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EU environmental policy: Offering local solutions to global problems<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/1.%20Torun.jpg" width="699" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> environmental policy: Offering local solutions to global problems<p style="text-align:justify;">​<strong>On 23 November, the ECR Group in the CoR held a conference dedicated to the role local and regional stakeholders play in global climate change negotiations, the bioeconomy and the circular economy. The conference was held in Toruń, Poland, at the invitation of the president of the ECR Group in the CoR, Rob Jonkman, and ECR Group members from Poland. </strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">Speaking about ways to improve sustainability in the EU, ECR Group member Paweł Grzybowski (Mayor of Rypin in Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland) said: "We need better regulations, better education for citizens and more investment in new technologies. Out of these three measures education is cheapest and most effective, but it requires strategic planning and does not bring immediate results". </p><p style="text-align:justify;">During the first panel, Mr Grzybowski debriefed participants about his participation in the international climate change negotiations in Marrakesh (COP22), which took place last year. This year's climate change conference, COP23, was held in the German city of Bonn. Commenting on its outcomes, ECR Group vice-president Adam Banaszak stated: "It is promising to see that every year the role of local and regional politicians in these meetings has been increasing. As we are the level closest to the people and we know our areas best, we know what works on the ground and what targets are realistic to achieve." Mr Banaszak also reminded participants that the next COP will take place in the Polish city of Katowice, the capital of the industrial Silesia region, which will provide a good opportunity to discuss clean energy technologies, including the ones for fossil fuels.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Speaking about the bioeconomy, Michał Korolko, chair of the Europa Kujaw i Pomorza regional association, used a practical example from the region of Kujawsko-Pomorskie: "In Bydgoszcz there are private companies which re-use the ash from burning waste. They use it in the construction sector. There are not many enterprises like that in Poland but we are trying to encourage them to invest in innovative bioeconomy projects, which are among EU's priorities. We expect that after 2020, structural funds will continue to be invested in the bioeconomy so the private sector may expect a degree of stability and predictability".</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Prof. Daniela Szymańska from the Nicolaus Copernicus University added that "there is no alternative to the bioeconomy for local communities". This is because we have limited natural resources which will need to be replaced with new ones. "Key to this process is education. We need to convince people and businesses that the bioeconomy is not something difficult to implement. The bioeconomy is not an entirely new idea. For instance, composting as a recognised practice dates back to the early Roman Empire". </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Among the participants at the conference were politicians, researchers, representatives of non-governmental organisations, and students from the Kujawsko-Pomorskie region. The speakers also included Alderman Gordon Keymer (honorary president of the ECR Group) and Emanuele Monti (councillor in Lombardy) who shared best practices from the United Kingdom and Italy in the area of the circular economy. </p>
EU Funds – keeping it simple<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/5.%20Vlasak.jpg" width="701" style="BORDER:0px solid;" />–-keeping-it-simple.aspx2017-11-26T23:00:00ZEU Funds – keeping it simple<p style="text-align:justify;">​Oldřich Vlasák (Councillor for the City of Hradec Králové, Czech Republic / Vice-President of the ECR Group) has been appointed by fellow local and regional politicians as rapporteur for the European Committee of the Region's opinion on 'Final Conclusions and Recommendations of the High Level Group on Simplification post-2020'. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The goal of the Committee of the Regions opinion, due to be prepared under the leadership of Oldřich Vlasák, will be to present the ideas of local and regional authorities on how the EUs Cohesion Policy could be simplified for the future. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"The EUs Cohesion Policy is in serious need of simplification. We need to simplify rules in order to reduce the administrative burdens imposed on beneficiaries. There is no doubt that Cohesion Policy has brought many positive and tangible results to local communities across the continent. However, access to the Fund and its management is difficult for local and regional authorities. The Funds need to be reformed so that they are easier to access, especially for small towns and municipalities. What we also need is to have a policy that is more bottom-up and based on clear rules and mutual trust. For a reliable and effective shared management system we need to find ways to ensure that the partnership principle is properly applied", said Mr Vlasák.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The partnership principle underperins the EUs Cohesion Policy and helps to ensure that actions are adapted to local and regional needs and priorities. The principle is also encoded in the European Code of Conduct on the Partnership Principle that regulate the use of European Structural and Investment Funds. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The High Level Group (HLG) on monitoring simplification for beneficiaries of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) was set up by the European Commission in July 2015. The final conclusions and recommendations of the HLG were adopted at its 10th meeting on 11 July 2017 and provide specific options for the preparation of post-2020 legislative proposals regarding the ESIF. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The initial discussion and the adoption of the opinion in the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) are due to take place on 13 December 2017 and the plenary adoption during the first CoR plenary session in 2018. </p>
