Recap of 144th CoR Plenary meeting

The 144th CoR plenary took place between 5th and 7th May 2021. As always, the meeting was filled with timely discussions and the Irish Members represented the position of Ireland’s LRAs in important debates on the Union of Equality, EU Health Union, achieving climate neutrality and digitalisation.

Our Members were particularly active during the debate on Future of Europe, which took place with participation from Mr Herman Van Rompuy, the Chair of the CoR High Level Group on European Democracy. Cllr Declan McDonnell called for permanent citizen consultations and highlighted the need for a ‘’pan-EU network led by the Committee of the Regions to channel citizens’ input, act as a hub for knowledge and experience and coordinate feedback’’. His words were further mirrored by Cllr Kieran McCarthy, who spoke about the great need for the Conference to be an inclusive exercise that empowers the regions for the success of the whole EU. Cllr Una Power also stated that ‘’all voices must be at the table’’ and that the Conference must ‘’embed diversity and inclusion in all work going forward’’.

On 6th May, Cllr Gillian Coughlan presented her draft opinion on the EU Digital Education Plan 2021-2027. The opinion highlighted, among others, the importance of digital literacy, critical infrastructures and connectivity in achieving inclusive education systems across the EU. Cllr Coughlan, who is also a practicing teacher, further emphasised that ‘’it is essential to put in place digital infrastructure that will give all students and teachers equal changes to prosper and develop their skills’’. Her opinion was adopted by majority.

Ireland was further represented during the Plenary by Cllr Michael Murphy, Head of the Irish Delegation, who chaired the discussions on the second day of Plenary. For the first time, an Irish Member took the chair to moderate the debates on the day to ensure the smooth running of CoR’s business in important debates with representatives from the European Commission, European Parliament, as well as other multi-level stakeholders.

Further to the above, lively and animated debates on the following topics took place:

  • Union of Equality – in debate with Commissioner Helena Dalli
  • Recovery in the Tourism, Hotel and Catering Sector
  • Debate on the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU with Antonio Costa, Prime Minister of Portugal
  • Debate on cooperation with the European Parliament with David Sassoli, President of the EP.

A number of opinions, amongst others, were also adopted during the plenary:

  • The Implementation of the EU Pillar of Social Rights
  • A Union of Equality: EU anti-racism action plan 2020-2025
  • A Union of Equality: Strategy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030
  • Experiences and lessons learned by regions and cities during the COVID-19 crisis
  • European Health Union: Reinforcing the EU’s resilience
  • Europe’s pharmaceutical strategy and legislative proposal for changing the mandate of the European Medical Agency
  • Powering a climate-neutral economy: an EU strategy for Energy System Integration
  • Media in the Digital Decade: An Action Plan

The Plenary will reconvene on 30th June for the last meeting before the Summer break.

Recap of 143th CoR Plenary meeting

The members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) have brought the 143rd Plenary meeting to a close. The session was again fully remote and took place on 17, 18 and 19th March.

With the meeting opening on St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish delegation members wasted no time in representing Irish interests during a debate on the pandemic, recovery and European democracy with Charles Michel, President of the European Council. Cllr Kieran McCarthy urged for local communities to be at the heart of the priorities for the Conference on the Future of Europe, stating that “if you empower the regions, the EU will be a success.”

Cllr Deidre Forde

A number of Irish members took the floor during the presentation of an opinion on establishing a Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR), stressing that a lot of work needs to be done before it is fit for purpose. Cllr Deidre Forde argued for the “full involvement of regions and local authorities in the planning and implementation of the BAR”.

During the debate on an adequate minimum wage in the EU, Cllr Declan McDonnell expressed the need to recognise the right of everyone “to a decent living from their work” based on upward convergence and “to end wage discrimination”. Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley and Cllr Aoife Breslin expanded on the need to work towards a proper minimum wage to one which values work, lifts people out of poverty, creates a more inclusive society and closes the gender pay gap.

