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Speech by President von der Leyen to the European Committee of the Regions' plenary at the European Week of Regions and Cities

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op maandag 12 oktober 2020.

President Tzitzikostas,

Mayors, Presidents, Representatives of Europe's regions and cities,

Dear Vice-President,

I come from a federal state. When I first got involved in active politics, I was elected to the local council of my hometown. After that, I became Cabinet Minister in the government of Lower Saxony. I was responsible for social affairs, health care and families. And I learned a lot from local politics.

You realise that it makes a big difference how politics is implemented on the ground. Local and regional politics is never abstract. It is about families, workers, communities. And it is about people who care about their communities.

This is a lesson I have always tried to keep in mind, first in Berlin, and later on here in Brussels in the middle of Europe. Local and regional governments have their finger on the pulse of Europe's citizens. I know very well what an invaluable advantage this is. It not only helps to solve small, everyday problems, but also to master the great challenges of our time.

Le coronavirus est l'un de ces défis. Oui, il a révélé notre fragilité, mais nous avons aussi pu voir la force considérable que recèle l'Europe - une force qui venait du cœur de nos communautés. Des liens de solidarité qui ont aidé des millions de personnes à traverser la maladie et les mois du confinement les plus difficiles. Vous avez été témoins de cette solidarité tout autour de vous.

Et vous y avez contribué chaque jour depuis le tout début de la pandémie. Les autorités locales constituaient la première ligne de défense lorsque la crise a frappé. Vous avez envoyé des forces de police locales et des bénévoles pour vous assurer de la situation des personnes âgées isolées, dans chaque village.

Vous avez été aux côtés des femmes qui étaient victimes de violences au sein de leur propre foyer. Vous avez apporté des masques et de la nourriture à ceux qui ne pouvaient s'en procurer. Vous avez mis en place des centres de test mobiles pour que les soins de santé soient disponibles au plus proche de vos citoyens.

Et les Européens savent tout ce que leurs maires, gouverneurs ou conseillers municipaux ont fait pour eux. Cela apparaît clairement dans le baromètre que vous présentez aujourd'hui. Vous continuez d'être les institutions dans lesquelles les citoyens de notre Union ont le plus confiance. Votre action a permis à vos administrés de sentir qu'ils n'étaient pas seuls, même quand ils ne pouvaient pas sortir de chez eux.

But I also know that sometimes you have felt alone. You have felt that you were not receiving the support that you need to help your people. This crisis has tested our Union's cohesion. Some regions were hit harder, or earlier. Not all countries had the same financial strength.

Earlier this year we all felt the risk that some parts of our Union would recover at a slower pace. That they would stay behind. That we would start drifting apart. We saw how fragile our achievements can be. But we have acted. Europe has acted.

This summer we agreed on a revamped EU budget and a Recovery Plan that we call NextGenerationEU. EUR 1.8 trillion, worth 13% of our Union's national income. With NextGenerationEU we want to give all Member States a fair chance to overcome the crisis and to modernise.

And regions and cities will be at the core of NextGenerationEU. Part of the funding will directly address the difficult situation that you are facing right now. We call it: REACT-EU - Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories. It will be available in the next two years to finance employment subsidies, short-time work schemes, and to provide liquidity to SMEs. This will help save thousands of businesses and millions of jobs throughout our Union!

The same goes for our health systems. We all know that the quality of healthcare varies widely across our Union. But all European citizens have the same right to health! NextGenerationEU's resources will therefore target the resilience of our health systems. The European funds will enable investments in new hospitals, better equipment and stronger healthcare systems - not only in the big cities, but also in more remote regions.

Additionally, NextGenerationEU looks far beyond crisis response. No administration should have to choose between responding to a crisis and investing in the future. NextGenerationEU will mend our social fabric and repair balance sheets across Europe. And while we are doing this, we press fast forward towards a green, digital and resilient future.

We want to use these investments not only to restart the economy. We also want to use them to improve the air we breathe in our cities, or to help small enterprises take up the digital solutions. And for all this, local administrations must be in the driving seat.