Addressing social rights without further EU power creep<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/24.%20Grzybowski.JPG" width="405" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> social rights without further EU power creep<p style="text-align:justify;">​In response to the European Commission's new plans for a European Pillar of Social Rights, the European Conservatives and Reformists Group underlined that adressing social rights does not require greater centralisation of social policies in Brussels. While underlining that we do need to achieve equal opportunities in our societies and fair working conditions through coordinated action, the Group flagged subsidiarity concerns over replacing national systems with a single EU welfare system.  </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The ECR Group voiced strong opposition to the opinion on the European Pillar of Social Rights and voted against the CoR opinion at the CoR plenary on 11 October 2017. The general tenor of that criticism also applies to the current proposal by the European Commission. The European Pillar of Social Rights, presented as a Commission recommendation on 26 April and reffered to by Jean-Claude Juncker in his 13 September State of the Union address. It aims to deliver new and more effective rights to citizens and has three categories; 1) equal opportunities and access to the labour market 2) fair working conditions and 3) social protection and inclusion.  </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The ECR Group Coordinator for the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC), Paweł Grzybowski, stressed that the solution at the EU level cannot always be more centralisation. "Yes we do have a problem. We are yet to achieve equal opportunities for our citizens so that a child can have a bright future irrespective of the family or country it is born into. However, the way to address this is not by trying to harmonise the social systems of 28 diverse economies."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Underlining that there were warning flags already raised by national parliaments on Commission proposals on social matters, Paweł Grzybowski emphasised the need to respect the principle of subsidiarity "We need to respect the powers of local, regional and national authorities. We need to respect the principle of subsidiarity," he said. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The Commission has already received a "yellow card" from national parliaments over its proposed reform of the Posting of Workers Directive. The Commission proposed changes in three main areas: the remuneration of posted workers (making it equal to that of local workers, even when subcontracting), more coherent rules on temporary agency workers, as well as long-term posting. These changes would mean that it would go significantly beyond the requirements of minimum remuneration of the existing directive. Despite the 'yellow card' procedure triggered by 11 Member States because of subsidiarity concerns, the European Commission stands by its initial proposal.</p><p>Mr Grzybowski (Mayor of Rypin in Poland) noted the following; "the Group believes that reforms are necessary at EU level in order to enhance competition, keep labour costs down and boost productivity, ultimately bringing an end to an over-regulated labour market. But we believe that employment legislation is best decided at national level and that any European initiative must show due regard for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality."</p><p style="text-align:justify;">ECR Group Member Matteo Bianchi commented the following on the proposal: "We fear that the European Commission's plan will be used to harmonise social policy further, giving more powers to the European level and taking them away from the Member States, regional and local authorities".</p><p style="text-align:justify;">ECR Group Member Matteo Bianchi will organise on 14 December in Milan, Italy, a citizens' dialogue devoted to European Commission's proposals for a European Pillar of Social Rights and work-life balance. The event will be organised under the auspices of the Lombardy region and the European Committee of the Regions. It will be attended by citizens, local, regional and national politicians, academics and researchers. Besides Mr Bianchi, among the key speakers will be CoR Members Raffaele Cattaneo (President of the Lombardy Regional Council) and Mauro D'Attis (CoR rapporteur on the European Pillar of Social Rights). </p>
New ECR Member presents the unique and multicultural Vilnius region <img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/10.%20Andrzejewski.jpg" width="315" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> ECR Member presents the unique and multicultural Vilnius region <p style="text-align:justify;">​The region surrounding the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, is unique in Lithuania not only because of its size but also its multicultural character. The largest regional authority in the Amber Republic has over 100 000 inhabitants, of whom 52% are Polish, over 32% Lithuanians, around 8% Russians and just over 4% Belarusians. There are also smaller numbers of Ukrainians (0.65%) and Tatars (0.4%).</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The latter are the descendants of Tatars brought to Lithuania by Grand Duke Vytautas the Great in the late 14th century as his personal bodyguard. The Vilnius region is thus unique in terms of its history, culture, languages, customs and religion. The outstandingly beautiful, hilly landscapes of the Vilnius region are adorned by the pointed towers of Catholic churches topped by crosses, and domed Orthodox churches with their characteristic diagonal-beamed crosses, as well as a few wooden mosques in the villages of Nemėžis and Keturiasdešimt Totorių, where the descendants of Vytautas' valiant knights go to pray.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The local authorities of the region, which I have the honour to represent at the European Committee of the Regions, aware of the unique historical and cultural heritage of the region, endeavour to cultivate and promote it. They have already been doing this for several decades, and it is worth noting that, since our country obtained its independence in 1990, all the local elections in the Vilnius region have been won by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania - Christian Families Alliance (AWPL-ZRCH) political group. This is a regional party of Lithuanian Poles, but also representatives of other national minorities, and of course also Lithuanians.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The AWPL-ZRCH group's consistent and convincing success with the electorate can be partly explained by the fact that it is particularly sensitive to the Vilnius area's multicultural character, and seeks to preserve it. This is demonstrated by the fact that every year more than 50% of the regional authority's budget allocation goes on education, which has three dimensions. Teaching in the region's state-funded educational institutions takes place in three languages: Lithuanian, Polish and Russian. In this way all children are guaranteed the right to pursue their secondary education in their mother tongue, which is a precondition for preserving the ethnic identities of the individual diasporas.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">This trilingual model obviously requires significant investment, but the local authority willingly accepts the increased expenditure in this area. It also understands that, if national minorities are to feel safe and comfortable in their little homelands, three things have to be guaranteed: education in their mother tongue, the opportunity to use the language of their national minority in their close-knit community, and the ability to promote their culture. In spite of various difficulties with the central government in this area (e.g. the Lithuanian parliament's repeal of the Law on National Minorities following the country's accession to the EU), the local authority is trying to create this security of identity for national minorities.