The second day of meetings started with a celebration of European entrepreneurship with the European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) Award Ceremony. The EER label of excellence is awarded by the CoR to regions who have shown outstanding and innovative entrepreneurial policy strategies. The 2021-22 EER winning regions were: Castelo Branco Municipality (Portugal), Gabrovo Municipality (Bulgaria), Helsinki-Uusimaa Region (Finland), Madrid Region (Spain), Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (France) and Silesia Voivodeship (Poland), with a “special mention” to Vukovar-Srijem County, Croatia.

Watch a video of the EER winner regions. You can also read more about each region in this press release.

Further to these points, lively debates on the following topics took place:

  • COVID-19 Pandemic with Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety
  • Trade and EU Recovery
  • Financing and delivering the Renovation Wave in regions, cities and villages with Kadri Simson, Commissioner for Energy
  • Integration of migrants and the fight against radicalisation with Ylva Johansson, Commissioner for Home Affairs​

The following opinions were also discussed and adopted during the 3-day meeting:

  • New pact on migration and asylum
  • Achieving the European Education Area by 2025
  • A new approach to the Atlantic Maritime Strategy – Atlantic Action Plan 2.0
  • Regulation on establishing a Brexit Adjustment Reserve
  • Action plan on critical raw materials
  • Trade policy review
  • Renovation Wave for Europe – Greening our buildings, creating jobs, improving lives

The plenary closed with a discussion of EU matters for local and regional authorities focusing on the coordinated management of borders during the pandemic and the decline of city centres and promotion of SMEs.

CoR meets for the 142nd Plenary Session

With the 142nd Plenary meeting of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) wrapping up, we reflect on a very active 3 days of discussions and debates. One of the themes for this fully virtual plenary meeting which took place on 3-5 February 2021 focused on creating a cohesive and effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic in light of the vaccinations becoming available. How to support the restarting of a new normal that will involve green and digital solutions which will help the continent to become more resilient and future-focused was also contemplated in the deliberations.

Signing of MOU between WHO and CoR

Delegates were able to debate with Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, Regional Director for Europe, WHO on the COVID-19 pandemic vaccination campaign and the role of LRAs in flighting the health crisis. Dr. Kluge urged international solidarity and cooperation in the vaccination campaign for social, economic, moral good of all people. During the plenary meeting, the CoR also signed of a memorandum of understanding with the WHO to reinforce partnership focused on protecting against health emergencies and building better, safer and more resilient cities and regions.

CoR members provided regional input into joining forces to launch and implementation of the new cohesion policy programmes in synergy with recovery tools with Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms. During the discussions it was argued that recovery responses have to apply the partnership principle and multi-level governance to rebalance development and address regions that suffered the most.

Other topics of debate focused on the European Citizens’ Initiative, the restarting of the cultural and creative sectors along with the new European Research Area and the priorities of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Members of the Irish delegation were very active in the debates and provided some key statements. Cllr Deirdre Forde welcomed the increase in supports to the Creative Europe programme and called “on the EU to provide a range of supports to mobilise the sector” while encouraging the involvement of the private sector as well. Cllr Kieran McCarthy emphasised the need for experience-sharing between LRAs and highlighted that existing supports for the culture and creative sectors must be promoted to a greater extent. Newly appointed CoR member Cllr Una Power advised that the EU must work towards creating adaptable workforce and communities that would be in a position to weather out further challenges.

In addition to this, on supporting the cultural and creative sectors, the Mayor of Galway City Council, Cllr Mike Cubbard was invited as a guest speaker and shared his experiences of the city’s accolade as European Capital of Culture in 2020. He expressed the need for concrete plans and EU support for the arts and culture sector.

A number of opinions were also welcomed at the plenary. The topics of these opinions include:

  • European Skills Agenda
  • Youth Employment Support
  • Cross-border public services in Europe
  • Agroecology
  • EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and innovation for 2020-2030
  • A new ERA for Research and Innovation
  • 8th Environment Action Programme

Further details on the 142nd CoR Plenary sessions can be found on this CoR page.

Irish Delegation participates in CoR’s 141st Plenary Session

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) held its 141st plenary meeting on 8, 9 and 10 December 2020. The Irish delegation joined other locally and regionally elected representatives from across EU Member States in the CoR’s fully virtual plenary session.

