The EU's Assembly of Regional and Local Representatives
Brussels, 1 October 2009
October plenary session: CoR members to address climate change, European transport and the area of freedom, security and justice
The Committee of the Regions' plenary session, to be held on 5 and 7 October, in parallel with the OPEN DAYS - European Week of Regions and Cities, will reflect the main themes in current EU institutional and political affairs. One reason is that the newly-elected European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso , and the European Parliament president, Jerzy Buzek , have accepted an invitation from the 344 locally and regionally-elected politicians that make up the CoR. Another is that the session's main theme will be the battle against the effects of climate change and preparations at regional and municipal level for the Copenhagen summit. Highlighting the global dimension of its concerns, the CoR has invited Elizabeth Kautz , vice-president of the US Conference of Mayors, to speak about what local and regional politicians are doing on her side of the Atlantic and the possibilities for cooperation with their European counterparts in the battle against climate change.
Message from the president
"At the December climate summit in Copenhagen (COP 15), Europe will once again have to play a pioneering role so that the global community can set itself ambitious and realistic goals in the fight against climate change. However, this meeting will have to translate into implementing measures, including at local and regional level. In preparing for the summit we therefore need to take care that, from the very start, the negotiated texts take account of the role of regions and municipalities in efforts to preserve environmental balance and biodiversity.
The Committee of the Regions' upcoming plenary session, which will coincide with the Open Days, promises to be a particularly crucial meeting, particularly in view of the forthcoming Copenhagen summit. Having committed itself alongside the European Commission, in the Covenant of Mayors signed last spring by some 700 European cities, the CoR will underscore its commitment to these goals at its plenary session on 7 October by dedicating one of its OPEN DAYS to the environment. During this event, the vice-president of the United States Conference of Mayors, Elizabeth Kautz , will come to Brussels to join CoR members in discussing ways to tackle climate change.
This is why the CoR will be present in Copenhagen, to ensure that the summit duly reflects the local and regional dimension of climate change. For the effort and energy that we will put into preparing the Copenhagen conference could have a long-term impact on our lives and those of future generations."
Luc Van den Brande , CoR president
Practical information for the plenary session
Monday 5 October, from 3 to 5 p.m. – European Parliament, Paul-Henri Spaak building, debating chamber, 43 Rue Wiertz, 1047 Brussels
Wednesday 7 October, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2.30 to 7.30 p.m. - European Commission, Charlemagne building, 170 rue de la Loi, 1049 Brussels.
A press point with EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs (TBC) , Elizabeth Kautz, vice-president of the United States Conference of Mayors and Luc Van den Brande , president of the Committee of the Regions, will be held on 7 October at 1.30 p.m. (EC Charlemagne building, room S2).
Regions and cities on the road to Copenhagen
The October Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions will take place during the annual OPEN DAYS European Week of Regions and Cities, the biggest event on the EU's regional policy calendar. Organised jointly by the CoR and the European Commission's Directorate-General for Regional Policy, this 7 th edition of the OPEN DAYS will take the form of more than 200 workshops and events focusing on four major themes: innovation, territorial cohesion, the future of cohesion policy and the role of local and regional authorities in tackling climate change.
This last theme will also be dealt with extensively during the CoR plenary session on Wednesday 7 October, with the adoption of two opinions focusing on key areas where local and regional authorities have an important role to play in tackling climate change. The , by (DK/PES), highlights in particular the need to ensure that any pan-EU strategy to tackle climate change involves the local and regional level not only in efforts to mitigate climate change but also to adapt to its effects. This in turn implies a greater level of coordination between climate change policies at every level of governance, as well as underscoring the necessity of making more money available to regions and cities that are often on the front line when it comes to coping with the adverse effects of global warming.
