Opening session - Regions and cities, pillars of the EU's future
Solidarity, sustainability and a Europe closer to its citizens were the three leading themes of the debate that marked the opening of the EU Regions Week.
In the hemicycle of the European Parliament, practically overbooked by nearly 1,000 participants, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions, Klára Dobrev, European Parliament Vice-President and MEP, EU Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, and five young elected politicians called for more European solidarity and stronger regional investment to deliver a better future for all its citizens.
The debate showcased the role of regions and cities in the current political context and how they can further strengthen their contribution to the implementation and development of European policies on the ground.
The discussion was joined by five young politicians representing the over 100 young elected politicians invited to the conference - Laura Sparavigna, City Councillor in Florence, Italy (PES), Radosław Swoł, City Councillor in Mielec, Poland (ECR), Vincent Chauvet, Mayor of Autun, France (RE), Mia Eskelinen-Fingerroos, City Councillor in Kuopio, Finland (EPP), Kirsteen Currie, Councillor in the Highland Council, United Kingdom (EA) shared their experience and views on the opportunities and means cities and regions should have for the future of the European Union.
Regarding solidarity, the participants in the debate agreed that Cohesion Policy is solidarity therefore the EU must keep investing in this powerful tool and ensuring that it its mechanisms are designed in very close cooperation with the authorities on the ground that often know their needs and realities much better than distant levels of government.
The new Cohesion Policy for 2021-2027 should strengthen social aspects such as education and health and continue to empower regions and cities, who are at the forefront of a sustainable Europe.
A green deal should be the EU's top priority – this was the result of an online poll during the opening session, showing the importance people place on sustainability and climate change.
On this second theme of the debate participants stressed that regions and cities are key in designing policies and actions on climate change adaptation from an integral approach, that includes environmental, economic and spatial planning.
European citizens want to live in a greener, more inclusive and smarter continent and demand that the EU play its part by designing innovative policies and by providing sufficient investment to address climate change and to help alleviate the damages caused to those affected by extreme climatic phenomena.
A Europe closer to citizens was the last theme in the debate.
Here, participants highlighted the importance of supporting young people's European identity through inclusion and underlined the importance of finding new ways to better communicate decision making and to better include and engage (young) people as a way of fighting populism and support democracy.
Take away message
The debate highlighted the concerns, unique views and priorities of young elected politicians for the next decade, with a particular emphasis on the role of cohesion policy and the EU budget post-2020.
Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the CoR: "Over the years EU regional policy has shifted, in response to new challenges. EU cohesion policy – which gives regions and cities the investment they need to respond to issues such as climate change and inequalities – must continue to be the centrepiece of the EU."
Klára Dobrev, European Parliament VP: "We are entering a new era. New game-changers entered the scene. They are young, energetic and enthusiasts and aware of the climate change threats. From now on, the future of elected politicians will much depend on their ability to address this enormous threat to mankind."
Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs: "The new Cohesion Policy for 2021-2027 will need everybody to engage and deliver together. Cohesion Policy must continue to empower regions and cities, who are at the forefront of a sustainable Europe."