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Op-ed | Apostolos Tzitzikostas: European foundations lie in local communities. Conference on the Future of Europe must make their voices heard

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© EPP CoR/ Twitter

Opinion by Apostolos Tzitzikostas,

President of the European Committee of the Regions

For more than one year now the COVID-19 pandemic has swept across Europe. It has forced us to restrict the lives of our people and introduce other urgent unprecedented measures. This dreadful virus has tragically taken more than 680.000 lives in the European Union.

Throughout these difficult times, the CoR, and the one million regional and local elected politicians in more than 300 regions and 90 000 municipalities it represents, has never stopped working to serve the people living in regions, cities and villages across Europe.

As the pandemic crisis has clearly shown, our Union’s foundations lie in our local communities. As local leaders, our responsibilities are great – from running health services and schools to providing social services in these troubled times.

Despite the unprecedented difficulties, we have found new ways to encourage research, support businesses, adapt the local economy, and work with civil society. We have been fighting side by side with doctors and nurses.

The months ahead will continue to be difficult for all of us, but there is light at the end of the tunnel if we work in solidarity and continue striving for a smooth and comprehensive vaccination campaign. We must make sure that our key values of cohesion and solidarity remain the principles for the vaccination strategy in the EU and its regions. We must avoid competition for vaccines between Member States and within Member States and avoid a ”vaccine divide’’ that would increase inequalities between our regions, cities and villages.

Europe must emerge from this crisis more resilient and formally recognise the central importance of local and regional administrations. We are a cornerstone for the health, prosperity, resilience and vibrancy of our local communities.

We must ensure that EU funds are used effectively to help the recovery of our local communities. We must be fully involved in designing and implementing EU and national recovery plans. Our contribution is key to forging policies that manage the fundamental societal transformations we are facing. COVID-19 is one of those transforming forces. So too are the climate crisis, the digitalisation of our economies and the demographic evolution.

Trust will pull us through this crisis, and we, locally and regionally elected leaders, are the most trusted level of government. We know best the citizens’ needs and concerns and we know how to address them via concrete actions on the ground.

If we are to boost the European project we must enhance its democratic functioning. We must build together our common House of European Democracy with its roof – the European Union –, its walls – the Member States – and its foundations – the regions, cities and villages.

The Conference on the Future of Europe is a great opportunity to strengthen the democratic functioning of the EU. The Conference is not an objective per se: its goal must be to honestly engage with people, also via the European Committee of the Regions that represents the vote of the citizens living all across Europe.

We can make sure that citizens participate in this process and have their say because local and regional authorities are the closest and most trusted level of government.

By listening to our people, the Conference must allow an honest reflection through a profound democratisation process. We want less institutional complexity and more democratic representation of people’s trust via their vote in the European, national, regional and local elections.

Our recently established High-Level Group on Democracy led by former European Council President Herman van Rompuy will strive to promote our Committee’s contribution to the Conference. We will team up with the business sector and civil society, youth associations and territorial European and national associations and, of course, with the three EU institutions which are steering the Conference – the Parliament, Commission and Council. Our local dialogue on 9 May marks the territorial dimension of the Conference and, in addition to many local dialogues across the UE, we will organise the Summit of Regions and Cities during the French Presidency in early 2022 in Marseille.

As governors, presidents of regions, mayors, regional and local councillors, we have been at the forefront, fighting the pandemic, and now we are ready to start the recovery. Today Europe and its people need trust and leadership. The Conference on the Future of Europe can contribute to this process if it genuinely and concretely involves our local communities and if it gives voice to people in our regions, cities and villages. This is key to avoid a top-down exercise that would only feed the demagogic and anti-European false narrative of populists and Euro-sceptics.

Our purpose, as European Committee of the Regions, is to establish a strong regional and local dimension of the entire Conference in all EU Members States by engaging with citizens at regional and local level. We are fully convinced that by working together, based on mutual respect, we can increase the trust of our citizens in our common European project, strengthen the EU democratic architecture and bring Europe closer to its people.