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Support from the various EU programmes has been helpful in this respect. EU and local authority funds have been used to modernise educational establishments, kindergartens have been built, the entire school infrastructure is being extended and modernised. For example, sports fields and gymnasiums, playgrounds and cycle tracks etc. are being built. In effect, thanks to EU support, our region is undergoing a transformation. More than EUR 70 million has been invested in the region from EU funds since 2007. In the last few years alone a folk arts centre has been built at the Houvalt manor in Maišiagala with co-financing from EU programmes (EUR 967 000). A new biathlon shooting range has been built at Nemenčinė (with EUR 312 000 from the EU), as have seven new sports fields (EUR 499 000).</p><p style="text-align:justify;">EU funds are of course also being invested in cultural projects, which in our region, like education, have three dimensions. This can best be seen in the context of our main annual celebration, the harvest festival. The popular Dozhinki festival encapsulates the culture, history and customs of the Vilnius region in all their diversity. At the festival individual municipalities from the Vilnius region present not only the year's harvest, but also their rich multi-ethnic artistic skills. At the festival you can listen to jolly, boisterous Polish folk songs performed by the many folk music ensembles of the region, fall into a melancholy reverie over wistful Lithuanian laments or dance to the rhythm of the gopak performed by Russian masters of the dance. You can also sample the delights of various ethnic delicacies, such as Lithuanian dumplings, Polish poppy-seed cake and Russian bliny. You can marvel at the richness of the creations of masters of different cultures and nationalities.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">One thing that is absolutely unique to the Vilnius region, from the cultural point of view, is the Vilnius Easter palms which the women of the region have been weaving for generations. Vilnius palms are so beautiful, original and individual that the Lithuanian authorities have applied to UNESCO to have them included on the World Cultural Heritage list.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">We invite you to visit the Vilnius region to experience for yourself its diverse cultures and peoples.</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><em>Tadeusz Andrzejewski is a member of Vilnius district municipal council and a member of the European Committee of the Regions, where he belongs to the European Conservatives and Reformists Group. At the Committee he participates in the work of the Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX), and the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC). He is a journalist and columnist, inter alia for the Tygodnik Wileńszczyzny and the L24 internet portal.</em></p>
Our borders - a Polish perspective<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/32.%20Godek.JPG" width="695" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> borders - a Polish perspective<p>​- By Robert Godek </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Of all the processes that have been radically changing Europe's social and political landscape in recent years, the migrant crisis is undoubtedly one of the most challenging. Poland's local authorities – and, I believe, average Polish citizens as well – view the events unfolding within the EU in this regard with a great deal of surprise and even disbelief. The issue is not so much humanitarian concerns, which are beyond discussion, but rather a country's ability to control and protect its borders, one of any state's most important prerogatives.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The Federal Republic of Germany and France signed an agreement in 1984 to make it easier for their citizens to cross borders; in Schengen in 1985, the agreement was extended to the Benelux countries, and then in 1995 to additional countries, along with the elimination of internal border controls. All of this meant that the free movement of people became an attractive and innovative feature of the European Union. For this very reason, additional countries joined Schengen, including non-EU Member States (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway). For citizens of countries such as Poland, who can recall the restrictions and corruption of border regimes under communism, the freedom to cross borders within the EU was, and continues to be, an extremely important administrative – even ivilizational – accomplishment. For residents of the Podkarpackie region, to take one example, the elimination of border controls between Poland and Slovakia has had a very tangible effect, enabling active interpersonal contacts in the border regions, paving the way for business and administrative partnerships, etc. This is in contrast to the situation with Ukraine, where international border crossings are strictly guarded and limited by means of a barrier (or, as it is termed in Ukraine, a "cordon"), with all the consequences that entails: complex border protection and customs systems on both sides of the border, smuggling of goods, and waiting times at border crossings that can stretch to hours, often due to the whim of those policing the frontier on either side.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Polish citizens welcomed Poland's accession to the European Union and the ability to freely cross the EU's internal borders. At the same time, when Poland was preparing to join the Schengen area in 2005-06, international assessments to check the Polish authorities' readiness to police the border – and to evaluate the implementation of the principles set out in the treaties relating to free movement across internal borders – made clear to us the responsibility entailed by the fact that Poland was to control not just its own border but also the external border of all EU Member States (or, more precisely, those Member States party to the Schengen Agreement). Assessments were carried out on the preparedness of border crossing points and IT systems, and on how border forces were equipped; we were told there was a need to make changes and invest in order to ensure that all border control systems would work robustly. We took it as read that we – the Polish state and its structures – were obliged to take up these challenges, in exchange for our citizens being able to enjoy the freedom to move around within the EU. One problem that was difficult to solve was regulating local border traffic with Ukraine, which had to be significantly limited, affecting residents of border regions both in Ukraine and in Poland.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The events in Ukraine in 2013-2014 ("Euromaidan") brought about a rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU, which also entailed a relaxation of the requirements imposed on Ukrainian citizens travelling to the EU (i.e. primarily to Poland). Since this period, we have been seeing an ever-increasing wave of Ukrainian migration. It is estimated that by the end of 2017, around 2 million Ukrainian citizens will be working in Poland – in comparison to just 400 000 in 2013. Furthermore, Poland is not only seeing economic migrants from Ukraine: young people, too, are studying at secondary schools and universities, and as many as half of students in any given academic cohort are from Ukraine.