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Highlights of the Plenary Session, 7-8 April

Met dank overgenomen van Comité van de Regio's (CvdR), gepubliceerd op maandag 11 april 2016.

Members of the European Committee of the Regions came to Brussels on 7-8 April for their first plenary session since the attacks of 22 March on the Belgian capital, and the plenary began with a statement by Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the Brussels Region, in which he declared that Brussels would not be cowed by the attacks.

A similar message was sent on 6 April by the leadership of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and by the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz. After a wide-ranging debate, the leaders of the EU's two political assemblies urged European political parties to galvanise themselves to counter populism and to strengthen their efforts to prevent radicalisation.

7th European Summit of Regions and Cities

Three days before the plenary session, the CoR signed an agreement with the City of Bratislava and the Bratislava Region to hold the 7 th European Summit of Regions and Cities in the Slovak capital, and the CoR's plenary session began with a briefing on what will be the CoR's largest event of the year. The Summit, which will be held on 8-9 July, is also the largest event planned during Slovakia's six months in the presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Summit, which was created by the CoR in 1997, will this year focus on ways to accelerate growth, increase investment, and improve connections between Europe’s communities, regions and resources. It marks the start of the multi-year 'Bratislava Process', through which the CoR will seek to ensure that the EU's budget and Cohesion Policy is better suited to the needs and challenges of the EU's cities and regions.

Stimulating innovation will be central to the debate at the Bratislava Summit, and this year's main inspiration will be Amsterdam. The Dutch city was named European Capital of Innovation 2016 by the European Commission on 8 April. The award was jointly presented by Markku Markkula, the CoR's President, at a ceremony in the CoR.

Members passed 11 opinions at the plenary session, primarily on the EU's emerging urban agenda, and on energy and economic issues:

Concrete steps for implementing the EU Urban Agenda

The EU's member states will on 30 May endorse the Pact of Amsterdam, which is intended to foster a more integrated approach to policy issues in the EU's cities and metropolitan regions. In her opinion, Hella Dunger-Löper (DE/PES), State Secretary for the Land of Berlin, called for the process to be binding and for the First Vice-President of the European Commission to be charged with the Urban Agenda, in part to guarantee a close link with the Commission's Better Regulation agenda. The CoR called for the launch of the Urban Agenda to be followed up with a white paper to assess the results, and for a systematic review of ways of improving the EU's support for towns, cities and their surrounding regions.

Protection of refugees in their areas of origin: a new perspective

Following its adoption in December of a wide-ranging opinion on a European Agenda on Migration, the CoR is now looking at specific aspects of the migration challenge. In an opinion drawn up at the CoR's own initiative, Hans Janssen (NL/EPP), Mayor of Oisterwijk, focused on ways in which the EU can help improve the quality of care provided to refugees in their home region. He drafted the opinion with the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon particularly in mind, but he argued that its principles are more broadly applicable. The opinion emphasises the need for sustained EU financial support, with an approach that mixes emergency support and planning for the longer-term provision of services. Proposals include the promotion of opportunities for paid work.

Follow-up to the Five Presidents' report: Completing Europe's Economic and Monetary Union

With the EU's institutions now focusing on implementation of initiatives announced in mid-2015, the CoR's opinion on the Economic and Monetary Union stresses that the EU needs to reduce the economic disparities in the EU. The opinion, drawn up by Paul Lindquist (SE/EPP), a member of Stockholm County Council, points out that gaps in development are sometimes greater within countries than between countries, and calls for more attention to regional imbalances. As the European Semester requires reforms that have to be implemented by cities and regions, the CoR is calling for local and regional governments to be involved in the European Semester.

Structural Reform Support Programme for the period 2017 to 2020

In her report, Olga Zrihen (BE/PSE), a member of the Walloon Parliament, addressed one the major challenges facing economies in the EU: structural reform. She argued that technical support provided by the EU is currently sectoral and fragmented. Technical assistance to member states through a proposed Structural Reform Support Programme (SRSP) should not be based on sectors, she said, emphasising that member states need to have ownership of the process. She called for a single strategy for the SRSP, tying together the strands of EU-related technical assistance.

