ROUND UP OF COR’S 159TH PLENARY

The first CoR plenary session of the year took place in the European Parliament’s Hemicycle between the 31st January and the 1st February. There was strong Irish Delegation engagement over the two-day session with the highlight being the adoption of Irish Delegation member Cllr. Kate Feeney’s opinion on “The SME Relief Package and the BEFIT Framework”.

The session opened with a tribute to Jacques Delors, the 8th President of the European Commission, who died in December. Delors played a key role in the creation of the single market and Euro. From an Irish perspective, Delors was one of the first European representatives to react to the 1994 paramilitary ceasefire and it was at his urging that the EU’s Peace Programme was created.

The first debate of the day concerned the priorities of the Belgian Presidency of the EU, it also contained the first Irish Delegation contribution of the session as Cllr. Dan Boyle intervened to commend the Belgian Presidency for including urbanism as a presidency priority.

The next Irish contribution came from Cllr. Kieran McCarthy, speaking during the debate on the “Towards an integrated EU policy approach to support place-based innovation for the green and digital transition”. Cllr. McCarthy used his intervention to highlight the work of the CoR’s SEDEC Commission in promoting an integrated EU policy approach to support place-based innovation for the green and digital transition.

The evening saw the highlight of the plenary session from an Irish Delegation perspective as Cllr. Kate Feeney presented her opinion “The SME Relief Package and the BEFIT Framework”. During her presentation Cllr. Feeney urged Europe to embrace the “think-small-first” philosophy which her opinion embraced. Following interventions from the floor the opinion was adopted.

Day two of plenary began with an opinion on “Greening Freight Transport” followed by a “Debate on Lessons Learned from COP28: The Critical Role of Local and Regional Leaders for Global Climate Action” which saw Irish Delegation member and CoR COP28 delegation member Cllr. Alison Gilliland present to the plenary floor on her learnings from COP.

The plenary concluded with a debate with EU youth representatives on the forthcoming EU Elections and a presentation from CoR Trainees on their [Y] Factor project “Local and Regional Success Stories”.

The next plenary will take place in conjunction with the Summit of Cities and Regions in Mons on the 18th and 19th of March.

New Regulation on Geographical indication sees protection for craft and industrial projects

The EU has recently adopted a new Regulation on the protection of geographical indications (GI) for craft and industrial projects. Geographical indications (GIs) for craft and industrial (CI) products establish intellectual property rights protection for registered names of products whose quality, reputation or other characteristic are essentially attributable to their geographical origin. For example, products such as Murano glass, Donegal tweed, Solingen cutlery, or Bolesławiec ceramics. The new Regulation will come into effect on 1st December 2025.

The Regulation will be invaluable for a wide range of producers of products that have qualities linked to a specific area, such as jewellery, glass, shoes, textiles, porcelain, musical instruments and furniture. More than 800 products have been identified to qualify as geographical indications for CI products in the EU.

Once implemented, the new CIGIs Regulation will be a significant boost for producers of craft and industrial products. Its purpose is to assist them in preserving the heritage of locally sourced craft and industrial products, allowing them to compete in specific niche markets while maintaining their local knowledge and culture.  European craftsmanship can be found in great diversity in cities, provinces and regions across the EU. Whether Solingen cutlery from Germany, Bohemian crystal glass from the Czech Republic, Limoges porcelain from France, they are all emblems of centuries-old craft traditions and part of Europe’s cultural heritage.

The system will be managed by the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). The Regulation provides that producer groups will be able to submit applications for protection for GIs for craft and industrial products.

Further information can be found here.  

ROUND UP OF COR’S 158TH PLENARY

The final CoR plenary session of the year took place on the 29th and 30th November, featuring a packed agenda the Irish delegation was active and vocal throughout!

The first opinion of the session “Boosting lasting and effective cross-border cooperation with our neighbours” featured the first Irish contribution of the session as Cllr Declan McDonnell highlighted the role of the EU in the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement and commend the role that the EU has played “since 1994 promoting cross border cooperation through the EU PEACE programmes and cross border INTERREG programmes”.

