During the Committee of Regions (CoR) 100th plenary President Ramon Luis Valcárcel presented Europe's cities and regions priorities to the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. Mr Valcárcel said in the current political phase, "In order to ensure adequate planning of regional and local investment for the coming years, an agreement on the EU budget (Multiannual Financial Framework) must be reached before the summer". The CoR also raised serious concerns about the positions expressed by some Members of the European Parliament who suggested that cohesion policy was rooted in the past. "Cohesion is the most powerful instrument available to spread innovation, promote energy efficiency, fight against youth unemployment and poverty. For many of us, it is one of the few tools left to design the future of our communities", Valcárcel stressed.
President Schulz reiterated the importance of providing the European Union with adequate financial means for the next seven years, as well as the urgent need to address the risk of a growing EU structural deficit: "If we don't tackle the current deficit, the Commission will have to recommend equivalent budget cuts, between €11bn and €16bn, which would have a serious impact on our regions and cities. In the coming years, the gap between commitments and payments proposed by the European Council would lead to a deficit policy which is unacceptable for the Parliament" said President Schulz. At the same time he expressed confidence in the chance of reaching a good agreement on the MFF with the European Council. "We appreciate this cautious optimism" replied the President of the EPP Group in the Committee of the Regions, Michael Schneider (DE/EPP), while stressing that despite the fact that regional and local authorities have initiated their efforts to launch their investment programmes for years 2014-2020, a timely compromise on the MFF is necessary.
The complementarity roles of the European Parliament and Committee of the Regions were highlighted. "Without the Parliament, the CoR would not have the voice of regions and cities heard as loud in the EU public discussion and within the legislative process. At the same time, without our cooperation, Brussels and Strasbourg would be even more remote from citizens" pointed out the CoR President adding that the Election 2014 will be a crucial appointment. CoR First Vice President Mercedes Bresso called for a joint effort to prevent a success of Eurosceptic forces in the next European Election and urged for a timely implementation of growth-oriented policies: "We all know that financial consolidation is a duty towards the coming generations but we also must recognise that if we don't provide young people with the chance of finding a job, populism is likely to prevail". Commenting on the raise of anti-EU sentiment, Mr Schulz stressed that "The EU ideal is currently at risk and we have to convince people that it is still something worth to believe in". He called on the CoR to fully contribute, "to save the EU by revitalising its founding values and making clear that Europe does not need to do everything. When things can be better done at local and regional level, they must be brought back to those levels".
A new impetus to achieve the Europe 2020 social objectives through a binding Social Pact was advocated by Karl-Heinz Lambertz (BE/PES), President of the PES Group in the Committee of the Regions. In relation to the EU budget, he called for sorting out the systemic questions: "we cannot afford holding EU investments on the ground every year hostage for last-minute-low-cost deals", said the Minister-President of the German-Speaking Community in Belgium. Speaking on behalf of the ALDE group in the CoR, Paul O'Donoghue (IE/ALDE) stressed that: "European citizens are asking to rein in austerity measures and it is among the duties of the CoR as well of the European Parliament to challenge other institutions' decisions when they go against the interest of EU citizens". For the President of the EA Group at the CoR, Uno Silberg (EE/EA) "The European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions should play the role of the necessary bridge between decisions taken at EU level and ordinary citizens".
The debate provided also the opportunity to present the establishment of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group at the Committee of the Regions promoted by Gordon Keymer, Member of Tandridge District Council (UK).
The Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives. The mission of its 344 members from all 27 EU Member States is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law infringes the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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