“Regions and cities: vital for Europe's recovery”
Dear President Tzitzikostas
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the invitation today.
Thank you too President Tzitzikostas for the very fruitful meeting we had on Monday, discussing many practical issues
around cohesion policy and Corona.
I greatly regret that I cannot meet you all in person.
I had planned to visit your regions: these plans must now wait.
On line meetings are no substitute for meeting you in your regions.
Especially at this time, when regional and local representatives
are on the frontline in the battle against Covid.
In a time of lockdown, regional and local representatives have come to the fore.
As President von der Leyen just said, you play an essential role on the ground, you are the voice of our collective effort.
And may I add, in many cases, you are also the hands and feet of our collective effort.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, fits my message today:
There will be no effective recovery, without cohesion policy.
And there will be no effective cohesion policy, without you, the regions and cities of Europe.
Because make no mistake, today's crisis is fundamental.
It strikes at the root of what it means to be European.
Today we celebrate 70 years since the Schuman declaration.
70 years of opening borders, but what of this when borders are closed?
70 years of bringing Europeans together, but what of this in a time of social distancing?
70 years of working for peace and prosperity in Europe, but what of this when we battle an invisible enemy which threatens lives and livelihoods?
Let me answer in the words of Robert Schuman, spoken that 9th of May, 70 years ago:
“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan.
It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”
And I say, this is the key: concrete achievements of solidarity.
One by one, these are bricks with which our European house is built.
This is how our founders built, and this is how we must build today.
But as President von der Leyen just said: “Solidarity is not a given: it requires effort and compromise”.
We see this when Europe bands together to buy protective equipment.
We see this when countries lend ventilators to those who need them most.
We see this when hospitals treat patients from another Member State.
Cohesion Policy has been at the forefront of the European response.
The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative mobilises every euro available - up to 54 billion euros - to provide immediate relief.
Our goal is to save lives and protect the economy.
Our support includes: the buying of masks and ventilators in Spain; teleworking and tele-learning in Italy; emergency financing for SMEs in Czechia and Lithuania; the research, testing and manufacture of products relevant for the fight against COVID in Portugal.
But we are not the heroes here - you are the heroes.
The managing authorities, the regions, the cities: in this battle, you are the foot soldiers of cohesion - we are simply providing maximum financial firepower, with maximum flexibility.
In this context, I welcome the Committee of the Regions exchange platform and your action plan.
In this fast moving crisis, we need rapid access to experience on the ground.
More than ever, Europe needs to hear the experience of regional and local authorities.
So we will have much to discuss in the coming months.
But ladies and gentlemen, I must be honest with you:
All these efforts are impressive, but they are not enough.
This week's economic forecast made sobering reading.
I would summarise by saying that recovery is uncertain and likely to be uneven: uncertain in timing and scope; uneven at the regional level.
Because the lesson of economic history is clear: no matter how symmetric the crisis, recoveries are usually asymmetric. Some regions bounce back, others need help.
After the oil shock, service-dependent regions often recovered quickly; industrial regions often did not. After the financial crisis, some regions took a decade to recover.
To the prospect of asymmetric recovery, we must add another sobering fact: Corona has not abolished previous challenges. On the contrary, it has made many challenges more pressing.
We were already working on digital connectivity, on strengthening public health infrastructure and on moving to more sustainable patterns of production and consumption.
We were already working on these, but Corona has made them more urgent.
The need for the digital revolution and the carbon neutral economy has not gone away.
To this twin transition, we now a third element, the recovery from Corona, creating a “triple transition”: digital revolution, carbon-neutral economy, Corona recovery.
My question: facing this triple challenge, will Europe pull apart or will we all pull together?
We can make a success of these transitions together, or we can fail alone.
And there is an issue here: some Member States and regions have deep pockets, some hardly have any pockets at all. Some have the financial firepower to cope, others do not.
Every region must have the firepower it needs - and not on an ad hoc basis, but in a long term, secure framework.
So we need a swift agreement on the MFF, with a strong cohesion policy.
And we need a recovery instrument with a dimension compatible with the challenges that takes convergence at its core.
The scale of the challenge has increased, cohesion policy must respond.
In this context, I am delighted to see the Cohesion Alliance so well represented here today. Your support will be crucial.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I started with some words from that 9th of May, 70 years ago.
Those words urged many concrete actions of solidarity.
Let me finish with another quote from that fateful day:
"Peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it."
I believe we can safeguard the peace and prosperity of Europe, but our efforts must be in proportion to the challenge, and they must be creative: unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.
We catch a glimpse in lockdown of what a more digital, less carbon-intensive lifestyle might do for us - let's build on this.
I see a Europe in which the borders open and the economy recovers.
I see a Europe in which every region successfully navigates the digital revolution.
I see a Europe in which every region is clean and green.
In short, I see a Europe which does not pull apart, but pulls together to recover from Covid and makes a success of the digital, carbon-neutral economy.
But if want this vision in every region, we must work for it.
Cohesion Policy and the Committee of the regions, we are old comrades in arms.
Last year we celebrated 25 years of partnership together.
The challenges change, but our commitment to Europe does not change.
Our commitment to concrete actions of solidarity.
Our commitment to whatever creative actions are needed.
And most of all our motto: whatever the transition or challenge, no region left behind, no European citizen forgotten.