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EU recovery - 20.02.2021

Recovery and resilience facility: local and regional governments must have a say
If the coronavirus pandemic has had a shocking impact on the health of citizens, their daily life and local economies, the EU’s recovery plan constitutes an historic act of solidarity for our continent and a turning point for our Union. Without this new financial windfall, we will not be able to overcome a crisis of colossal proportions like the current one. 

The shock created by this unprecedented situation will not only have a major effect on our economies, but also on how we collectively view the relationship between the environment and our way of life. 

The decisions we are about to take to overcome this crisis will shape the world for the next century and what is clear is that reconstruction and investments for the future will need to be made with and by regional and local governments. They have already proven their ability to manage the pandemic, protect our citizens’ well-being and support local businesses. 

This is why mayors, councillors and regional leaders across Europe are calling for strong and effective partnerships between all levels of government. Such partnerships will not only enable us to pave the way out of the crisis, but also to lay the foundations for a resilient and sustainable Europe, better prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead toward green and digital transitions.

The local dimension of the recovery has been clearly recognised by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who declared that she will be attentive to the investment priorities of municipalities and regions. 

Yet the Commission has merely recommended that Member States involve local and regional governments in the preparation of recovery plans; there is no obligation to do so. 

It is in the Member States’ hands to make sure that this materialises!

Exclusion of towns and regions from recovery plan preparation to date

Last December, we teamed up with the European Committee of the Regions to determine to what extent Member States are involving local and regional governments in shaping their post-COVID recovery plans. The results* are unequivocal: most EU Member States are failing to adequately inform and involve representatives of municipalities and regions in the definition of investment priorities and the drafting of these national recovery plans. 

Only local and regional governments and their national associations from Finland, Ireland and Lithuania said they were genuinely part of the process that will ensure the recovery of their territories. 

Of even greater concern were the various barriers highlighted by most respondents. These include a lack of willingness on the part of their national government to involve them, formats for exchange unconducive to effective involvement or insufficient time allocated to be able to contribute to the design of national plans. Given the sheer scale of what Europe is facing, we need our governance-in-partnership approach to be at its most effective, and quickly.

We need to involve all territories, no matter their size

At a time when the European Commission is preparing its long-term vision for rural areas, could these recovery plans not also be an opportunity to revive of the countryside and invest in those territories that still need to catch up in digitalisation, access to basic services, education, health, mobility and more? 

Europe’s push towards a digital and green transition must also take account of all territories. And if we want a real and effective recovery, we cannot adopt a “one size fits all” approach. The specific needs of territories of all sizes must be considered.

By involving national associations representing municipalities, cities and regions, we will ensure that the voice of intermediate cities, smaller towns and more rural territories will also be heard in national decision-making on investment priorities. It would definitely allow central governments include the views and interests of a wider range of territories in policy-making. 

The Partnership Principle: a key tool to improve EU policies at local level

It’s been about a year since  the outbreak of the pandemic, it is crucial that we avoid repeating the mistakes of the early weeks of the crisis. Too many of the initial measures were taken at the national level and often overlooked the crucial role that local and regional governments were playing in their constituencies. 

But despite repeated calls in the past months, we see that in the absence of a legal obligation, local and regional leaders are not being properly consulted. This is why we regret that the Partnership Principle, mandatory under cohesion policy, has been left out of the regulation on the recovery and resilience facility. 

Consulting and involving towns, cities and regions and their national associations is undoubtedly critical to ensuring effective investments and real reforms on the ground. 

What’s more, teaming up with the local and regional level will contribute to ensuring coherence in the use of different EU funds at the local level. This is why we urge the Commission and the Parliament to check the coherence of the national recovery plans in light of the Partnership Agreements underpinning the use of European Structural and Investment Funds in each Member State.

Despite the fact that 19 Member States have already submitted their draft national plans to the European Commission, we will continue to push for the involvement of cities and regions in a more systematic way. However, to ensure adherence to basic multi-level governance principles, we need the European Parliament on board. We encourage MEPs to make full use of their powers of scrutiny to help ensure the EU derives maximum benefit and effectiveness from the recovery and resilience funds. 

Europe’s recovery plan has great potential not only to reinvigorate our economy, but to go further, to address the huge problems that the pandemic has exposed and shape the future of our continent. By working with and empowering our cities and regions, the European Union will emerge from this crisis stronger and better able to tackle the COVID crisis, the climate emergency, the digital transition and the future challenges ahead. Our citizens expect it. There is no time to lose!

Stefano Bonaccini
President of Emilia Romagna region
President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions
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