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EPP Local Dialogue: Emil Boc and Markku Markkula pledge their commitment to employing the local innovation potential of their communities to build stronger regional cohesion post-COVID19 pandemic

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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.

 

 

 

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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Op-ed | President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee: Without critical raw materials resilience, there will be no green or digital industrial revolution

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© EESC

Opinion by  Pietro Francesco De Lotto, President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee

Whether we are talking about a fourth, fifth, or even sixth industrial revolution, we often see public debate take place. Despite the different views on the issue, one thing we can say with certainty is that our industry is undergoing a profound revolution, which comprises a twin challenge: becoming greener and more circular, as well as going through a digital transformation. It is a revolution that is driven by several factors: our commitments under the Paris Agreement, the pursuit of global competitiveness, the need to adapt labour markets, consumer sensitivity and, last but not least, public opinion.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals and the fight against climate change are clearly essential pillars of the EU’s action, and we need to ensure that they are perceived and experienced more and more as an opportunity rather than a burden by all parts of society and industry. The European Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the recently updated New Industrial Strategy for Europe, the Fit for 55 package presented in July, and the related activities and legislation are essential tools to transform public debates into an everyday reality, everywhere in Europe, leaving no one behind in this collective effort.

Raw materials, and especially critical raw materials, are at the core of this process. Digitalising and greening EU industries and society require technologies that depend on raw materials. Wind power, for instance, comes from turbines that contain, among other materials, rare earth elements. The EU relies almost 100% on China to supply such elements. Similar scenarios exist for many technologies that are essential to the green and digital transition, from batteries to photovoltaics, from robotics to fuel cells. The EU Critical Raw Materials Action Plan and the Updated Industrial Strategy identify 30 materials and 137 products respectively that are essential for our industry and society and on which the EU is highly dependent.

These are worrying figures, but they also provide a necessary reality check. The past few months have brought these dependencies to the public’s attention even more clearly, as the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need for EU industry and society overall to become more resilient and strategically autonomous, especially in areas such as vaccines, medicines and medical devices. The time to act on these critical factors is therefore ripe, and we must make use of all instruments to address our dependencies with a strategic vision.

The Commission’s Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, on which the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) recently published its opinion CCMI 177, is a good instrument that combines measures to fix current shortcomings with actions to mitigate possible future problems. The EESC believes that the actions envisaged by the European Commission are essential if we are to maintain and strengthen the EU’s industrial base. This is a very important first point: for too long, we have left this issue up to the free market and industry, hoping that it would regulate itself. We must however now acknowledge that, as much as companies should be free to build their supply chains, we need to secure some parts of these chains that we deem of strategic importance to the European Union.

More specifically, the EU needs support instruments for sustainable primary sourcing in Europe. Financial instruments for sustainable projects, as well as streamlined authorisation processes are needed, as is the greater involvement of and public acceptance by citizens and local communities. This is also very much linked to the need to maintain extractive and processing capacities in the EU. We need to support workers and regions through better training and a deeper link with higher and vocational education, including investment in training and retraining workers, and in the teaching of specialist disciplines such as geology, metallurgy and mining, even at undergraduate level.

At the same time, and this is the second point, we need to invest in activities that can foster substitution; something that will only be possible with significant, constant investment in R&D programmes to discover new materials and processes for ensuring justified substitution.

Together with primary sourcing and substitution, the third key element is that of circular reuse and secondary sourcing from waste. To do this, we need to invest in research and development, but we also need to carefully assess the waste we ship outside Europe, while at the same time mapping – as soon as possible – the potential supply of secondary critical raw materials from EU stocks and waste.

As for the external dimension, the EU needs to diversify its trading relations, while supporting developing countries. These two objectives go hand in hand, as our efforts should be aimed at forging strategic partnerships with like-minded nations in a multilateral framework, which can both help avoid supply disruptions for EU industry and contribute to the well-being and development of developing third countries. In this regard, there are three very specific elements to be underlined: the mutual advantages of integrating the Western Balkans countries into the EU supply chain; the urgent need for an increased role for the Euro in critical raw materials trading and the need to take greater account of the ethical dimension when drawing up Europe’s critical raw materials list.