The event was the last of six CoR plenary sessions held in 2020 and closed up what is sure to be a memorable year. The effects of and response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate change crisis were felt throughout the topics discussed.

Focus on Brexit

CoR Members engaged with Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, and the chair of the CoR-UK Contact Group, Loïg Chesnais-Girard, to debate on the EU-UK agreement and territorial consequences of Brexit. EU local and regional leaders discussed ways of maintaining EU-UK relationships and the importance of continued cooperation into the future, which was welcomed and echoed by the Mayor of London. Concerns were also raised about the continued uncertainty and implications of a no-deal outcome. Parties agreed that an agreement is in the best interest of everyone. The Irish delegation actively voiced local perspectives on the situation. Cllr Michael Murphy focused on preparedness for the end of the transition period and ensuring adequate support is available for SMEs. Cllr Kieran McCarthy urged that UK should continue to collaborate in cross-regional initiatives such as Erasmus, Horizon and Interreg.

Members took part on a number of other debates. The topics covered included:

  • European Commission Work Programme 2021
  • Stepping up climate ambition during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The New Package on Migration and Asylum
  • The enlargement package and European Neighbourhood Policy
  • Recovery and resilience in rural areas
The future of EU Rural Areas

Cllr Enda Stenson presented an opinion on the EU Strategy for Rural Revival. In the opinion, Cllr Stenson stressed “the need for rural-urban balance” with a real rural revival to provide equilibrium of opportunity and EU funding in urban and rural areas in order to ensure that rural areas are attractive places to live, work and raise a family.

Additionally, several opinions were broadly welcomed by CoR members including:

  • Towards more sustainable tourism for EU cities and regions
  • From Farm to Fork – the local and regional dimension
  • The impact of climate change on regions: an assessment of the European Green Deal
  • Challenges for public transport in cities and metropolitan regions

Further details on the 141st CoR Plenary sessions can be found on this page.

Photo credit: European Committee of the Regions

CoR Launches 2021 European Entrepreneurial Region Award

The European Entrepreneurial Region (EER) award is an initiative of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) that identifies and rewards EU regions and cities with outstanding, future oriented entrepreneurial strategies. The territories with the most visible, forward-looking and promising political vision are granted the EER label for a specific year.

To date, thirty EU regions and cities have been awarded the EER label, including two Irish winners – the Northern and Western Region (2018) and Kerry County (2011).

EER Award 2021 – Apply until 31st March 2020!

3231 EER label

The EER label helps regions and cities support SMEs and entrepreneurship by implementing the new EU SME Strategy at local and regional level, building on the continuity of the previous initiatives such as the Small Business Act (2009) and the Start-up and Scale-up Initiative (2016). The EER label is an opportunity for local and regional actors to demonstrate how SMEs and entrepreneurs can increase the resilience of their economy, embracing today’s challenges that will shape the world of tomorrow: demographic change, digitalisation and a transition to a sustainable and low-carbon economy.

The lead theme of the EER 2021 call for applications is Entrepreneurship for a green & sustainable future. As part of the new call for applications, up to three regions will be awarded the EER label for the year 2021. Among them, EER jury may award one thematic EER label in recognition for the application’s commitment and link with the lead theme of the EER.

Regions and cities that are ready to implement a future-oriented entrepreneurial strategy are invited to apply until 31 March 2020 by e-mail to eer-cdr@cor.europa.eu.

Further details, including the application form can be found on the EER page.

 

Source: https://cor.europa.eu/en/engage/Documents/EER/EER-Awards-2021/4200-EER-Leaflet-EN.pdf 

News from the CoR – 132nd Plenary

Committee of the Regions delegates from 28 Member States met on 5th and 6th December for the 132nd CoR plenary session in Brussels. It was a very busy plenary with 21 adopted opinions, a discussion with Commissioner Corina Cretu on the future of Cohesion Policy, as well as an update on Brexit from European Commission’s Michel Barnier.