One such problem is highlighted in greater detail in the draft opinion of (DE/EPP) on an . Climate change is the main cause of the dramatic escalation in the number of natural disasters such as floods or forest fires, and the implications for local and regional authorities stretch far beyond putting out the flames or mopping up the water: such disasters have a long-term impact on many policy areas under the responsibility of local and regional authorities, from health care and education to transport and housing. Like climate change, disasters are not limited by geography, and the opinion stresses that more effective disaster prevention will require a far greater level of cross-border – and inter-regional – cooperation, allowing regions not only to share best practice but also to work more effectively together on the ground.
The Jensen opinion will also form the basis of the CoR's main message ahead of the UN climate change negotiations taking place in Copenhagen in December, and with this meeting in mind there will also be a major debate during the plenary session on local and regional responses to climate change. Key speakers in the debate will include CoR member and deputy mayor of Copenhagen Mona Heiberg , who will discuss how her city is preparing to host the UN climate change conference, as well as Elizabeth B. Kautz , vice-president of the US Conference of Mayors, who will explain how local politicians in the US took matters into their own hands after Washington refused to sign the previous UN climate change declaration, the Kyoto Protocol. Ms Kautz will also hold talks with CoR president Luc Van den Brande and EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs aimed at promoting greater coordination between the Conference of Mayors and its EU counterpart, the Covenant of Mayors, ahead of the Copenhagen talks.
Regions and cities push for more eco-friendly and efficient European transport policy
Combating climate change also requires the development of innovative transport solutions, from urban mobility schemes to the major European transport corridors. Europe's cross-border routes are of fundamental importance for its regions and cities, and a vital instrument for promoting territorial cohesion. Within this framework, two CoR opinions to be adopted at the October plenary session will put forward proposals to develop a more efficient, eco-friendly and safe EU transport policy.
The flagship projects of the European Union's transport policy are the so-called "trans-European transport networks" ("TEN-T"), which coordinate and finance large-scale transnational transport links. In his draft opinion on the European Commission's proposals for a , (FR/PES), deputy mayor of Lyon, demands that these EU-funded projects give greater priority to environmental concerns and support more eco-friendly modes of transport, such as rail, sea and inland waterways. Highlighting the need to connect Europe's more remote regions with its economic centres, Daclin's report also regrets that the Commission does not adequately consider the vital role of transport policy in European regional planning.
The importance of rail freight as an eco-friendly and safe alternative to other modes of transport is also emphasised in a draft opinion on , drawn up by , mayor of Wołów (PL/UEN-EA). Welcoming plans to boost the sector's competitiveness and efficiency, Krochmal's opinion requests that regional and local authorities be consulted in setting up the envisaged European rail freight corridors, thus ensuring that the routes do not adversely impact on adjacent local communities. Krochmal's opinion argues that these rail corridors should also be linked with other modes of transport through land and sea terminals or inland ports, and should take into account the logistical hubs already established by local and regional authorities.
Asylum and immigration : local and regional authorities on the front line
During this plenary session the members of the CoR will also vote on two opinions that address the issue of local and regional level management of flows of migrants and asylum seekers – an area where local and regional authorities are on the front line.
In her draft opinion on the , , secretary for European Union affairs of the government of Catalonia (the Generalitat) (ES/PES), reiterates the need to bring the issues of security and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms together in a balanced way, adding that prevention must be the primary approach when tackling issues which affect people's security such as terrorism, organised crime, and especially people trafficking, drug trafficking or the sexual exploitation of minors. The rapporteur also points with concern to the proposed restrictions on the entry and residence of family members who are nationals of third countries, and calls for particular vigilance to guard against any discrimination based on nationality or ethnic origin. She also expresses her concern at the fact that greater solidarity is restricted to a utilitarian and selective approach based on meeting perceived needs by admitting highly qualified immigrants who are in demand on European labour markets.
This draft opinion will be complemented by another, to be presented by , member of Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council, ( UK, ADLE) on the . In her draft opinion, she recommends that where access to housing, welfare, health, education and the labour market are administered by local or regional authorities, there should be recognition by Member States of the necessity of solidarity and burden-sharing at the sub-national level. She urges that local and regional authorities be given either additional direct European support, or guarantees that they will benefit proportionately from funds allocated to Member States.
