We as European citizens, are today facing enormous challenges, from the local to the global dimension, capable of threatening the basic foundation of our social and economic model, and our prerogatives in terms of social and civil rights.
First of all, the global crisis has hit Europe harder than anywhere else, but this is not the only issue on the table: international security, migration flows, deterioration of the environment, economic and industrial competition from emerging countries and many more challenges are ahead of us for the coming decades.
In order to respond to the evolving global context with credible action, the EU must find the right path towards a more effective and accountable governance. An integrated response, with European, national and local players fully involved, is needed now more than ever. This is where the role of local and regional authorities, along with national and European institutions, appears to be decisive.
If Europe wants to react as a strong protagonist on the global scale, it needs all levels of government to work together in full cooperation. The EU is a combination of multi-level approaches and issues for which we need a multi-level response. The role of cities and regions, therefore, is even more important today and will be vital for the construction of a stronger Europe for the future generations.
2014 is a year of remembrance and celebration. One hundred years from the beginning of world war one, 70 years from the disembarkation of the allies in Normandy, 25 years from the fall of the Berlin Wall. All these events should make us remember what we stand up for: a process of peace, solidarity and prosperity.
We also celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Committee of the Regions (CoR). It was established in 1994 as the voice of the local and regional authorities, since then it has been the home of participative democracy. During these 20 years, the committee has continuously evolved in a context of increasing political and institutional complexity: four enlargements, three treaty revisions, and the introduction of the euro.
The Committee of the Regions has constantly enlarged its zone of influence and has become a much respected body in the EU’s institutional context, not only through its institutional role, but also thanks to the economic and political power that mayors and regional presidents have. The committee has been a fundamental actor, with the capacity to support local and regional authorities and to ensure the respect and the reinforcement of the principle of subsidiarity in EU legislation, other than a key player for the strengthening of the economic, social and territorial cohesion of our union.
The CoR has also succeeded in building new bridges between Europe’s regions and cities with partners in the Mediterranean and eastern neighbourhood countries, with the establishment of increasingly reliable and relevant networks such as the conference of the regional and local authorities for the eastern partnership and the Euro-Mediterranean regional and local assembly.
The rise of anti-European movements in the latest European elections was relevant. This was partly due to the crisis, but the reaction of the European Union was in some cases inadequate. In many cases, the EU institutions are today perceived as distant and ineffective from the lives of European citizens.
An increased political role for the CoR, through better involvement of local and regional authorities in the EU decision making process, might be part of the answer. Along with this, an enhancement in integration and cooperation between different EU institutions could allow the decisions made in Brussels to be closer to the needs of citizens around Europe.
In order to be an active and effective actor in the legislation process and during its implementation, the role of the CoR needs to be enhanced and it needs to be more involved from the beginning of the legislative process as a core player of the EU decision making process. The challenges ahead, therefore, are various and complicated. However, the European Union has the strength and resources to come out of the crisis.
Through a smart use of its resources and an effective institutional and political organisation, the EU will be able to overcome those challenges and offer a better place to live for its citizens in the future. In order to do so, all institutions must work in the same direction with a clear distinction of powers and responsibilities, but with better cooperation in Brussels and Strasbourg and also in a local and regional context.