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The Committee of the Regions' second annual report shows where the EU is failing

The Committee of the Regions' second annual report shows where the EU is failing

The report, called Regional and Local Barometer, measured the pulse of the lower rungs of EU governance

Regional and Local Barometer – that is the name of the second edition of a wide-scope report that the Committee of the Regions (CoR) has published as a way to give EU institutions a wider view of the state of post-pandemic recovery in the continent’s cities and regions.

Speaking on the occasion of its release, CoR President Apostolos Tzitzikostas warned that there was a 180-billion-euro gap hole in local budgets and went on to criticize national governments’ failure to consult their local counterparts on the investment plans and recovery strategies.

Chronic lack of understanding between the various levels of administrations

The prospect of EU funds not being directed where cities and regions feel they are most needed also risks exacerbating problems posed by the vast funding gap between spending and revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual report, which includes one of the largest EU-wide opinion polls of local and regional governments ever conducted - also highlights widening social and economic inequalities between regions within the same country and across the EU, including a rural-urban digital divide that is undermining the EU's ambitions for a green and digital economic transition.

“Our Regional and Local Barometer measures the impact of the pandemic on our regions, cities and villages so that all levels of governance – EU, national, regional and local - can take concrete action to address our people's problems. Too often Europe is only associated with its 27 Member States,” exclaimed The President of CoR.

His words were meant to remind Europeans that “The EU is much richer than that: it is over 300 regions, 90.000 municipalities and 1,1 million regionally and locally elected politicians representing over 400 million people.” In that regard, the Barometer offers a new perspective on the state of the EU – one that actually takes into account its diversity and complexity.

Key findings of the Barometer

Those interested in the finer details of the report can read it here. Otherwise, here is a summary of the most essential conclusions that it presented:

  • Regional and local finances are at risk. Regional and local authorities carry the burden of providing quality public and health services for their people at a time when local finances are rock bottom. Across the EU the rise in costs and decline in revenues has left a gap of around €180 billion in 2020, with €130 billion lost by regional and intermediate levels, and €50 billion lost at the municipal level. The EU and the member states have a duty to urgently help local authorities to absorb the shocks on their finances, also via national recovery plans.
  • Ignoring the territorial dimension of the health crisis puts lives at risk. The best way for the EU and national governments to accelerate the recovery is to ensure its efforts fully take into account regional and local specificities: ignoring the territorial dimension of health is putting lives at risk. To be better protected, we need to re-assess health competencies between the different levels of government. The EU should invest more in building resilience in regional systems and coordinate 'capacity stress tests' to assess their crisis preparedness.
  • Regions are being ignored in National Recovery plans, putting EU recovery and green targets at risk. We risk missing the recovery targets because strategies do not take into account the real needs, diversity and disparities of our communities. National governments must implement plans together with their regions and cities. We must be key actors of the plans' governance, given our responsibilities in areas such as public procurement, transport, climate action, health and education.
  • The urban-rural digital divide could put recovery at risk: support to 'digital cohesion' is urgently needed. The total coverage of EU households with very high capacity networks is 44% in urban areas, compared to 20% in rural areas. The EU and its Members States must urgently invest: digital cohesion is crucial to a solid and inclusive recovery.
  • COVID poverty is becoming a reality. The risk of a COVID lost generation is increasing. The young and low-skilled workers have been the most affected. People living in poor conditions, people with disabilities and the elderly have suffered worsening living conditions. The EU must act concretely and in solidarity to deliver a fairer recovery.
  • Regional and local politicians think they do not count enough in the EU and want to have more influence in areas such as the economy, social justice, climate change and the environment. Ignoring this call would be an unforgivable mistake, and will widen the gap between the EU and its communities. We need a new push for European democracy to strengthen our European values. The Conference on the Future of Europe must be the place to start a real reflection about the EU's democratic model.

The Annual Regional and Local Barometer is accompanied by a political resolution (containing 15 recommendations) by the 329 members of the Committee of the Regions. The documents will be presented to the Presidents of the European Commission, European Parliament and the European Council.

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