Overall, we want to see EU industry flourish in a green and digital way, but we do not want to see our industry and society shift from one dependency (for instance on certain fossil fuels) to another full reliance on certain critical raw materials. To avoid this, and to ensure that the green and digital transitions increase resilience, competitiveness and social justice, we need to invest in research and development, sustainable domestic mining exploration, recovering valuable materials from waste, training and retraining a skilled workforce and creating a multilateral level playing field. This is essential in order to ensure that the green and digital revolutions are successful and benefit EU industry and society as a whole, and do not leave any worker, region and country of the world behind.

Pietro Francesco De Lotto

President of the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change at the European Economic and Social Committee

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MEP Vasile Blaga: Romania has fulfilled for 11 years all the Schengen requirements and our acceptance is still delayed

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© Vasile Blaga/ Facebook

MEP Vasile Blaga, member of the Committee on Civil Liberties of the European Parliament, took the floor during today’s reunion of the LIBE Committee, June 15, and with this occasion touched, during his intervention, upon a “political aspect” throughout the debate on CMV.

“This political aspect refers to the integration of Romania in the Schengen area and the connection between CMV and the postponement of our entry into Schengen. I was the Minister of Internal Affairs who dealt with the removal of the safeguard clause and securing the frontiers regarding Romania’s adherence to the EU”, mention the MEP during the reunion.

Moreover, the liberal MEP pointed out that Romania administers almost 2000 kilometres of EU borders and has fulfilled for 11 years all the Schengen criteria: “nevertheless, Romania’s admission is delayed without openly specifying why. Of course, it was denied on multiple occasions that the integration in the Schengen area would be related to the criticism from the CVM reports. However, reality contradicts this. I believe that the postponement of a decision regarding Romania’s admission to Schengen is an unfair treatment which the European Union applies to my country”, he added.

“I would like to express my hope that the finalization of the CVM for Romania will remove any obstacle, declared or undeclared, to Romania’s integration into Schengen”, concluded Vasile Blaga.

The entire intervention of the MEP can be followed here.

The European Parliament adopted on July 8, with 505 votes for, 134 against and 54 abstentions, the annual report regarding the functioning of the Schengen area which claims, again, that Romania and Bulgaria have to be integrated with full rights into Schengen, while a specifying that Croatia meets all the technical requirements as well.

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MEP Vasile Blaga: The Romanian Government, determined to finalize all the necessary reforms for the suspension of the CVM

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© Vasile Blaga/Facebook

MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) participated today, July 15, at the reunion of the Committee on Civil Liberties of the European Parliament and specified Romania’s direction following the last CVM report.

“The last CVM report for Romania clearly shows that in Bucharest exists political volition the effective implementation of the last steps towards reforms which will lead to the suspension of this mechanism for Romania. During the 14 years of evaluation, we found ourselves in the thankless position of repairing the inherited matters from the previous governments, the case being the same today. The last CVM report puts forward Romania’s positive progress from the last 2 years. I emphasize the fact that in Bucharest we have a governmental coalition determined to finalize all necessary reforms”, explained Vasile Blagato his colleagues.

Moreover, the liberal MEP notes that Romania still campaigns for averting the double evaluation regarding the Mechanism of the rule of law: “I want to point out the fact that there is a true expectancy for the finalization of the Mechanism for cooperation and its verification and evaluation based on the same criteria applied to all member states, meaning through the Mechanism regarding the rule of law. Romania still pleads for the prevention of this double evaluation.”

The entire intervention of the MEP can be seen here.

The European Commission adopted on June 8 its most recent report regarding the evolution of the situation in Romania concerning the reforms of the judicial system and fight against corruption, in the context of the responsibilities assumed within the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), noting that Romania registered developments regarding all the recommendations of the CVM and that the fulfillment of all recommendations is essential for the closure of this mechanism.

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