This was followed by the adoption of both the CoR’s opinion on the 2022 Annual Report on Competition Policy and The EU Anti-Corruption Framework.

The next Irish contribution came from Cllr. Kieran McCarthy, speaking during the debate on the Promoting Cultural Policies in Rural Areas opinion. Cllr. McCarthy highlighted that culture can create jobs and boost the local economy of rural areas. Cllr. McCarthy followed this contribution with another during the debate on the Future of Cohesion Policy, during which he urged the CoR to do more to be proactive in their approach to Cohesion Policy.

Cllr. McCarthy was joined by two more Irish contributions during the debate on Cohesion Policy. Cllr. Una Power highlighted that Cohesion Policy is key to stopping environmental degradation. She was followed by Cllr. Caroline Dwane Stanley who called “for the next MFF to continue to support the Just Transition through a dedicated funding programme and for the focus to be kept on the regions that need it most!”.

The opinion which drew the largest contribution from the Irish delegation was Stopping Gender-Based Violence – Cities and Regions Leading the Way. The debate included a contribution from MEP Frances Fitzgerald. Irish Delegation members Cllr. Aoife Breslin, Cllr. Kate Feeney, Cllr. Kieran McCarthy and Cllr. Emma Blain all spoke.

The highlight of day two of the session was Head of Delegation Cllr. Michael Murphy chairing the final opinion of the year when he ably oversaw “A European Hydrogen Bank”.

This concluded the CoR plenary sessions for the year, the first plenary session of 2024 takes place on the 31st of January and the 2nd February.

Cork City Council Study-Visit to Brussels

A delegation, led by Deputy Lord Mayor Colette Finn, and including the Chairs of the Cork City Council Strategic Planning Committee and the equivalent for Community, Culture & Placemaking, plus members of Senior Management, undertook Cork City Council’s first study visit to Brussels since early 2018 from 6th-8th December 2023.

Over the course of three days, the group met with a range of speakers variously representing regional, national and European interests to learn more about priority areas of identified interest to Cork City. The predominant theme across a busy agenda of 16 engagements was the challenges of climate change for cities, a frontline issue for local authorities throughout the Union, and how to avail of targeted opportunities to help to accelerate local progress towards reaching net zero carbon emissions status over the coming years.

Day one was given over primarily to meeting with Irish officials and representatives. It began with a scene-setting briefing from the Irish Regions European Office (IREO) on current EU policy issues of potential relevance at local level. This was followed by Ireland’s Ambassador to the EU, Aingeal O’Donoghue, a Cork native, who made time to welcome the group and explain the role of the Permanent Representation (Embassy) she heads up. Sessions followed with senior attachés from Government Departments stationed there, on Climate Action and on European Maritime Day 2025 which will be hosted in Cork. The day concluded with meetings in the European Parliament with three of the Ireland South MEPs – Mick Wallace; Sean Kelly and Billy Kelleher – with apologies from Deirdre Clune and Grace O’Sullivan who had prior engagements.

The European Commission Visitors’ Service provided the focus of the second day, hosting a series of sessions in that institution’s Berlaymont and Charlemagne buildings, with officials sourced from across various Directorates-General. These covered all three EU Missions in which Cork City is participating: on Restoring our Oceans and Waters; Climate-Neutral & Smart Cities; and Climate Adaptation. In the afternoon, attention turned to learning about the ‘Renovation Wave’ initiative on buildings retrofitting and energy efficiency and to migrant integration at city level. There was also a courtesy call from Paul Moley of Commissioner Mairead McGuinness’ Cabinet who was otherwise engaged. The day ended with a discussion at the European Investment Bank.

The final day involved meetings seeking to identify how to maximise the value of Cork’s interaction with the Committee of the Regions, represented by senior Irish staff Micheal Collins and Micheál O’Conchúir, and with the ICLEI Europe network for local government sustainability. The visit concluded with a site visit to an innovative hybrid model of community-managed social housing.

