Europe's cities and regions have argued that the level of investment for a new fund dedicated to supporting citizens most in need is insufficient. The European Commission has proposed ring-fencing €2.5bn from the total EU cohesion budget to provide non-financial assistance to the most deprived in Europe. The Committee of the Regions (CoR), however, argue that given the impact of the crisis which has resulted in ever increasing numbers of people exposed to poverty, an additional €1bn is needed. The CoR also stressed that delivering poverty mitigation schemes requires Member State and regional authority involvement, so the EU should co-finance schemes investing up to 85%.
The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived set out by the Commission seeks to help deliver the EU's objective of reducing by at least 20 million the number of people in or at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 2020. The Fund succeeds the current EU food aid programme which makes agricultural surpluses available as food aid, but expands the scope to include other essential goods, such as clothing. The new fund was the focus of Ossi Martikainen's (FI/ALDE) opinion, Chairman of Lapinlahti Municipal Council, which was unanimously adopted during the CoR's 100th plenary on 11th April. He welcomed the Commission's proposals which recognise the role of local and regional authorities in distributing aid to those most in need which will also help reduce administrative waste.
Ossi Martikainen stressed the importance of coming to a swift agreement and said, "The new fund is an urgent and important matter in Europe, especially considering the economic crisis, unemployment and risk of growing regional inequality. With the new fund the EU could provide means for all players at local and regional level to tackle deprivation of food, homelessness and child poverty. Voluntary organisations all over Europe are doing extremely valuable work, and their experience and resources in delivering aid to those in need is decisive. I hope the European Parliament and Council will take their decisions soon, so that there will no longer be a delay in implementing the fund".
Referring to the evaluation of the previous food programme which advised that €680m a year was needed, the opinion argues that the plans to reduce the level of the funding pot were short-sighted. Calling for an additional €1bn to be committed from the EU budget, the reduction, Martikainen said, was, "Simply unacceptable when more than 100 million people are in danger of falling into the poverty and being socially excluded from society ".The EU's cities and regions also argue that to make the most effective use of resources it was crucial to take a coordinated approach to protecting Europe's most vulnerable by involving Member State and regional authorities. The CoR therefore rejects the Commission's proposals to allow Member States to voluntarily participate in co-financing schemes that use the Fund, arguing that this could take away local and regional authorities' access to vitally needed investment. The CoR instead suggests that the EU should only offer up to 85% of funds with the remainder being committed by national governments.
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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