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">All of these entries are legal under existing regulations. There are very few illegal crossings of the Polish border, although attempts are made, as attested by cases that receive wide publicity in Poland, such as the death from exhaustion of three of four Chechen children who, together with their mother and led by a Ukrainian smuggler, illegally crossed the border in the Bieszczady in 2007, or the attempt to storm the border crossing into Poland from Belarus undertaken by a group of Chechen refugees in August 2016. Smuggling of various articles – primarily cigarettes and alcohol – is constantly being detected, and additional Polish-built border crossings are coming under increasing pressure. As a rule, however, these significant numbers of economic emigrants do not lead to ethnic conflicts breaking out in Poland, a fact that is backed up by representatives of the Ukrainian authorities. Cultural proximity certainly plays an important role in this regard, despite certain historical troubles that continue to colour relations between Poles and Ukrainians.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">All of this means that the average Polish citizen struggles to understand how large groups of people were able not only to enter the European Union during the migration crisis but also to then cross additional borders without major problems. Meanwhile, it is incomprehensible that after giving up some of our country's sovereignty to others in terms of border control – and endeavouring to fulfil all of our responsibilities in this regard – we are having to bear the consequences of gaps in the EU's borders that Poland did not cause, e.g. the European Commission's proposed mechanism for the compulsory resettlement of refugees. This is an important and sensitive issue for Polish citizens. We are fully in favour of humanitarian aid, providing support to other countries by means of our border control measures, and other steps under agreed commitments. Polish public opinion, however, is not in favour of an interpretation of EU solidarity (where EU Member States take responsibility for each others' borders) according to which people who have crossed borders illegally are welcome in the EU.</p><p style="text-align:justify;"><em>Mr Robert Godek is the Head of the Strzyżów County Council (located in in Podkarpackie region in south-east Poland). He is also Deputy President of the Association of Polish Counties (Związek Powiatów Polskich) and Alternate Member of the European Committee of the Regions. Mr Godek was previously the Deputy Governor of Podkarpackie region where his responsibilities included managing and coordinating tasks in the field of border security.</em></p>
United Nations Climate Change Conference - How cities and regions can help save the planet <img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/2.%20COP.JPG" width="693" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> Nations Climate Change Conference - How cities and regions can help save the planet <p style="text-align:justify;">​The European Committee of the Regions was represented at the 23rd UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn (COP23) by two ECR Group members from Lithuania, Vytautas Kanevičius (Mayor of Kazlų Rūda) and Daiva Matonienė (Member of Šiauliai City Municipal Council). They underlined at the conference the need for more international cooperation and greater involvement of local and regional authorities in the implementation of the "Paris agreement", which is widely seen as a milestone in the global endeavour to respond to climate change. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The Bonn conference was a follow-up to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) held in 2015 in Paris. Implementation of the Paris agreement has faced numerous challenges, including the possible withdrawal from the accord of the United States and the modest ambitions of the global partners. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Commenting on these difficulties, ECR Group representative Daiva Matonienė said: "We can no longer accept the unequal distribution of costs and lack of shared responsibility for the future of our planet. While we celebrate in the EU the fact that we have the most ambitious climate change framework in the world, we often forget that we are responsible for less than 10% of global CO2 emissions. What truly matters is not how ambitious one party to the agreement is, but how ambitious we are collectively. One of my objectives during COP23 is to convince our partners from outside the EU about the benefits of increasing their level of ambition by investing in clean energy sources and clean technologies. The Transatlantic Dialogue on Climate Change held by the CoR during COP23 provided a good platform to raise this issue with mayors from the United States."</p><p>Another key challenge discussed at COP23 was the role of local and regional authorities in implementing the Paris agreement. ECR Member Vytautas Kanevičius commented: "Currently, local and regional authorities are put into one basket with other 'non-party stakeholders' such as businesses and non-governmental organisations. However, we represent our local communities and therefore believe our status in future negotiations should be upgraded so that we can more effectively voice their concerns." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The COP23 conference was convened under the presidency of Fiji, a Pacific island that was hit in February 2016 by the strongest cyclone on record. The Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, said the Paris agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction were all "landmark agreements that must be implemented together". </p><p style="text-align:justify;">In this spirit, ECR Group Member Adam Banaszak (Vice-President of Kujawsko-Pomorskie Regional Parliament in Poland) held a conference on 23 November in Toruń devoted to addressing environmental issues from a local and regional perspective in the aftermath of COP23. He will also organise a Citizens' Dialogue in Toruń on 6 December devoted to disaster risk management.</p>
The danger of closing borders in Europe and its impact on the life of citizens in border regions<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/33.%20Liberec.jpg" width="704" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> danger of closing borders in Europe and its impact on the life of citizens in border regions<p style="text-align:justify;">​Under the leadership of Dr Pavel Branda (ECR Group's spokesperson on Territorial Cohesion Policy), a citizens dialogue was organised by the European Committee of the Regions in his region in Liberec, in the Czech Republic on 2 November 2017. The event brought together local and regional politicians from the UK, Ireland and Germany with citizens for a reflection on Europe and cross-border cooperation.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">In past decades in Europe, a lot of effort was put into the development of cross-border cooperation and the opening up of borders. Is there a danger of closing them again? What impact will it have on the lives of people and the economy of border regions? The seminar tackled these topics from the perspective of local self-governments. The seminar looked at two concrete examples. The example of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the UK was discussed, where these cross-border cooperation questions are becoming most urgent nowadays with the UKs pending withdrawal from the EU. The current situation in the German, Polish, and Czech Euroregion Neisse-Nisa-Nysa was also discussed.