Ich finde, in diesem Jahr haben wir gemeinsam eine sehr gute Zusammenarbeit aufgebaut - unter schwierigen Umständen. Hier in der Europäischen Kommission sind wir sehr offen dafür, Ihre Vorschläge für eine noch engere Zusammenarbeit genau zu prüfen.

In diesen Wochen haben wir auch eine sehr klare Botschaft an die Regierungen unserer Mitgliedstaaten gesandt. Wir finden, dass Städte und Regionen von Beginn an in die Konzeption der nationalen Aufbaupläne einbezogen werden sollten. Sie können wertvolle Beiträge leisten. Die Hauptstädte sollten sich mit Ihnen abstimmen. Denn die lokalen Verwaltungen sind diejenigen, die vor Ort die europäischen Projekte mit Leben füllen werden. Damit tragen Sie eine große Verantwortung.

Aber ich weiß, dass Sie das gut meistern können. Der Erfolg von NextGenerationEU hängt von jeder und jedem von Ihnen ab. Von Ihrer Entschlossenheit. Von Ihrer Fähigkeit, Ihre Stadt und Ihre Region neu zu erfinden als einen grüneren und gesünderen Ort. Von rund einer Million kommunal Verantwortlichen in Europa hängt so viel ab!

One third of the 750 billion investment from NextGenerationEU will finance our European Green Deal objectives. New resources will be available for your green plans. The resources will come from Europe, but the ideas must come from you.

For instance, new resources for one million electric charging points across Europe. Or resources to finance a Just Transition in the regions that have to take a bigger leap. It is the future of your territories that is at stake. When Member States will draw their just transition plans, you should be part of the conversation.

Let me give you an example. NextGenerationEU will only succeed if we play as a team. In two days from now we will launch the renovation wave. We want to make public buildings and private homes more energy efficient and more comfortable - all across Europe. Our buildings are responsible for 40% of our energy consumption. Some buildings are already being renovated or retrofitted. But at the current pace, it would take more than a century to bring emissions from our buildings to zero.

We must speed up. And the good news is, by doing so we can create new jobs in the construction sectors and beyond. The renovation wave will focus specifically on schools, hospitals and social housing - for which local governments are usually responsible. It will be up to you to bring the renovation wave into your cities and regions. We need you to engage with citizens and neighbourhoods, but also with other cities that share the same ambition. I know that many of you already share this vision of a greener future.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Lisbon where the city hall, dating back to 1880, has just been entirely renovated. And this has cut the building's electricity usage from the grid by more than half. Italy's Emilia-Romagna region is already incentivising the use of bikes to promote socially-distanced mobility. There are so many green solutions that are just waiting to happen. NextGenerationEU is your opportunity to bring them to life.

The same goes for digitalisation. Some of our regions - from the Basque country to the Danube - are already creating new hubs for digital innovation. Places where companies of all kinds can thrive - digital start-ups looking for new customers, as well as traditional industries that are discovering the potential of data and artificial intelligence.

But we also know the other side of the coin. Today, 40% of people living in rural areas still do not have access to the most basic high-speed internet. But these connections are the prerequisite for home working, home learning and online shopping. Without broadband, it is not possible to build or run a business effectively. Or to build up ‘smart city' services that will keep your neighbourhood cleaner, safer and more liveable. NextGenerationEU is a unique chance to expand 5G, 6G and fibre and bring them to every village.

And again, this will only be possible with your support, to prioritise investment and coordinate public works on the ground. We want to listen to you. We want to hear what the best solutions are, on access to infrastructure information, speedy permitting and single administrative contact points. We want to boost digital infrastructure, expand digital public services and give the entrepreneurs the digital skills they need to succeed.

We will create a European cloud and neutral data spaces. Because companies and universities should be able to share their data safely. But we need you to promote the real hubs - where academia meets business, tech meets manufacturing, and innovation is born. Much of this lies in your hands. You can be a frontrunner and model for others.

Europe will only be successful in the digital age if its cities and regions succeed. What I am asking from you today is more than a list of projects and initiatives. It is a vision. A vision for the future tailored for your territories. A vision what cities and territories you want to leave to your children. NextGenerationEU is here for them. This is your moment, your opportunity, and our shared responsibility.

Long live Europe.

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