing VAT on these services.
„Safe and clean” tourism
Due to the pandemic, travelers want “safe, clean and more sustainable tourism”, Parliament says, calling on member states to fully implement common criteria for safe travel without delay. These should include an EU Health and Safety protocol for testing before departure, and establish that quarantine requirement should be applied only as a last resort.
A common vaccination certificate should facilitate travel and act as an alternative to PCR tests and quarantine requirements, MEPs say. A new certificate should follow privacy and data protection rules and could start being used once there is sufficient evidence that those who have been vaccinated do not transmit the virus.
The resolution also urges the Commission to introduce an EU hygiene certification seal, which could certify minimum COVID-19 virus prevention and control standards and could help restore consumer trust in the tourism and travel sectors.
Beyond the pandemic
MEPs welcome the ‘Re-open EU’ portal and urge EU countries to send clear information to the Commission when they apply or lift restrictions on free movement.
MEP Mircea Hava supports decentralized management of the EU funds to better fight against climate change
MEP Mircea Hava (PNL, EPP) supports decentralized management of the EU funds and of environmental projects in an EP report on cohesion policy and regional environment strategies in the fight against climate change.
”Today, I had the opportunity to reinforce the importance of my amendments and those of my colleagues from the EPP in the report of Mr Tonino Picula, from Croatia, representing the S&D Group. The document highlights the role of cohesion policy and regional environmental strategies in the fight against climate change. (…) By more than 20 amendments that represent my contribution to this report, I have equated the success of this bet of humanity with the obligation that the management of environmental projects and funds to be radically decentralized, to be administered fairly by those who know what they are facing. I am referring to local and environmental authorities. It’s a way of working in which we don’t have to be guided by what is seen from the plane, but by the problems that everyone knows and experiences. Because this is where strategies are built and real investments are made”, said Mircea Hava.
MEP Mircea Hava called on the European Commission to monitor and publish reports using a common standard for all Member States about the progress of national governments and local and regional authorities in addressing climate change at all levels, as well as to assess the interlinkages between environmental policies and the economy.
Mircea Hava also argued that the structure of Cohesion Policy must be linked with other policies aimed at fighting against climate change in order to achieve the climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest.
”Disasters and climate phenomena in recent years have a common trigger: all of us! We are the ones who are responsible for this damage and the only ones who can fix it. We need to implement environmental projects, like a bandage, over every wound produced by pollution. In a reality with only one alternative, we are obliged to act locally and save ourselves globally. For Europe to succeed in becoming an example in climate protection, it needs rigor, methods, tools at all levels, in all Member States” concluded MEP Mircea Hava.
Op-ed | Antonio Lopez-Isturiz White, Olgierd Geblewicz, Emil Boc: A European recovery with villages, cities and regions at its core
Antonio López-Istúriz White, EPP Secretary General
Olgierd Geblewicz, President of EPP-CoR Group and President of Westpomerania Region
Emil Boc, Mayor of Cluj Napoca, President of the Romanian Association of Municipalities, member of EPP-CoR Group
Europe has its roots in each village, city and region across our continent. They are our beating hearts, bringing Europe close to each one of us. They translate Europe into our daily lives. Local and regional authorities are responsible for the implementation of 70% of EU legislation. They represent half of all public employment, a third of public spending and two thirds of public investment. As Europe has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, mayors, regional and local representatives were on the frontline and were the first expression of European solidarity.
The pandemic is putting at risk health and social welfare systems, our single market and the way Europe moves from strategy to implementation of the green and digital transitions. In moments of crisis, we turn to the most trusted level of governance and closest one to the people: they can solve local problems with European solutions.
Our health is also in the hands of local and regional authorities. In 17 out of 27 Member States, regional authorities have health care competences. EPP-led villages, cities and regions have been at the forefront responding to the pandemic, taking measures to mitigate the various impacts of the pandemic.
Take the Regional Government of Piemonte in Italy which opened a hospital to assist patients who have overcome the critical phase of COVID-19 but need further care or the German state of Hessen which provided funding schemes for companies and the self-employed to save jobs. The Region of Murcia in Spain is another example. It launched teleEduca, a platform to help students with their studies. Municipalities of towns and villages have been involved in different social measures. The Slovak municipality of Prešov invested in an electric vehicle to deliver food and medicine to the elderly. The City of Espoo prepared a 25-point package of measures to support companies as well as sports and cultural sectors. These are just some of the measures taken by EPP-led local and regional authorities across Europe to address the challenges arising from the pandemic.
Cluj reached out to its local ecosystem and with the help of digital tools offered support programs to the community such as “Digital Seniors” – for grandparents at risk of loneliness during the period of isolation. “One Cluj” was also a collective movement initiated by the creative community that everyone joined in order to streamline the efforts and resources of volunteering and donations in the first days of lockdown.
The EPP local and regional representatives are the bridge between each corner of Europe and Brussels. We worked together to find the appropriate and proportionate solutions and identify needs and resources to cope with the crisis and provide a fast and effective recovery.
Looking to the Recovery Plan and the next Multi-annual Financial Framework, the policies must be implemented at the level closest to citizens for greater efficiency, efficacy and accountability. As one clear example, the EPP Group in the Committee of the Regions has been also calling for direct funding to complete pan-European projects on the ground through which concrete results, such as the shift to clean public transport, can be achieved.
Now is not time for business as usual. Instead, let’s now bounce forward together.
Let us build on our respective strengths, use them to our advantage in tackling asymmetric challenges that know no border between the European, national, regional and local levels.
In this context, the EPP and the EPP Group in the European Committee of the Regions (EPP-CoR Group) will organise a major online event on Tuesday, 23 March 2021 devoted to Recovery in the post-pandemic age at local and regional level.
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