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The seminar took place at the regional university (Technical university Liberec) with more than 80 students and staff attending the seminar. Among the CoR panellists were Jerry Lundy (Sligo County Council, Ireland) and Arnold Hatch (Craigavon Borough Council, Northern Ireland (UK)). The two local politicians presented the biggest achievements of cross-border cooperation on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, UK and also touched on the possible implications of closing this border as a result of the UKs withdrawal from the EU. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Heinz Lehmann (Member of the Saxony Parliament, Germany) and Martin Půta (President of the Liberec Region and a President of Euroregion Nisa, Czech Republic) underlined the importance of cooperation for the collective prosperity of the localities. Dr Pavel Branda (Deputy Mayor of Rádlo municipality and Vice-president of AEBR) then presented overall European perspective and shared examples from other parts of Europe. </p>
EU and its Eastern Neighbourhood – going local<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/36.%20PB.jpg" width="659" style="BORDER:0px solid;" />–-going-local.aspx2017-10-23T22:00:00ZEU and its Eastern Neighbourhood – going local<p style="text-align:justify;">​Dr. Pavel Branda (Deputy Mayor of Rádlo municipality, Czech Republic), the ECR Group representative on the Committee of the Regions' Conference of Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership's (CORLEAP) Bureau, spoke at the CORLEAP conference in Yerevan, Armenia on 24 October 2017. The conference was titled "Innovation and regional development: Agents for growth in Eastern Partnership countries". </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Dr Branda gave a presentation on the importance of cross-border cooperation in fostering regional and local development. He shared specific examples and best-practices from the 26 years of cross-border cooperation that his border region has with the neighbouring German and Polish regions. This was very much welcomed by the participants as an inspiration for cross-border cooperation projects between the Armenian-Georgian border. Dr Branda offered the participating representatives of Eastern Partnership countries his expertise and assistance if needed.</p>
Citizens of Italy’s Northern Lombardy and Veneto regions call for greater autonomy<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/8.%20Bianchi.jpg" width="694" style="BORDER:0px solid;" />’s-Northern-Lombardy-and-Veneto-regions-call-for-greater-autonomy.aspx2017-10-22T22:00:00ZCitizens of Italy’s Northern Lombardy and Veneto regions call for greater autonomy<em><p style="text-align:justify;">- By Matteo Bianchi</p><p style="text-align:justify;">On 22 October 2017, citizens of Italy's Northern regions of Lombardy and Venetto voted overwhelmingly for greater autonomy from the central Italian government. The referendum is not legally binding on the central Italian government and will now be followed by a formal request from these regions towards the central government for more decision-making and fiscal powers. </p></em><p style="text-align:justify;">The process that led to the referendum of October this year started in February of 2015 when the Regional Council of Lombardy approved a proposal for a non-binding referendum to demand more autonomy for the region, in accordance with Article 116 of the Italian Constitution. The question to be put forward in the referendum, resulting from a process of negotiation on the original drafts, was found to be constitutionally valid. The region used electronic voting for the referendum, which is the first time that this method was used in Italy for voting. The Veneto region held an equivalent referendum at the same time, in this case using traditional paper ballots. On both Italian and European scales, the Lombardy and Veneto regions are special in many respects. They do not, however, have statutes in which the central government recognises their specific characteristics.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">We will not be able to successfully reform Europe without making it more bottom-up. To achieve this, we need to allow local and regional authorities to manage investment and services in accordance to communities' needs. Central governments – including the one in Rome – often exercise excessive pressure on regions. They do not understand that more regional autonomy can only be good for the people. It was therefore hardly surprising to see the Italian government showing signs of intolerance towards the non-binding referendum in October in which Lombardy and Veneto demanded more autonomy. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The central issue for our regions is tax. Substantial resources are generated at a regional level but they do not remain there to help local governments. To give you an idea about the scale of financial transfers in Italy, only the region of Lombardy pays €54 billion to Rome, eight times more than the region of Catalonia pays to Madrid. Moreover, the inhabitants of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna regions pay 50% of contributions covering the expenditure of the entire Italian social security system.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The referends in Lombardy and Veneto were approved by the Regional Councils and fully in line with the Italian Constitution. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Here is some further data on the Lombardy Region, whose population size is approximately 10 million: </p><p style="text-align:justify;">5th in Europe for GDP per capita at EUR 36 600 per citizen, equal to Denmark and well above the European average; </p><p style="text-align:justify;">debt per capita lower than the Italian average: €73 per citizen in Lombardy compared with the national average of €407; </p><p style="text-align:justify;">public expenditure per capita is €2 447, compared with an Italian average of €3 658;  </p><p style="text-align:justify;">It is this performance that led a study from <em>Confcommercio</em>, presented at a conference entitled "Less tax, less expenditure", to conclude that if public services in Italy as a whole cost the same as in Lombardy, the country would save €74 billion. Of this amount saved, <em>Confcommercio </em>has calculated that €53 billion would still need to be reinvested in the public services of Italy's least efficient regions in order to help make them reach the level of efficiency of regions like Lombardy. The remaining €21 billion of the €74 billion potential saving (1/3 of the interest on Italian public debt) could then be used to alleviate the tax burden on businesses and families. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">In the Northern part of Italy as a whole, between 2005 and 2007, the central government yearly has taxed some €76 billion more than it spent and spent some €37 billion more than it taxed in the South. In other words, the fiscal transfers from North to South roughly equalled the entirety of the income taxes paid in the North.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">On 22 October 2017, after two years in the institutional system, a "Referendum on Autonomy" was held which resulted in a strong outcome in favour of greater devolution of powers (95% in Lombardy and 98% in the Veneto voted in favour of this). </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Italy's two most productive regions will now ask the central government for more resources and competences on matters such as civil protection, sports, environment, health, education, vocational training, cultural heritage and infrastructure. Other areas include foreign trade and the coordination of public finances and of the tax system. Currently, only five regions in Italy possess autonomous powers including Sicily and Sardinia and Veneto's neighbour Friuli-Venezia. </p>