As a city seeking to marry its growth targets with sustainability and quality of life concerns, Cork is actively informing these objectives through involvement in a host of EU initiatives. 20 separate projects or designations which have been competed for and won over recent years, mostly during 2023, are now ongoing as activities, with numerous others having ended over the course of the year also. Primarily involving in-depth partnership with other cities over several years to address issues of shared concern in new ways, they are variously providing opportunities for Cork to benchmark their comparative performance; access fresh perspectives and investigate whether novel approaches and best practices can be adapted to our own situation; incorporate specialist insight and tailored expertise into Cork’s thinking; undertake pilot activities and trial new technologies; be part of collective efforts to devise innovative and practical solutions; and actively involve key local stakeholders and communities in the process. In fitting with the theme of the study visit, increasingly, these activities reflect climate-related issues such as influencing positive public behavioral change towards sustainability; electric vehicle infrastructure planning; green and blue infrastructure; energy efficiency in social housing; and engaging businesses in green practices and opportunities.

Round up of CoR’s 157th Plenary

Coinciding with the 21st edition of the European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC), The Committee of the Regions (CoR) held its 157th Plenary session between the 9th and 11th of October. The session marked the penultimate Plenary of the year and featured strong Irish engagement over the course the three-day session, including the presentation and adoption of Irish Delegation member Cllr. Dan Boyle’s opinion on the European Consumers’ Protection Package.

The formal opening of the EWRC coincided with the start of the CoR Plenary and featured contributions from President of the European Committee of the Regions’ Vasco Alves Cordeiro, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms Elisa Ferreira, as well as Chair of the Committee on Regional Development of the European Parliament Younous Omarjee.

Day two began with statements on the on-going Israel/Palestine conflict. Following the statements, the Plenary session formally opened with a debate on a Health Union for Europe and its regions. This debate saw the first Irish intervention of the day when Cllr. Kate Feeney urged for a “Common [European] approach to mental health” and suggested that in order to achieve this “our cities and regions must be supported”.

Following the sessions opening debate there was a presentation of five opinions, including Irish Delegation Cllr. Dan Boyle’s European Consumers’ Protection Package. Cllr. Boyle’s opinion seeks to amend the European Commission’s proposals for a right to repair to include a local and regional perspective. The aim of the proposal is to ensure that consumers are empowered to make better informed decisions and play an active role in the ecological transition. Cllr. Boyle asserts in the opinion that granting consumers the right to repair would be instrumental in advancing Europe’s industrial transition and strengthening its resilience and open strategic autonomy.

The opinion was adopted with several amendments.

The afternoon saw several Irish Delegations interventions on the Plenary floor.

During the debate on “UNFCCC COP28: the role of subnational authorities in keeping climate ambition on track”, Cllr. Aoife Breslin intervened highlighting the value of clear and understandable language in discussions surrounding climate change, noting “there is an onus on us as local leaders to be concise and consistent in our language used when talking about the threat posed by climate change”.

Speaking during the debate on the “Review and proposal for the revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027”, Cllr. Kieran McCarthy urged that any revision to the MFF would ensure that “funds are more accessible” to local and regional authorities.

Following voting on the five opinions the Plenary was presented a draft resolution on the SDGs in EU regions and cities in the aftermath of the EU Voluntary Review and 2023 UN discussions. During this debate Head of Delegation Cllr. Michael Murphy welcomed the resolution noting that it will act as a “milestone for future work”.

The final Irish intervention of the day came from Cllr. Kieran McCarthy speaking on the opinion “Mentoring: A Powerful and Meaningful Tool for the Europe of Tomorrow”. During the debate Cllr. McCarthy highlighted the work done by the Cork Enterprise Office and their mentoring programme, noting that the programme benefits from EU ERDF funding.

Cllr. McCarthy also intervened during the opening debate of day three, on “The State of Regions and Cities”. Cllr. McCarthy used his intervention to make an impassioned call for Europe to work with its local and regional authorities.

The final Irish intervention of the Plenary session was delivered by Cllr. Una Power, who speaking during the debate on the reconstruction of Ukraine and in the context of the #InternationalDayOfTheGirl urged that “women are considered in the reconstruction of Ukraine and it’s cities”.

The final Plenary session of the year is due to take place on 28th and 30th of November.

