The workshop entitled REGIOnerating Europe, moderated by AER Vice-President for Democracy, Nina Björby, addressed the key challenges facing the EU today and how regions can help to create a more democratic, inclusive and sustainable Europe.
Speaking on the value of cohesion policy and its uses, Anna Wagner, Deputy Head of Unit of the European Commission's DG Regio, stressed the importance of the partnership principle as well as the territorial dimension of cohesion policy. She welcomed the emphasis on a territorial approach and the move away from looking at cohesion purely through a sectoral lens. She recognised the work done by AER in this field and affirmed the importance of policy learning between regions as a means of promoting a bottom-up approach to governance.
Anna Casini, Vice-President of the Marche Region, Italy, spoke on the subject of subsidiarity and called for a common language and common narrative when communicating on European affairs. Instead of "subsidiarity", we should speak about a Europe closer to citizens. Ms Casini gave examples from the Marche Region on how Rural Development Funding has been employed both to increase awareness about the EU's support for regional development in rural areas and also to tackle the knock-on effects of climate change.
Thomas Andersson, AER member and Rapporteur on "Partnership between civil society and local and regional levels" of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, spoke about threats to democracy faced by the existing gap between institutions, citizens and civil society. He outlined the work done by the CoE Congress in cataloguing methods to improve citizens' engagement and told the participants about an upcoming toolkit which, when published, will be an excellent resource for all local and regional authorities wishing to further the involvement of citizens in multilevel governance and European affairs.
Christopher Glück, President of the Young European Federalists (JEF), continued this thread, and shared his experiences of speaking to young Europeans across the continent, in both capital cities and more remote areas. He spoke of a feeling of lost trust in democracy and scepticism towards the European Union, partly as a result of disinformation. He concluded by providing concrete examples of how Europe's local and regional leaders can counter this trend: by making changes that inspire hope in the European project, tackling disinformation through education and media scrutiny, and speaking openly and passionately about the many advantages of European Union membership, including the positive impact Cohesion Policy has on citizens' everyday lives.
Take away message
The workshop discussed how to make cohesion policy and its role in building a more democratic, prosperous, inclusive and sustainable Europe more visible to citizens. The session reflected on the views about how to involve local and regional authorities more effectively in EU policy-making in order to close the gap with its citizens, as well as exploring ideas for enhancing outreach, improving communication on EU affairs and fostering citizens' engagement in the EU democratic process.
"Inclusiveness doesn’t just happen. Resources need to be allocated to facilitate genuine exchanges between institutions and citizens to bridge the gap. Regions need to be smart in how they interact with citizens, bearing in mind language aptitudes, the level of information the citizens have and their socio-economic circumstances", Christopher Glück.
"In a context of decreased civil participation in politics, a more open, transparent and regular dialogue with citizens, especially young people, is needed", Thomas Andersson, Rapporteur on ‘Partnership between civil society and local and regional levels' of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
"Partnership is a key element when it comes to Cohesion Policy", Anna Wagner, Deputy Head of Unit of the European Commission’s DG Regio.
"Most of the challenges that are faced by the EU are not easy to communicate, citizens should be aware of the instruments used at European level to face these challenges", Anna Casini, Vice President Marche Region (IT).