Protecting citizens from natural disasters<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/25.%20Resilience%202.JPG" width="699" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> citizens from natural disasters<p style="text-align:justify;">​Representing European local and regional government, ECR Group Members Adam Banaszak, Pavel Branda and Cllr Harvey Siggs spoke at a high-profile conference organised jointly by the United Nations and the European Committee of the Regions on the topic of disaster risk management. Speaking on behalf of the CoR, they focused on the need for more advanced planning, community-led solutions and preventative expenditure. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The ECR Group Members highlighted the fact that although natural disasters often could not be avoided, "prevention is in our hands". For this reason, they argued, EU cities and regions wanted disaster resilience to be a requirement for all EU-funded infrastructure. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Corina Cretu, the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy, commented: "Disasters can hit anywhere, anytime, and completely change our lives in one minute. Since 2005, natural disasters have cost more than EUR 100 billion across our continent. This is why the disaster risk management conference today is crucial. The EU helps its cities to be better prepared: Cohesion policy alone offers EUR 8 billion in the current financial period for climate-change adaptation and risk prevention. However, the keyword is experience-sharing, especially in terms of prevention and preparedness. When cities talk to each other, Europe becomes safer and stronger".</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The Commissioner's message was reinforced by Dr Pavel Branda (Mayor of Radlo in the Czech Republic), who underlined the importance of cross-border cooperation in preventing natural disasters. "Different laws, procedures and institutions make it particularly difficult to work together on disaster risk management in border areas. We experienced this in the region I come from when we were hit by floods. We have learnt our lesson the hard way and pooled our resources afterwards with partners from Germany and Poland so that mistakes are not repeated. Thanks to an online system which helps our border regions to exchange information and to prevent floods, our citizens can now feel safer".</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Making the link with technology, Cllr Harvey Siggs commented that "despite technological advances, it remains a great challenge to truly make our cities and regions more crisis resilient". Solving such problems required not only money, but also the help of volunteers and community organisations. "When there is an earthquake or a flood, very often more people are saved by other people who dug through the mud with their bare hands rather than by advanced machinery. We cannot forget about community-based preparedness. The best results are achieved when there is effective coordination between citizens, civil society groups and local, regional and national authorities".</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Adam Banaszak, ECR rapporteur on the Action Plan on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and Vice-President of Kujawsko-Pomorskie region in Poland, where thousands of homes were damaged by storms in August 2017, added that another crucial aspect was to ensure that all public money invested locally was cost-efficient and did not put the lives of citizens at risk. "All EU investments relating to construction of new infrastructure must be disaster resilient. While this may entail greater costs in the short term, a number of studies have shown that it is far more cost-efficient overall to build disaster resilient infrastructure than to renovate unsafe structures".</p>
Marcin Ociepa underlines importance of working with local communities in external relations <img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/3.%20Ociepa.jpg" width="701" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> Ociepa underlines importance of working with local communities in external relations <p>​Leaders of the European Union's regions and cities have thrown their support behind the European Union's decision to channel much of its diplomatic efforts and international aid into building up the economic and social 'resilience' of partner countries. At the same time, the ECR Group rapporteur Marcin Ociepa (President of Opole City Council in Poland) urged EU decision-makers and diplomats to focus more attention on local and regional authorities outside the EU, arguing that "they are to a large extent responsible for the strength and quality of resilience."<strong> </strong></p><p style="text-align:justify;">The recommendations by the rapporteur collectively suggest that, by bolstering the resilience of local communities outside the EU, the EU would be able to contribute more effectively to making states and societies strong enough to withstand crises. Marcin Ociepa draws particular attention to regions on the EU's eastern and southern borders, arguing that more support needs to be directed toward projects "in the area of security, education, economic, social and cultural policy." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Mr Ociepa said: "The concept of resilience implies building up the long-term strength, stability and flexibility of our neighbours. The world changes and shocks happen, and we want to help our neighbours to cope with and adapt to such changes. A society will be more able to cope with political, economic and environmental crises and to develop healthily if it pursues democracy, forges trust in public institutions, and seeks socially inclusive sustainable economic development. So we believe it is critically important for the EU to focus on education, social inclusion, vulnerable groups, economic development, investment, disaster risk management and developing international cooperation. And the EU should also focus, where it can, on working with local and regional authorities, as they run emergency services, can identify and assess risks, and can often reach out more effectively to the local population." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">He continued: "Instability abroad has knock-on effects on Europe. We have seen that with the refugee and migration crisis, and the Ukraine crisis and hostile propaganda against the EU and its Member States have raised the risks on the EU's borders. So I think helping border regions is especially important. We need to pay more attention to reports and analyses from regions and municipalities in these areas. And we need to counter disinformation campaigns with the help and to the benefit of local and regional authorities." