Brussels, 13 February 2004
Committee of the Regions' 53rd plenary session round-up
The CoR's first plenary session of the year was marked by two major debates on cohesion policy and the impact of big sporting events on the cities and regions of Europe. Several new CoR officers were also elected.
CoR members elected Peter Straub (DE-EPP) as their new president to succeed Sir Albert Bore (UK-PES), who became CoR vice-president.
Also elected were the 14 vice-presidents and other members of the CoR Bureau.
The future of cohesion policy in the enlarged EU was the subject of fierce debate at the plenary session.
The EU Commissioner responsible for regional policy, Michel Barnier, who was guest of honour, indicated what would be the main lines of the Third Cohesion Policy Report due to be published on 18 February.
Commissioner Barnier was satisfied with the proposal adopted by the Commission on 10 February for a financial envelope covering the years 2007-2013. "The budget (1.22% of EU GDP) is ambitious but realistic," he said, and cohesion policy "was stabilising its financial envelope around the threshold fixed in Copenhagen of 0.43% of EU GDP." Stressing that disparities will increase in the enlarged EU, the Commissioner added that this "would involve greater responsibility for cohesion policy," which "has produced undeniable results" since 1989. "The leverage effect of cohesion policy is the key to determining regional development," he said. The budget devoted to it was "a guarantee covering 7 years that no national budget can provide." After thanking several CoR members for their collaboration, Sir Albert Bore, the former CoR president, Ramon Luis Valcarcel (ES-EPP), president of the region of Murcia and author of a report on territorial cohesion, Michael Schneider (DE-EPP), author of the interim report on cohesion, Raffaele Fitto (IT-EPP), president of the region of the Apulia and Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe (BE-PES), authors of the outlook report on the future management of the Structural Funds (July 2003), Michel Barnier stated that future cohesion policy would be geared to achieving three priorities:
Michel Barnier also stressed that efforts would be made to help "territories with a permanent handicap" (long-standing structural handicaps, low population density, island and mountain regions) and the most remote regions. The Commissioner also announced his intention to ask the CoR for an outlook report on the development of a legal instrument for cross-border cooperation.
Mr Barnier's speech led to a lively discussion with CoR members.
Isodoro Gottardo (IT-EPP) thanked Commissioner Barnier for "his actions and his sensitivity towards the problems of the regions." Mr Gottardo was pleased with the figure given by the Commissioner of 0.43% of EU GDP for cohesion policy. "This figure was a minimum," underlined Mr Gottardo. "It was impossible to go below this threshold if we want to achieve our goal." Mr Gottardo also thanked the Commissioner for "his attachment to urban policy." "The URBAN Community initiative has helped the economic and social regeneration of cities and districts in crisis. URBAN has also had indirect effects; this policy has allowed the development of a political culture. That has made it possible to create more of Europe. This policy has borne fruit. It must continue to receive constant attention." Mr Gottardo also declared that "solidarity had to be developed. Europe has to become competitive as a whole."
Michel Delebarre (FR-PES) declared himself satisfied. "The results you have achieved cannot but meet with our approval," he said to the Commissioner. "We have fought the renationalisation of regional policy because, as elected representatives, we see the effectiveness on the ground of the policies which are linked to it. People are aware of this. Don't let's give up the thing that enables us to change everyday realities," he urged. "The cohesion policy is the essential vector for a democratic Europe." Michel Delebarre also proposed that European policies be systematically assessed in relation to cohesion policy to boost their effectiveness.
Harry Dijskma (NL-ELDR) said he was "sensitive to Michel Barnier's efforts." "A larger EU will need a big budget. We support cohesion, but we also understand the wish of certain states to reduce the EU budget. We must avoid a clash between local, regional, national and European interests. We do not want to renationalise regional policy. For a good regional policy helps successful national development. However, we must also be able to seize opportunities." According to Harry Dijskma, "we must support the innovative regions which show us the way."
Concluding the debate, Michel Barnier stressed that "devoting 1% of EU GNP to the EU budget is unrealistic in a Europe with 10 new Member States, bearing in mind all the policies implemented by the Union." He also stressed that the amounts allotted to a country benefited the net contributor countries. As an example, he declared that 40% of the funds obtained by the Greek regions returned to the net contributor countries. "It is a policy of round-tripping which at the same time helps maintain a balance in Europe," he said.
As part of the European Year of Education through Sport in 2004, the CoR also organised a debate on "great sporting events and their impact on the host area."
Guido de Bondt, secretary-general of the Belgian Olympic Committee and member of the executive board of European Olympic Committees stressed that the organisation of an event was important for the community in which it was held. "It is an opportunity to endeavour to establish a sporting policy," he declared, stressing the value of sport in education and training.
Valentino Castellani, president of the organising committee for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, explained that they "always had in mind an aim of urban development by organising the Games. Urban development must be the result of the Games, and not the reverse," he said. The economic impact was, for him, very important. "GDP growth will be 30 to 40% higher than what it would have been without the Games." 7,000 jobs were created a year. "The fallout concerns all sectors, construction, tourism and personal services."
Rita Barbera Nolla, Mayor of Valencia (ES-EPP), the city organising the America's Cup, was delighted that the trophy was returning to Europe after 150 years. "It is a great honour, for which we fought long and hard. This is a sporting event with enormous prestige. It is a challenge for the development of our city. We are going to invest in transport infrastructure. Our aim is to boost the international status of Valencia."
Dora Bakoyanni, Mayor of Athens (EL-EPP), the city organising the 2004 Olympics, declared: "We have made a great leap forward as regards infrastructure (motorways, road and tram networks). Our airport is top grade and the city centre has been restored. Living conditions have improved. Greece is attracting more and more tourists, but Athens has fewer visitors than before. Thanks to the Olympics, the outlook for the future is brighter. The Olympics will be an attraction. We are also hoping for more investment. The strengthening of the EU has been the driving force behind the Union's economic development. The example of Athens shows that cohesion policy is essential," she concluded.
At the Forum on "Education through Sport in the Regions and Cities of Europe," organised on the fringes of the plenary session, Panagiotes Tzanikos, Mayor of Maroussi, the location of the Athens Olympic facilities, declared that it was necessary to "send out a message of civilisation and optimism: our city can change, become more human and hospitable, and offer a quality environment to its residents."
Other statements linked to the plenary:
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