 

Cllr Deirdre Forde’s opinion on the Single Market Programme adopted at CoR Plenary

132nd Plenary Session of the European Committee of the Regions

The CoR has called on the European Union to ensure that its plans to create a new single-market programme in 2021 have ‘’the flexibility to respond quickly and proactively to any disturbance in the functioning of the internal market or disruption in trade for SMEs that could, for example, result from the possible adverse impacts of Brexit’’.

The call for flexibility was one of a set of recommendations adopted during the plenary as part of an opinion on the proposed Single Market Programme prepared by Cllr Deirdre Forde (Cork County Council). The opinion was underpinned by the belief that opening up the services sector and digital economy across Europe could strengthen growth in local and regional economies.

While presenting her work, Cllr Forde noted that ‘’SME’s are the motor of the EU’s economy, creating 85% of new jobs over the past five years. We need to remove the handicaps on SMEs and enlarge the market for them. This is even more important because of the uncertainties of Brexit […] and because there will be (further) shocks to the economy’’. She also noted that ‘’the EU should be thinking small first as it pursues its ambition of a truly single market’’. Cllr Forde’s opinion also focused on the need to ensure adequate protection for consumer interests, particularly in the area of financial services.

‘’The EU should be thinking small first as it pursues its ambition of a truly single market’’.

The opinion was widely welcomed by CoR representatives and was adopted unanimously during the plenary. Cllr. Forde’s opinion brings to a total of eight the number of CoR opinions prepared by the Irish delegation in the current mandate.

 

Discussion on Brexit with EU’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier

132nd Plenary Session of the European Committee of the Regions

The second day of the CoR plenary began with a lively debate between the CoR Members and European Commission’s Chief Brexit Negotiator, Michel Barnier. Mr Barnier took the opportunity to update the CoR delegates on the current state of play, as well as addressing a number of issues raised by members over during the two hour debate. Six members of the Irish delegation contributed to this debate, praising the European Commission and Mr Barnier for his ongoing hard work as well as the commitment to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. Cllrs. Michael Murphy, Kate Feeney, Enda Stenson, Deirdre Forde and Declan McDonnell emphasised the importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement, safeguarding livelihoods in border areas, and protecting Ireland’s trade routes with the rest of Europe. A full video of the debate can be found here.

Speaking about the agreement, Mr Barnier noted that ‘’it is a balanced deal; it is the only one and the best one possible […] and respects the EU’s principles, while taking into account the UK’s red lines’’.

To ensure no hard border on the island of Ireland, and to protect the Good Friday Agreement, the European Commission and UK agreed on a backstop mechanism, also referred to as the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. As part of the Withdrawal Agreement, a single EU-UK customs territory is established from the end of the transition period until the future relationship becomes applicable. This means that Northern Ireland will remain part of the same customs territory as the rest of the UK with no tariffs, quotas or checks between NI and the rest of the UK.

The Withdrawal Agreement establishes a single EU/UK customs territory if no other solution to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland can be found by the end of the transition period. At the same time, Northern Ireland would also be subject to a regulatory union in order to avoid a hard border and to ensure that goods can continue to move freely across a soft border with no checks.  The European Commission has published a detailed factsheet on the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is now available online.

 

Debate with Commissioner Cretu on regional perspectives of the future of Cohesion Policy in the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework

The CoR plenary began with a debate on the future of Cohesion Policy with Commissioner Corina Cretu, with responsibility for regional policies.

129th Plenary Session of the European Committee of the Regions

Cohesion policy, with a budget of €351bn in the 2014-2020 programming period, is and will remain the key tool to promote economic, social and territorial cohesion. Representing 34% of the overall EU budget, the funds help reduce disparities and deliver more opportunities for all European citizens across towns and cities.

While negotiations to fully adopt cohesion policy for the 2021-2027 framework are ongoing, the Committee of the Regions calls the co-legislators for simplification of the current rules and committing to no reduction in the level of funding. During the plenary session, the CoR delegation adopted a number of opinions on the future of cohesion policy, including Common Provision Regulation (CPR), European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Cohesion, Fund, European Social Fund (ESF+) and European Territorial Cooperation (ETC).