Local and regional level: a relevant framework for action for adapting to climate change
One area that continues to be of key importance for the Committee of the Regions is the recognition of the fundamental role that local and regional authorities are already playing in the implementation of policies to combat climate change. Accordingly, in his draft opinion on the , the mayor of Denmark's Næstved municipality, Henning Jensen (D K/PES), proposes concrete measures for involving local and regional authorities directly by making full use of their local knowledge and know-how. To this end, he urges that "a horizontal joined-up approach be taken at local, regional and national bodies affected by common features such as estuaries, coastal and river flood plains," and underlines that, "local and regional authorities should receive additional financial support to mitigate losses and meet the additional costs of adaptation, since meeting the varied challenges of climate change will impose significant new financial burdens on local authorities." This opinion will be set in a wider perspective with the debate on "Regional and local responses to climate change" to be held as part of the 2009 Open Days, during the CoR's plenary session.
The environment is also at the heart of the draft opinion on to be presented by Helmut Jahn (DE/EPP). The Hohenlohe district councillor proposes that European regions be more closely involved in managing such disasters, calling for "an inventory to be made of existing Community instruments relevant to supporting disaster-prevention measures and for the cataloguing of prevention measures for which EU funding can already be used." He notes that, to make this possible, particular attention should be given to possibilities of financial support for cross-border plans, exercises and training.
Migration and asylum: vigilance and solidarity at local level
Despite welcoming the fact that progress in establishing a genuine area of freedom, security and justice has put citizenship at the heart of this initiative, in her ( ES/PES), nevertheless calls on the Commission to ensure that "asylum systems in the Member States keep pace with the progress made on the establishment of a common European asylum system based on the Geneva Convention and other related international instruments" and "warns against signing new readmission agreements with countries which are not signatories to the Geneva Convention". The CoR rapporteur also draws attention to the risk that the establishment of an electronic system for recording entry to and exit from Member States' territory could be prejudicial to fundamental rights, especially the protection of personal data.
Staying with the CONST commission, the report by member of Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council (UK/ALDE) will enable to the Committee of the Regions to deliver its opinion on . Among other things, this text stresses the need for "improvements in communication at local and regional level concerning the difference between forced and unforced migration, and between recipients and seekers of international protection". The CoR rapporteur urges that, "funding programmes that can be accessed by local and regional authorities be developed to improve public awareness of asylum issues in areas where this could improve community information and integration."
The CoR supports a strategy for the Danube
An opinion drawn up at the initiative of the state of Baden-Württemberg's minister for federal and European affairs, (DE/EPP) , will highlight the European perspective of the Danube area, stressing that the development of waterway and terrestrial infrastructures will enable the region to take full advantage of its position as a link between East and West and North and South and therefore make it more competitive. A key objective of this draft opinion on will be to point out that transport and environmental protection should not be mutually exclusive, but on the contrary must go hand in hand. Sustainable development of the Danube area should be the overriding goal of the strategy.
Europe's competitiveness: the Committee of the Regions examines transport networks and other policies
CoR members will also present draft opinions on a number of other subjects, bringing a local and regional perspective to the debate on the competitiveness of European transport as well as to the issue of how to increase the effectiveness of a number of Community programmes and policies.
, deputy mayor of Lyon (FR/PES), will present a draft CoR opinion on . This text, which will set out the CoR's views on this complex issue, will stress the need to set up a favourable tariff and regulatory framework to secure more environmentally-sound rail, maritime and river networks. Accordingly, the CoR's draft opinion calls for an ambitious policy to be implemented in this area "not least by internalising external costs or through European support for freight undertakings to use sustainable modes of transport". In addition, it calls for European financing to be extended to cover measures which the Member States and regional authorities could deploy after public consultation in order to prepare local areas to welcome major projects (such as training the local labour force, worker accommodation, adjustment of the local economic fabric to the needs of the projects, etc.) which would enable these sites to also be sources of positive knock-on effects for local areas.
