EU looks to local authorities and civil society to deliver Green Infrastructure
Members of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) reiterated their support today for European Commission plans to promote Green Infrastructure (GI) acknowledging the economic, social and environmental rewards it will bring. However, they called on the Commission to ensure that both local and regional authorities and civil society were actively involved in GI deployment from the very outset to assure its success.
The appeal came during a conference co-organised by both Committees and supported by the European Commission. Entitled "Green Infrastructure: Engaging regions, cities and civil society", over 150 representatives from the EU institutions, civil society as well as locally and regionally elected politicians gathered to debate the Commission plans. The European Commission initiative, which was drawn up in May this year, seeks to promote GI which incorporates natural processes and green spaces into spatial planning bringing significant environmental and economic benefits. Backed by EU Cohesion and Structural Funds and future European Investment Bank funding, it hopes that GI will be integrated into other policy areas such as agriculture, energy and climate change, responding to growing land degradation and contributing to achieving EU biodiversity and Europe 2020 targets.
Speaking about GI the European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potočnik, said, “Green Infrastructure is about translating the concept of environmental integration into reality by using nature-based approaches to increase Europe's resilience in the face of a number of significant challenges, from climate change and biodiversity loss to natural disasters like floods and droughts. Many regional and local authorities in the EU are already applying Green Infrastructure solutions. Together with civil society, they are important allies in the Commission's efforts to scale up Green Infrastructure in the EU”.
During her opening address Annabelle Jaeger (FR/PES), CoR rapporteur on Green Infrastructure, and member of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Regional Council, also stressed that ultimately the responsibility lay with local and regional authorities to oversee the planning and implementation. The Commission, she argued, must draw up concrete guidelines that cover all policy areas and engage all levels of government. "Local and regional authorities are fully behind the proposals but local actors must be supported to enable them to integrate GI plans into planning procedures and development programmes locally. The EU must set clear guidelines and develop a roadmap which can be used by local and regional authorities and other stakeholders to drive things forward". Jaeger also stressed the urgency of incorporating GI into partnership agreements and funding programmes now, given that negotiations on the 2014 EU budget are in their final phase. The proposal to establish a dedicated EU financing facility was welcomed but the Committee suggests that EIB and social cohesion investment could also be boosted by committing a certain percentage of EU support from "grey" infrastructure to a biodiversity fund.
The EESC also applauded the Commission's strategy but raised concern that much more attention should be paid to the early participation of civil society in GI projects. Adalbert Kienle, the EESC rapporteur on Green Infrastructure said, "Whether we can make Green Infrastructure a reality depends on the proper involvement of regional and local civil society stakeholders – such as businesses, farmers and NGOs. Traditional tensions in nature conservation between protection and use can be overcome if Green infrastructure projects are based on citizens' participation." Though most GI projects, he added, have a local or regional dimension some also have a wider European dimension – such as the European Green Belt Initiative, an outstanding ecological network along the former Iron Curtain reaching from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. The EESC strongly believes that the EU must take on direct responsibility of GI projects at European level and supports the proposal to introduce a TEN-G for the financing of Green Infrastructure.
The European Economic and Social Committee
The European Economic and Social Committee represents the various economic and social components of organised civil society. It is an institutional consultative body established by the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Its consultative role enables its members, and hence the organisations they represent, to participate in the EU decision-making process. The Committee has 353 members from across Europe, who are appointed by the Council of the European Union.
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Henry Borzi David French
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