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Taking off for 2020 – Europe’s Regions and Cities make it Happen

Submitted by on 27 Nov 2013 – 10:31

By Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, President of the EU Committee of the Regions

In 2014, EU cohesion policy will take off for a new period and see the launch of about 320 national and regional programmes in the 28 Member States, worth about EUR 325 billion of EU funding to be spent by 2020. All 272 regions of the EU will have to manage programmes that aim to make our economies more competitive, create jobs for the unemployed and help Europeans, in particular young people, to find their way into the labour market. These programmes have to be “smart, sustainable and inclusive” and Europe’s regions are currently striving to make that happen: for the benefit of everybody, wherever they live in the EU, with a focus on the less-developed regions.

That’s what EU cohesion policy is about: ensuring that people and places can profit from a unified Union and that nobody is left behind.

Over the past months, the EU institutions have negotiated the budget and the conditions of a reformed cohesion policy. In the midst of crisis, these discussions have not always been easy and are in fact not yet concluded at the time of writing. Agreement on the EU budget for 2014-2020 was reached before the summer break, but details of the implementation of EU cohesion policy are still to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council.

During the debate, the Committee of the Regions has been the voice of Europe’s regions and cities. We have supported several new elements such as the policy’s alignment with the Europe 2020 strategy. We have, however, in agreement with the European Parliament, been critical of other elements of the reform and have, for example, advocated making the administration of the European Structural and Investment Funds simpler.

What counts in the end is the delivery of results on common objectives, and they can be achieved in different ways in different regions. Our most important concern, again in agreement with our colleagues from the EP, is still on the negotiation table. It concerns the proposal of “macro-economic conditionality” and the suspension of EU funds where Member States do not comply with rules and recommendations in the context of the so-called European Semester and better economic and financial governance. We are not convinced that regions and cities should pay the bill for issues that are potentially beyond their influence because they are dealt with by the national government, and are against such a rule linked to EU funding for the poorest regions.

The preparation of the new cohesion policy programmes should also leave time for reflection, to learn from each other and to come forward with new ideas. This is what the European Week of Regions and Cities-OPEN DAYS is about.

Between 7 and 10 October, the 11th OPEN DAYS will be held under the overall slogan “Europe’s regions and cities taking off for 2020”. The Committee of the Regions has again joined forces with the European Commission’s Regional and urban policy DG and 200 regions and cities from all over Europe.

Together, we will hold 101 workshops, debates, and networking activities on three thematic priorities: (1) managing change 2014-2020; (2) synergies and co-operation; and (3) challenges and solutions. 600 speakers – politicians, officials, representatives of the business world and the NGO sector and academics – will discuss with some 6,000 participants how to make more of the existing possibilities at regional and local levels.

These figures make the OPEN DAYS not only the No. 1 event in Brussels and the “not-to-be-missed” conference for regional and local authorities, but they also make the event the biggest annual conference worldwide dealing with regional and urban development.

New elements in this year’s OPEN DAYS programme include an exhibition route on “100 EUrban solutions”, with the Committee of the Regions’ building in the centre and ten regional offices in the European quarter showcasing best practices. Moreover, there will be a master class for 77 early career researchers from some 30 countries in the field of regional and urban policy. Last not least, over 300 local events are expected to be organised between September and November all over Europe, bringing OPEN DAYS close to the citizens.

All in all, I am convinced that the OPEN DAYS make a valuable contribution to both capacity-building among regional and local authorities and to communicating EU cohesion policy among its various stakeholders. In this sense, the event will continue to follow the policy cycle of the European Structural and Investment Funds and play its role as the annual rendezvous of politicians, experts and academics in the field of urban and regional development.

Let’s take off together!