European Summit of Regions and Cities : The Cohesion Policy, a Social Project
The 8th European Summit of Regions and Cities took place in Bucharest, Romania, to discuss and encourage the contribution of our local governments to european politics. Ahead of the Sibiu Summit that will reunite the 9th of May the European head of states and governments around the future strategic programme for the next five years, European community officers and local leaders brang their voices together to recommand a strengthened position for the local levels of governance, through a stronger clout and a deepened cohesion policy.
The cohesion policy aims at reducing the disparities between european regions, whose economic and social developments vary greatly. Via the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) - source of the INTERREG programme-, the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Cohesion Fund (for EU Member States which have a GDP lower than 90 % of the EU-28 average), this policy supports numerous programmes and projects to develop our regions' innovation, SME competitiveness, education, social inclusion, environnement and resource efficiency, … etc.
Among other aspects, these two days offered a focus on the social cohesion inside and among our countries.
This March Summit had three themes : democracy, proximity, and solidarity. Karl-Heinz Lambert, the President of the European Committee of the Regions, presenting the centrality of the latter, argued that “retreating in oneself offers no answer to the challenges of the beginning of the XXIst century”. Solidarity requires supporting the needs of heterogeneous partners. It is also, according to him, a way to view the Union's role : “[the single market is not all], the European Union is also a social project. The objectives of cohesion and social project must be financed”.
This resolute stance for the social priorities is reiterated in the declaration issued from the summit (“Building the EU from the ground up with our regions and cities”), presenting to the Sibiu Summit the Committee of the Regions' ideas : “Article 7. […] The social dimension of the EU should be strengthened to allow social rights to be put on par with economic rights. Successful European social inclusion policies and in particular the policies for integrating migrants are not possible if local and regional authorities are not provided with adequate means and direct access to appropriate funding.”
The consensus was thus the need for more attention and funding dedicated to social policies and to the cohesion policy at large. The crucial position of the local and regional authorities to deal with common and/or specific challenges was the center of thematic debates.
The summit had invited 150 young leaders to share their experiences and visions. They addressed the most pressing social challenges and issues their communities face, and how the cohesion policy helps, or could help : several evoked unemployement and effective employment aids, such as the “Youth Guarantee” schemes, financed by the ESF; increasing wealth discrepancies, developing itself into numerous other forms, such as housing shortage, fuel poverty,
…; multicultural societies; integration of refugees and migrants; …
They highlighted the advantages of proximity and precision in the local authorities' actions and knowledge of their territory. They can “(Re)New Europe”, as the motto for these tow days called for : the Comittee of the Regions advocates to do it by increase their involvement in european governance, and making the strong impact of cohesion policies more visible and known to European citizens, to nourish trust and connection.