On 14-15 March the European Committee of the Regions in close cooperation with the Romanian EU Council Presidency organised the 8th European Summit of Regions and Cities in Bucharest, precisely at the Palace of the Parliament.
This two day-summit was an opportunity to reflect on how will be the future of Europe, while at the same time the attention was focused mainly on the fact that it is possible to renew the European Union, starting from the local level.
Each day was divided into different thematic debates which stressed interesting current topics such as the strategic importance related to the cohesion policy and its advantages in supporting the cross-border cooperation across the different European regions and cities, and in compliance with the principle of subsidiarity.
In the first day Karl-Heinz Lambertz – President of the European Committee of the Regions – insisted on the importance of re-founding the European Union by promoting the social and territorial cohesion policy especially at local dimension in order to tackle the global challenges, among others the climate change. In this regard, Olga Algayerova – Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) - was convinced that the European Union works for being in line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enshrined in the “Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development”, adopted by the United Nations: for instance, respecting those conditions set out in different multilateral agreements like the Aarhus Convention on environmental democracy or selecting new indicators to support the different urban policies while reinforcing the public-private partnerships.
In addition, Vasilica Viorica Dǎncilǎ – Prime Minister of Romania – stressed how fundamental the benefits of the cohesion policies are in favor of each local community, in particular the less-developed: this aspect can be confirmed through the construction of schools, hospitals and modern infrastructures as well as providing equal opportunities, new job opportunities and prosperity for all citizens of that specific local context. In this respect, also the point of view of Corina Creţu – European Commissioner for Regional Policy – deserves attention: in fact, according to her, in order to provide these essential public services for local people an effective and efficient use of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs) will be necessary.
Yet, it has to be said that nowadays a lot of individuals – especially youngsters – living in the European Union’s territory are still not well-informed and conscious as concerns the way the EU institutions, for example the European Committee of the Regions or the European Commission, operate. In other words, the question is the following: what concretely does the European Union for me, in my everyday life? Therefore, the European institutions must collaborate with the national, regional and local authorities for reducing the distance between them and citizens as well as among citizens themselves.
In doing so, they will clearly show their citizens that the European Union can be considered not like a sort of an abstract philosophical concept or an empty theory but a real competitive and solidarity-based entity. With reference to this item, Pavel Branda – Vice-President of the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR) and Vice-Mayor of the Czech Municipality of Rádlo – pointed out how crucial are the people-to-people projects in relation to the cross-border cooperation programmes (e.g. INTERREG) and aimed at consolidating the reciprocal confidence and inter-cultural dialogue in young people coming from different European regions: for instance, the Interreg Volunteer Youth (IVY). In this regard, it is also possible to recall the “CaSYPoT” project within the Interreg South Baltic Programme 2014-2020, thanks to which it would be possible to find out powerful remedies against various youth problems within that specific geographical area (e.g. early school leaving) and allowing young people – especially the most disadvantaged – to participate actively in the decision-making process within their towns in order to solve persistent social needs and issues such as the discrimination among youngsters, gender inequalities and sustainable development: all that can be realized through a compact multi-level governance and valid bottom-up approach launched by local actors for sharing successful cross-border youth strategies.
In the second day the Bucharest Declaration, entitled “Building the EU from the ground up with our regions and cities”, was officially proclaimed. This document cannot be exclusively considered as the authentic copy of a symbolic moment or only a simple piece of paper. In fact, within the text of this Declaration the added value of cohesion policy is evident and recognised.
Without the cohesion policy the European Union will never be united, there will never be cross-border cooperation and especially no structured and permanent dialogue among its citizens. Thus, the cohesion policy is the most efficient tool in order to fight disparity among people, and
simultaneously to reduce and eliminate poverty present in both less-developed and transition regions of each Member State. On this matter, the point of view of Donald Tusk – President of the European Council – has to be highlighted, communicated through a video message during the last part of the second day of the summit: “If you lose faith in Europe, then there is no Europe”. In connection with this argument, the day before Gabriela Firea – Mayor of Bucharest – emphasized the vision of Jean Monnet, one of the most appreciated EU Pioneers, according to whom: “there is no future for the people of Europe other than in union”.
Indeed, what future do we want for the European Union and its next generations? The answer depends on how the current cohesion policy is implemented and increased as its future will be inevitably linked to the future of the European Union. The future of the European Union is not so far. It is right around the corner, and just another event may confirm that: on 9 May the leaders of the EU institutions with the Heads of State and government will gather in Sibiu, in order to jointly work on the preparation of the ‘Strategic Agenda 2019-2024’. Maybe, not everyone knows where Sibiu is geographically. Certainly, it is situated in Romania. There is no reason why you should be surprised, dear readers, about it: after all, Jean-Claude Junker – President of the European Commission – is of the opinion that European Union would not be complete without … Romania.
Furthermore, as the motto of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union goes: “Cohesion, a common European value”.