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VirtualCall – m-Training for Inactive Women Aiming their Employment as Call Center Agents at their Homes

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INCSMPS implements, together with 5 EU countries, the ERASMUS+ project VirtualCall- m-Training for Inactive Women Aiming their Employment as Call Center Agents at their Homes (2020-1-TR01-KA202-094553 “Erasmus+ Project”) aiming “to e-train inactive women for their e-employment as call center representatives, to work from their homes”.

The training concept also includes e-stage possibility for efficient and complete result achievement. After such a program, individuals will be ready to start working, without needing extra steps.

The MAIN OBJECTIVE is “to increase the employability of inactive women in a profitable scheme for both employee and employer, under current market conditions”. 

OUTPUT: Integrated e-Training and e-Stage portal supported by Android APP will allow future call center representatives to be e-trained and practice by means of calling each other and simulating clients in changing roles. Grading/rating anonymously and repetition of e- learning modules depending on the strengths/weaknesses, re-studying while repeating e-courses and similar features will bring the possibility of satisfactory self-evaluation before starting to actual work. 

IMPACT: After having this kind of e-training and e-stage opportunity, home-based employment possibility for inactive women will not be a dream any more. Thus, this will surely open a new challenging door for inactive women, including women with physical disabilities; for them to work from their homes and integrate themselves into labor market. 

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MEP Vasile Blaga: It’s vital that Romania continues to implement regional and local programmes through the EU cohesion package

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MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) welcomes the positive vote of the Council of the European Union for the Cohesion Package 2021-2027 worth €330 billion, of which Romania will benefit from around €28 billion.

“The European Union’s main investment programme is cohesion policy. As far as Romania is concerned, the cohesion funds must continue to finance the development gaps between the older Member States and those that have integrated later. It is vital that Romania continues to implement regional and local programmes. At the same time, investments financed by the cohesion funds will to a large extent also ensure recovery from the pandemic, alongside the funds specifically earmarked through the NRDP”, said the NLP MEP for the news platform Calea Europeana.

According to MEP Vasile Blaga, “the two funding programmes must be complementary, both having sustainable objectives – from infrastructure funding to green transition and digitalisation projects”.

”The European Parliament will now vote on the Council’s position before it is published in the Official Journal of the European Union in June, most likely during the plenary session in Strasbourg”, added the EPP MEP.

The Council gave its final green light to the adoption of the cohesion package for the financial period 2021-2027.

The package is a set of regulations governing the structural and investment funds, which amount to more than €330 billion (in 2018 prices) or nearly one third of the EU’s long-term budget. The funds will finance regional and local projects designed to reduce economic and social disparities between member states and regions, while boosting a sustainable recovery from the pandemic by investing in green and digital priorities.

 

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Europe Day. MEP Vasile Blaga: EU solidarity in the face of the pandemic has proved that this project is the only option for Romania’s present and future

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© Vasile Blaga/Facebook

9 May is a double anniversary, Romania’s Independence Day and Europe Day, two fundamental milestones for Romania, said MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP), in a message for Europe Day.

”We honour the past of our country which, on 9 May 1877, gained independence. We celebrate, also today, 9 May 1950 – the Schuman declaration which laid the foundations of the European Union,” he said.

“I would like each of us to ask ourselves a simple question: Where would we be now without integration into the European Union. What would this particularly turbulent period have looked like in Romania outside the EU? The Union’s solidarity in the face of the pandemic has proved to everyone that this project is strong, solid, and the only option for Romania’s present and future. I would like every Romanian who still has a trace of Euroscepticism to ask themselves these questions. They have only one answer – Romania is Europe – in the past, present, and future”, added the Romanian MEP.

Europe Day held on 9 May every year celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historic ‘Schuman declaration‘. At a speech in Paris in 1950, Robert Schuman, the then French foreign minister, set out his idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable.

His vision was to create a European institution that would pool and manage coal and steel production. A treaty creating such a body was signed just under a year later. Schuman’s proposal is considered to be the beginning of what is now the European Union.

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