Southern Regional Assembly Visit Brussels

The Southern Regional Assembly (SRA) undertook a two-day study visit to Brussels. The study visit found the delegation of eight councillors and three assembly staff undertaking a packed two-day itinerary with MEPs and European institute representatives.

Starting on Wednesday the 28th, the delegation began their visit with a presentation from Michael O’Conchuir, Secretary General of the European Alliance group who provided an engaging overview of the work of the European Committee of the Regions and the impact of the Irish Delegation.

This was followed by two presentations from Commission officials firstly from DG Regio official Kai Stryczynski, who offered an analysis of the role of Cohesion Policy in Ireland. This was followed by an introduction to the New European Bauhaus from fellow DG Regio official Tatiana Gouveia Coelho de Oliveira.

In the afternoon the delegation met their regional representatives in the European Parliament. Starting with Sean Kelly MEP, the delegation would also meet Billy Kelleher MEP, Deirdre Clune MEP and Chris MacManus MEP.

The delegation began the second day of their visit meeting Grace O’Sullivan MEP to discuss the forthcoming Nature Restoration Law. This was followed by a meeting with Alessandro Giordani, Head of Unit at DG Communication, who introduced the delegation to the Network of EU Councillors.

The visit was rounded out with a presentation from Enterprise Ireland’s Grainne Ryan, Enterprise Ireland about the opportunities for local government in the Horizon Europe programme. Concluding the visit IBEC’s Neil Wolloghby offered an overview of Irish business interests in EU policy.

156th Plenary Session Roundup

The Committee of the Regions (CoR) held its 156th plenary session on the 5th and 6th of July in the European Parliament’s Hemicycle. The session marked the fourth plenary of the year and the final meeting before the Summer recess. The session featured ten opinions and six debates.

Following President Vasco Alves Cordeiro formally opening the two-day session, the plenary began with a debate on the role of local and regional authorities in the defence of democracy. The debate was held in the context of a package of measures announced by Commission President aimed at defending democracy from covert foreign influence. This was followed by an opinion of a similar theme by rapporteur-general Gustaw Marek Brezezin on the role of local and regional authorities in countering disinformation and foreign information manipulation and interference.

The key vote of day one was the proposal to allow certain meetings to be held remotely. This was on the context of the establishment of a new ad hoc committee.

From an Irish perspective the highlight of the day was Cllr Una Power’s opinion on ambient air quality, which was debated alongside Asa Agren Wikstrom’s Revision of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. Following a close vote Cllr Power’s opinion was passed with a several amendments.

Day one was rounded out with discussions on two opinions, firstly Isolde Ries opinion on Critical Raw Materials and following this, Josef Frey’s opinion on the reform of the EU electricity market design, which seeks to speed up the clean energy transition.

Day two began with a Local Matters debate on sustainable mobility in local areas, a topic which drew support from across the house as representatives from the ECR, PES and the EPP spoke on the topic.

This was followed by a debate on the role of US and EU subnational governments with Robin Vos, President of the National Conference of State Legislature. Cllr. Emma Blain used the debate to thank President Vos for his engagement with the CoR as well as noting that she looks forward to welcoming him to Dublin in August.

The plenary was rounded out with debates on the EU Enlargement Package, fostering the potential synergies of EU Green Deal initiatives for regions and cities and a debate on the forthcoming Net Zero Industry Act.

The next plenary session will take place in conjunction with the week of cities and regions on the 10th and 11th of October.

Round up of CoR’s 155th Plenary

The Committee of the Regions (CoR) held its 155th plenary session on the 24th and 25th of May. The session marked the third plenary of the year and the penultimate meeting before the summer recess. The session featured six opinions and five debates including a debate and opinion on the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework.

Following President Vasco Alves Cordeiro’s formal opening of the two-day session, the plenary began with a debate on ‘Promoting equality, diversity and inclusion at local and regional level’ in the context of May being EU diversity month. This was followed by an opinion from Italian CoR Member Michele Pais on interoperability across the Union. Interoperability being Member States’ ability to share citizens information across borders to allow for better access to public services across the EU.

Following the aforementioned debate on the Midterm review of the Multiannual Financial Framework and the subsequent vote on the opinion, the plenary adjourned for the evening.