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The rapporteur also emphasised that "tackling the root causes of irregular migration (such as poverty, inequality, etc.) is one of the key measures in building resilience. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The opinion, "A Strategic Approach to Resilience in the EU's External Action", highlights the need for the fresh policy emphasis on resilience to be reflected in the EU's research priorities, urging the EU to ensure that local academia, "as regional centres of expertise", should be "involved more in this research." </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The opinion, which was adopted unanimously, stresses that the EU needs to gather accurate knowledge at the local level, since local circumstances demand a tailored approach rather than a one-size-fits-all strategy. It also draws particular attention to the importance of families, communities, associations and places of worship in communication, prevention, crisis response and recovery efforts. </p>
Grounding the EU's space policy <img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/9.%20Ortyl%20Nereus.jpg" width="702" style="BORDER:0px solid;" />'s-space-policy-.aspx2017-10-10T22:00:00ZGrounding the EU's space policy <p>​On 11 October the European Committee of the Regions adopted an opinion that positively assesses the Space Strategy for Europe proposed by the European Commission. Władysław Ortyl, Marshal of the Podkarpackie region and ECR Group Member, led the work on smart specialisation and regional investment. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Marshal Władysław Ortyl, ECR Group's shadow rapporteur for the opinion on the EUs space strategy underlined the importance of taking into account the regional dimension of space policy for its success noting that investment in space policy could save tax-payers billions of Euros.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">"I am glad that all our amendments were successfully adopted. The Space Strategy for Europe can only really succeed if we take into account the regional angle of the policy. The way we shape the policy will have a direct impact on the development of firms in this industry and therefore our regional economies. The way we design the policy will impact our ability to attract and keep industry in our regions. It is through such a regional approach that aviation and aerospace have become the leading smart specialisation in my region in Poland." he said.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The document drawn-up by the members of the Committee of the Regions will now be forwarded to the European Commission as the official position of the local and regional authorities of the EU. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"The EUs space strategy can help save billions of Euros of tax-payers hard-earned money", said Marshal Ortyl. He added that "between 2002-2012, disasters were responsible for 80 000 deaths and cost around 95 billion Euros in the EU alone." As stated in the opinion, space technologies can be useful, inter alia, in the public sector. They can be used, for example, for day-to-day monitoring of an area or evaluating the status of natural resources (water, air etc). Advanced technologies can also be used for reviewing the subsidy system and for early identification and prevention of illegal construction. Furthermore, space technologies can be harnessed for improving the energy efficiency of buildings and can help warn against and monitor the effects of natural disasters. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">In the adopted document, the EU local and regional elected representatives underline the importance of the role played by the regions in implementing the EU's space policy. "We believe that regional authorities should be coordinators of regional space policy. In this context the activities of regions that have joined the Network of European Regions Using Space Technologies (NEREUS) should be highlighted. The aim of these activities is to harness the potential of space technology", said Mr Ortyl. The Podkarpacie region joined the Network in May of this year.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">The Marshal also underline that the creation of European Space Agency business incubators in the regions should be supported, with the aim of encouraging entrepreneurship in this sector. On 9 May 2017, the Podkarpackie region co-hosted the Aerospace and Defence Meetings, which were attended by 150 companies from more than 20 countries. The aim of the event was to bring together business partners and to facilitate the sharing of experience between world leaders from the aviation industry.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Between 2014 and 2020, the European Union will have invested over EUR 12 billion in space programmes. </p>
ECR Group workshop shows need for community led solutions and private sector involvement in addressing youth unemployment<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/22.%20EWRC1.JPG" width="703" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /> Group workshop shows need for community led solutions and private sector involvement in addressing youth unemployment<p style="text-align:justify;">​The European Conservatives and Reformists Group in the European Committee of the Regions hosted a workshop on addressing youth unemployment during the 2017 European Week of Regions and Cities. The debate, which took place on 11 October, brought together local and regional politicians with representatives of the EU institutions and the private sector to discuss ideas and elaborate on how community-led solutions can help address youth unemployment. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">ECR Group Member Cllr Harvey Siggs (Member of Mendip Council in the UK) chaired the first panel, which aimed at setting the scene and taking stock of where we stand in our efforts to tackle youth unemployment. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Paweł Grzybowski, the ECR Coordinator for the Commission for Social Policy, Education, Employment, Research and Culture (SEDEC) and rapporteur for the CoR opinion on "Investing in Europe's Youth and the European Solidarity Corps", welcomed the European Commission's aim of strengthening the civic participation of our youth. The rapporteur also called for "closer cooperation with local communities in order to develop projects that meet their needs and for greater involvement of the private sector in order to use the working strand of the European Solidarity Corps as a tool that can contribute to including our youth in economic, social and democratic life". </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Dr Pavel Branda (Mayor of Radlo in the Czech Republic) chaired the second panel, which looked at the role of the European Solidarity Corps in facilitating the integration of Europe's youth into the labour market and enabling them to build skills by helping their communities. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Speaking at the second working session, John Flack MEP (Member of the European Parliament for East of England) stressed that society can only improve by empowering young individuals. He explained how the UK has successfully combatted youth unemployment through community-led initiatives such as the NCS (National Citizen Service), a successful project initiated by the Conservative party.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">Other speakers included Menno Bart (Public Affairs Specialist, Adecco group), Anita Vella (Deputy Head of Unit, Employment Strategy, DG EMPL), Giorgio Zecca (Policy Advisor, EUROCITIES) and Sandra Rainero (Policy Advisor, Veneto Lavoro).</p>