Continuing the exploration of the future of European transport, the mayor of Wołow (PL, UEN-EA) will present his draft opinion on , drawing the attention of the European institutions to the need for a set of rail standards to reduce logistics costs, improve competitiveness, make the markets more accessible and ensure there is a balance between economic development and environmental requirements, so as to make the railways an integral part of the valued added chain in the European business network. He also stresses the need for local and regional authorities to be consulted on decisions to set up freight transport corridors that will be discussed and taken at Community level, and for these consultations to take place early on, "during the planning and approval stage at national level".
During the plenary session ( FR/EPP) will set out the CoR's position on the . The rapporteur's position as a town councillor for Saint-Sylvain-Bellegarde in the French farming region of Limousin, gives him a unique insight into the workings of the Common Agricultural Policy. His opinion for the CoR calls for CAP instruments to be more responsive to sectors facing crises (be they related to markets, climate or health). Simple tools need to be provided within an effective institutional framework, enabling resources to be pooled to assist production and thereby guarantee decent incomes for farmers dealing with such crises.
In his draft opinion on , regional councillor for Ile-de-France (FR/PES), considers that trends in skills needs must be taken into account when developing education and training. These are often first identified at local and regional level. He has reservations about the Commission's proposal to establish a benchmark for employability, which in his view warrants more precise definition.
(UK/EPP), leader of Leicestershire County Council and chairman of the East Midlands Regional Assembly, was tasked by the Committee's ECOS commission with setting out the position of local and regional authorities on One of the key recommendations for enhancing the programme set out in the report is that the Commission promote micro-credit proactively by giving the specific target groups (i.e. the unemployed and disadvantaged persons, including the young, women, older people and minority ethnic communities) "a specific and appropriate position in programmes and initiatives related to micro-credits".
Lastly, during the plenary session, on 7 October, the CoR will unveil its pilot scheme on the that will identify and reward EU regions with outstanding entrepreneurial vision, irrespective of their size, wealth and abilities. The regions with the most credible and forward-thinking action plan will be awarded a special label: "Entrepreneurial region of the year".
Regions in the front line when it comes to health and social affairs
Another key moment at this October's plenary session will be the presentation of the draft opinion on The president of the regional government of Castile and Leon, ( ES/EPP), will recommend that, where they do not yet exist, "dedicated units be set up within law enforcement agencies, health organisations, and legal and social services to offer specialised support services in cases of violence against women". Going further, he will recommend that a European observatory on violence against women should be set up to promote and co-ordinate measures adopted on the issue through active networking.
Lastly the CoR will turn to health, with the draft opinion on the , drawn up by (S E/EPP) , member of the Executive Committee of the City of Gothenburg. CoR members will be called upon to ask the Commission to "monitor price developments with a view to ensuring that the proposed authorisation procedure does not lead to higher medicine prices". The rapporteur stresses that, "It is vital that medicines be used in a way that can be justified ethically, medically and economically. The main aim of this legislative package must be to ensure that the right doses of the right medicine are administered to the right patient at the right time so that the best use possible is made of resources."
Updated information and press releases on the CoR opinions and reports can be found on the CoR website (
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The Committee of the Regions
Around two-thirds of EU legislation is implemented by local and regional authorities in the Member States. The Committee of the Regions was created in 1994 to give representatives of local government a say over the content of these laws. The CoR organises five plenary sessions a year, where its 344 members vote on opinions issued in response to proposed legislation. The European Commission, which initiates EU laws, and the Council of Ministers, which determines the final content of the legislation (usually in tandem with the European Parliament), are obliged to consult the CoR on a wide range of policy areas including the environment, employment and transport. The Lisbon Treaty will strengthen the position of the Committee of the Regions further. In future, the Committee must be consulted by the European Parliament on all issues that are important for regions and municipalities. The Committee can also appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law violates the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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