Working together for jobs and growth: the role of National Promotional Banks (NPBs) in supporting the Investment Plan for Europe

In July 2015, the European Commission produced a communication considering how national promotional banks might boost the EU's investment plan. In his opinion for the CoR, Adam Banaszak (PL/ECR), Vice-President of Kujawsko-Pomorskie Regional Assembly, says the Commission's plans pay too little attention to the regional level. A consequence, he argued, is that the EU often supports investments that are incompatible with regional operational programmes and local strategies. The CoR urges the European Commission and the European Investment Bank to spell out the role of regional promotional banks. László Baranyay, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, participated in the debate.

Upgrading the Single Market

Alessandro Pastacci (IT/PES), President of the Province of Mantova, the rapporteur, led a call by the CoR to upgrade the Single Market, through greater institutional attention, more support for small and medium-sized enterprises, the opening up of services, and a new look at public procurement. The opinion calls for the emerging sharing economy to be regulated sector by sector and for a clear framework for public procurement for infrastructure services. It backed a call by the European Parliament for the European Semester to include the Single Market.

Modernisation of EU Copyright Rules

The European Commission adopted Copyright Rules in December 2015, and this year it will put forward a set of legislative and non-legislative initiatives to follow through on its Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy. The CoR's opinion, by Arnoldas Abramaviāius (LT/EPP) of Zarasai District Municipal Council, notes that local and regional authorities are important providers of digital services and create and manage digital infrastructure, often cooperating across borders. The CoR therefore backs cross-border public services. The opinion supports the portability of online content services, with safeguards to prevent the permanent availability of content protected at EU level. It also supports EU measures to distribute levies transparently among rights-holders.

A more responsible trade and investment policy

The CoR's opinion comes at a time when the EU is negotiating a range of large, new-generation trade deals. In his opinion, Neale Richmond (IE/EPP) of Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council argued that local and regional authorities can help the EU's small and medium-sized businesses to internationalise their businesses. The opinion supports more open trade and supports the Commission's efforts to reduce regulatory obstacles, but says that regulatory harmonisation must maintain or improve standards for consumers, workers and the environment. The opinion argues that clearer information is needed about the impact of trade agreements on publicly funded local activities.

Delivering a New Deal for Energy Consumers

The opinion by Michel Lebrun (BE/EPP) of Viroinval Municipal Council aims to improve support for local and regional governments as they try to save energy, cut emissions and develop renewable-energy sources. Authorities in cities and regions are typically responsible for creating and financing infrastructure for the distribution, metering and management of energy demand and micro-generation, he said. The opinion includes proposals on all these areas. The potential of smart metering features prominently, together with an accompanying need for strong data protection.

Cost-effective emission reductions and low-carbon investments

Marco Dus (IT/PES), a member of Vittorio Veneto Municipal Council, wrote his opinion after international climate talks in December that, for the first time, acknowledged the role of cities in combating climate change. The CoR supported his call for the EU to use its Modernisation Fund to accelerate the revitalisation of the energy sector, to increase its long-term financial support for climate action, and to promote projects at regional and local levels in particular. The opinion calls for a tool to monitor environmental policies and a means of sharing best practices. It also backs the introduction of 'carbon footprint' labelling on products.

EU environmental law: improving reporting and compliance

This opinion contributes to the European Commission's Better Regulation agenda, and, in his opinion, Andres Jaadla (EE/ALDE), a member of Rakvere City Council, suggests that fuller use of technology could reduce the burden of environmental monitoring and reporting on cities and regions without reducing the impact of legislation. The opinion supports the introduction of compliance-assurance provisions in environmental legislation, and argues that INSPIRE - an EU system created in 2007 to share environmental data between public-sector organisations - could help local and regional authorities substantially. Member states should implement the INSPIRE directive by 2019.

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