EU's silence on Catalonia - We need a union of values, not a union of selective approaches<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/7.%20Cooney.jpg" width="159" style="BORDER:0px solid;" />'s-silence-on-Catalonia---We-need-a-union-of-values,-not-a-union-of-selective-approaches.aspx2017-10-10T22:00:00ZEU's silence on Catalonia - We need a union of values, not a union of selective approaches<p style="text-align:justify;">​During the 11 October Plenary session, members of the CoR discussed Catalonia's disputed "self-determination referendum", which the Spanish government has declared as illegal. Speaking on behalf of the ECR Group, Cllr Joe Cooney (Conservative Leader of Pendle Council, UK) criticised how the Commission is all too ready to criticise some Member States while it has remained all too silent on the violence of the Spanish government towards Catalan citizens. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Speaking at the Plenary Session debate with Council President Donald Tusk, Joe Cooney called for more dialogue between all parties involved and on the European Commission to treat all Member States equally. "The matter of independence is not a matter for me or the CoR but for the Spanish Government and its citizens. As a representative from a country that has held an independence referendum on part of it separating, I know how strongly people feel about their own countries and regions. While some might not have agreed with the Scottish independence argument, it was absolutely right that the people were given that choice to have their say in a free and open election", said Cllr Cooney.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">"Outside this very building is the phrase "Europe had a duty to be an example of democracy and respect for human rights' on the 1st October those values were failed to be upheld in Catalonia. No government, especially an EU Member State government, should ever barricade polling stations, or forcefully remove ballot papers from their hands". </p><p style="text-align:justify;">The ECR Group Vice-President also underlined that the EU needs to figure out when it should speak out and when it should remain silent: "The Commission speaks all the time towards others, but when we see Spain using force against the citizen's desire to peacefully express their will, the Commission has been far too silent. This double standards is not okay. We need a union of values, not a union of selective approaches with one approach for so called friends and another for those the Commission may not be so fond of". </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Cllr Cooney made it clear that the solution lies in dialogue between all parties involved. "The role of the EU is to speak out against any abuse of democratic expression wherever it is found. When the EU speaks people listen and it means something. When the EU and those in influential positions don't speak out against the actions we've seen in Catalonia the next time an intervention is made it means a little less".</p>
Climate change - Oldřich Vlasák calls on the European Commission to uphold the subsidiarity principle <img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/27.%20Vlasak.jpg" style="BORDER:0px solid;" />řich-Vlasák-calls-on-the-European-Commission-to-uphold-the-subsidiarity-principle-.aspx2017-10-09T22:00:00ZClimate change - Oldřich Vlasák calls on the European Commission to uphold the subsidiarity principle <p style="text-align:justify;">​ECR Group Vice-President, Oldřich Vlasák (Councillor of the City of Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic) addressed European Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete (responsible for Climate Action and Energy) during the CoR plenary session on 10 October. Speaking on behalf of the ECR Group, he made the case for a more bottom-up, realistic EU approach to environmental issues. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">Mr Vlasák criticised the speech delivered recently by the French President at the Sorbonne University, in which Mr Macron called for more EU-wide rules on climate change and greater harmonisation of tax policies, including the carbon tax. "Let me say this clearly: creating a one-size-fits-all approach by giving new powers to Brussels in the field of climate change will not help our cities, regions or Member States to address this issue. Instead, it will lead to disproportionately higher energy bills in parts of Europe and therefore more euroscepticism in our local constituencies. It will also make our energy intensive industries less competitive," said the ECR Group Vice-President.</p><p style="text-align:justify;">"Our Member States and local and regional authorities need the flexibility to adapt strategies to their local situation and assets. The principle of subsidiarity must be upheld. We hope that the calls by the Czech Chamber of Deputies and the Polish Senate in their reasoned opinions on the Clean Energy Package will be heard." Here, Mr Vlasák referred to the fact that these two parliamentary assemblies called for non-binding national contributions to the European renewable energy and energy efficiency targets. </p><p style="text-align:justify;">"Secondly," continued Mr Vlasák, "we cannot push for ever-higher climate change targets without taking global activities into account. The EU is responsible for less than 10% of global CO<sub>2</sub> emissions and this proportion is expected to further decrease in the coming years. It is obvious that to keep global temperatures from rising, we also need to look outside our borders. Climate diplomacy should become one of the top priorities for the European Commission. Let's cooperate more closely with our counterparts from Canada, the United States and the developing world. Let's also use city diplomacy which will make our national governments feel that they are falling behind and spur them on to be more ambitious and establish more effective partnerships." </p>
Obituary<img alt="" src="/ecr/news/PublishingImages/black-ribbon.jpg" width="165" style="BORDER:0px solid;" /><p style="text-align:justify;">​ECR Member Cllr Robert Gordon CBE, who had been fighting cancer, passed away in October of this year. He had been the leader of Hertfordshire County Council in the UK since 2007 and was awarded his CBE by the Queen for his services to local government. He was first elected to the county council in 1989 and had been a member of the European Committee of the Regions since 26 January 2015. He was also the first chairman of the Hertfordshire Police Authority between 1995 and 1997, and has served as an NHS non-executive director. Many have already paid tribute to him from across the political spectrum. He was a source of inspiration for many and a much loved colleague who will be missed dearly.</p><p> </p>