The second day opened with a debate on zero long-term unemployment. This debate took place in the context that despite recent improvement in trends on the European labour market, long-term unemployment rates are still 36.2% on average in the EU-27 in 2021, according to OECD figures, with rates per Member State varying between 20% and 60%.

Day two’s key debate was Cllr. Joke Schauvliege’s opinion on the legislative framework for sustainable food systems. The framework looks at the challenges of sustainable food systems while recognising the inextricable links between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet. The strategy also looks to contribute to the EU’s efforts to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Given the broad scope of the opinion it led to a wide-ranging debate on the floor, with three of four amendments proposed by Irish delegation members, thus ensuring that human health is protected within the framework.

The plenary session finished with two EU Local Matters on water scarcity and implementing REPowerEU. Followed by a final debate on a more resilient, more inclusive and more democratic Europe.

The next plenary session will take place on the 5th and 6th of July.

EU Funding Conference

On Wednesday 19th April 2023, the Irish Regions European Office (IREO), in conjunction with the three Regional Assemblies of Ireland and the Irish Delegation to the EU Committee of the Regions held an EU funding conference “Connecting, Communicating and Collaborating – Irish Regions Cooperating across the EU: How local authorities can engage in European Programmes”.  

This one-day national conference was attended by over 130 delegates and it aimed to communicate the opportunities for local government to participate in EU funding, particularly in the European Territorial Cooperation programmes, the Horizon Europe Missions and the LIFE programme.

Keynote speaker, Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Public Expenditure, National Development Programme and Reform noted that “INTERREG and other EU programmes play an important role in supporting the process of creating links, exchanging views, understanding differences, working together, and promoting and maintaining peace”.

Cllr Michael Murphy, Member of Tipperary County Council and Head of the Irish Delegation to the Committee of the Regions called on Government to support a strategy to enhance the engagement of local councils in EU funding, by enhancing the support for the Irish Regions European Office in Brussels and funding an EU officer in each local authority in Ireland.

The conference featured nine different EU funding programmes and concurrent information sessions were held during the afternoon. These sessions informed and guided potential participants through the application process for the Northern Periphery and Artic Programme, the North West Europe Programme, the Atlantic Area programme, the URBACT, the ESPON and the INTERREG Europe programmes.  One to one sessions were also held on several of the Horizon Europe Missions and the LIFE programme for protecting the environment and combatting climate change.

One of the highlights of the day was the launch of the IREO and Regional Assemblies interactive map which provides details of all ETC projects for the 2014 – 2020 period and further details of this map can be found on the Regional Development Monitor website: https://rdm.geohive.ie/pages/our-regions-economy.

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Round up of CoR’s 154th Plenary

The Committee of the Regions (CoR) held its 154th plenary session on the 15th and 16th March. The session marked the second plenary of the year and featured several debates on opinions and resolutions as well as a key vote on the CoR’s draft budget for 2024.

Opening the two-day session, CoR President Vasco Alves Cordeiro wished the Irish Delegation a happy Saint Patrick’s Day. Following the formal opening, the plenary began with a debate on harnessing talent in Europe’s Regions, this debate taking place in the context of the European Year of Skills. Other key highlights throughout the day included the CoR opinion on short-term rentals (Airbnbs) and the sustainable use of pesticides.

Day one also saw a crucial debate on the CoR’s draft budget for 2024, which was subsequently approved.

From an Irish perspective the highlight of the first day of the plenary session was Cllr. Aoife Breslin’s contribution to the EU Local Matters debate. Speaking under her proposed topic ‘Encouraging integration at local and regional level’, Cllr. Breslin noted that “it is crucial in order to ensure interaction on a local and regional level that there is engagement with local elected representatives establishing proper communication structures and investment”.

Day two of the March plenary session focused on two opinions, Amending the Directive on Asbestos and the European Media Freedom Act. Following the acceptance of these two opinions and a resolution on Harnessing Talent in the EU the CoR hosted a Cohesion Alliance event.

Speaking during the event, Irish Delegation Member Cllr. Una Power noted the importance of adjusting implementation of the Cohesion policy to our changing needs and political priorities.

The next plenary session will take place in May 2023.