Commissioner Cretu noted that ‘’the valuable work of the European Committee of the Regions on the future of cohesion policy has contributed to setting the pace for the negotiations’’ and she also welcomed the ‘’constructive approach regarding the Commission’s proposal, in particular the support for a strong partnership principle’’.

Latest news from the Irish delegation to the CoR

Cllr. Deirdre Forde has been appointed rapporteur in the ECON commission for the opinion on the European Commission’s proposal to establish a new Single Market programme.

This proposal is one of the packages published as part of the MFF post 2020 and covers activities previously financed under the COSME Programme (for small and medium sized businesses). The European Commission proposes to allocate €4 billion to the programme to focus on six priorities:

  • Maintain a high level of food safety
  • Give even higher protection to consumers
  • Boost the competitiveness of businesses, in particular SMEs
  • Improve the governance of the Single Market
  • Produce and disseminate high-quality statistics
  • Develop effective European standards

This future programme is highly relevant from a local and regional perspective perspective as it includes the support to SMEs and the continuation of the European Enterprise Network which, in Ireland, is delivered by a partnership including Enterprise Ireland, Cork Chamber of Commerce, Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the Local Enterprise Offices (LEO) located throughout the country.

Cllr. Forde’s opinion is expected to be presented to the ECON commission on October 23rd and in plenary in December.

Adoption of Cllr. McCarthy’s opinion

The July CoR plenary session saw the adoption of Cllr. Kieran McCarthy’s opinion on the implementation assessment of the EU urban agenda. The opinion recognises the potential offered by the Urban agenda to improve European cities, but regrets its non-binding nature and calls for the EU institutions to reaffirm their commitment to urban matters and place the process on a formal footing. As such Cllr. McCarthy took the opportunity to welcome the evidence of an increasing emphasis on urban policy within the European Commission’s proposals for Regional Development and Cohesion Policy beyond 2020.

Adoption of Cllr. Kieran McCarthy’s opinion on the Implementation assessment of the urban agenda for the EU in commission

The opinion drafted by Cllr. McCarthy on the Implementation assessment of the urban agenda for the EU has been unanimously adopted by the COTER commission on April 27th.

While welcoming the Urban agenda and its working methods that allow urban authorities to directly engage in EU decision-making, the opinion identifies ways in which the agenda could be improved in the future. It first highlights that there is scope for better synergies and cooperation between the different partnerships and regrets the lack of appropriate funding dedicated to the Agenda. The opinion finally advocates for the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and Cohesion policy beyond 2020 to reflect the role of cities and calls for the development of much stronger awareness-raising for local and regional authorities about existing financing initiatives to support their urban projects.

Background

Launched in May 2016 with the Pact of Amsterdam, the EU Urban agenda is a step towards closer association between cities and the development of EU & national policies. It focuses specifically on three pillars of EU policy-making and implementation: better regulation, better funding and better knowledge. To deliver on the Urban agenda, several thematic partnerships have been set up on topics including air quality, urban mobility, migrants and refugees, climate adaptation or sustainable land use of which Cork city is a member.

The opinion is scheduled to be adopted in plenary in July.

Cllr. Michael Murphy appointed vice-Chair of the Interregional group on Brexit

On March 23rd, the CoR Interregional group on Brexit appointed Michael Murphy (EPP), head of the Irish delegation to the CoR, as vice-Chair of the newly established Interregional group on Brexit.

The group is chaired by François Decoster (FR/ALDE) and Michiel Rijsberman (NL/ALDE) has been appointed as vice-Chair. The group gathers 29 members from seven Member States, including the whole Irish delegation.

This interregional group has been set up to enable local and regional representatives to express their concerns regarding the impact of Brexit on their regions and cities and to exchange information and potential solutions to prepare together for the future. The group will meet alongside each plenary session of the CoR.

Background

Interregional groups are platforms which bring together members and alternate members of the European Committee of the Regions on a voluntary basis to exchange views and foster the emergence of ideas likely to enrich cooperation between local and regional authorities in the Member States and beyond. The establishment of an interregional group has to be approved by the CoR bureau.