REGIONS AND CITIES ADOPT ‚ATHENS DECLARATION‘ ON EU’S GROWTH STRATEGY: „TOO LITTLE PROGRESS: CHANGE NOW OR FAIL AGAIN“
During a European Summit in Athens, the Committee of the Regions was resolute when it warned today that delivering the European Union’s economic growth strategy – „Europe 2020“ – was being undermined by a clear lack of involvement of local government. Dismissing the current approach as „territorially blind“, the Committee – which represents local and regional authorities in the European Union (EU) – adopted its so called „Athens Declaration“ setting out a seven-point plan for reform. The political declaration argues that the EU must rethink its approach and alter its direction if it is to keep its promise of creating a „smart, sustainable and inclusive economy“ by 2020.
The Declaration was approved by the Committee’s members during the 6th European Summit of Regions and Cities and argues that the future success of the EU’s growth strategy hinges on better engagement of local and regional authorities. The political document is based on the findings of a mid-term review of Europe 2020, also published by the Committee, which is based on extensive consultation of Europe’s regional and local governments.
During his opening speech at the Summit the Committee’s President, Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, said, „The latest economic forecast shows that though there are signs growth is back in Europe, there are unacceptable disparities between regions. We now need to reconsider our direction making it easier for our cities and regions to shape the strategy and take ownership. If we don’t want to fail again, the EU’s growth strategy needs regional targets, partnerships between all levels of government and sufficient funding to make recovery real for all our citizens“. Speaking in front of over 800 Greek and EU participants, President Valcárcel remarked that given local and regional authorities are responsible for one third of public expenditure and two thirds of public investments, they were best placed to deliver the EU’s priorities.
Ioannis Sgouros, Governor of the Greek Region of Attica and Head of the Committee of the Regions‘ Greek delegation said: “In these critical times, we are called to review the role of the Committee of the Regions and regional and local government in economic development, innovation and social welfare. The prolonged recession experienced by Member States, the unprecedented unemployment, poverty, and social exclusion of increasingly larger social groups are facts that create new challenges for both regional and local government as well as the European institutions. It is now evident that the crisis Europe is currently experiencing is not solely a financial crisis. It is primarily a political and institutional crisis. Never before have indifference and scepticism among European citizens regarding the EU proceedings been so intense. Europe should take a big decision right now: to change its policy, namely its way of thinking and acting, in order to regain the trust and confidence of its citizens”.
Commenting on the EU’s targets set in 2010, President Valcárcel added, „It is worrying that there is little overall progress in achieving the targets set. Whilst some regions are delivering, others are seriously lagging behind. The economic crisis has undoubtedly taken a heavy toll on Europe’s prospects for economic growth but this is not the only reason for the lack of progress. It is time we fixed the weaknesses in the architecture and governance of the strategy“. A call that was shared by the President of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, who warned that: “Disparities within the EU have never been so high in terms of employment rates and private investment”. To tackle this situation, he underlined that convergence and subsidiarity should be the key principles to shape EU’s efforts for growth in the coming months and years. “Over the past seven years – he added – we had to manage the crisis while much of the rest of the world was moving forward. We need now to recover the gap”.
The Committee of the Regions‘ Seven-point plan for Europe 2020
1. Give the strategy a territorial dimension: Though the strategy has provided a framework for action, it ignores the strengths, weaknesses and development opportunities of European regions. There is a need to set territorially differentiated objectives and targets with updated and extended EU-wide regional data to measure progress locally.
2. National Reform Programmes in partnership: There is limited involvement of local and regional authorities in preparing National Reform Programmes: they are consulted but not viewed as partners in setting goals and targets.
3. Making multi-level governance the standard approach: Multi-level governance allows for coordination between different levels of government and is a precondition for the Europe 2020 Strategy to bring added value in terms of growth, jobs and cohesion. Territorial Pacts and multi-level arrangements involving public authorities at all levels can help deliver a renewed Europe 2020 Strategy.
4. Aligning the European Semester with genuine long-term investment: The European Semester – the annual exercise of coordination of fiscal and structural policies by the EU’s member states – must be more aligned with Europe 2020 goals covered by the Flagship Initiatives, including related need for long-term investments.
5. Using the Europe 2020 Flagship Initiatives for enhanced policy coordination: The seven Flagship Initiatives should become a lever to enhance policy coordination at all levels in view of achieving the Europe 2020 targets.
6. Mobilising funding for long-term investment, ensuring better spending: the European Commission should publish a Green Paper on budget synergies between all levels of government which would allow them to „do more with less“. The European Investment Bank should strengthen its support for local and regional authorities. Private funds should be mobilised through innovative financial instruments. The quality of public spending should improve, to make public investments more effective.
7. Strengthening administrative capacity for more effective implementation: Benchmarking, exchange of experiences and peer learning between regions and cities should be supported by the EU and Member States, also by using EU instruments such as the European Territorial Cooperation programmes. A Public Sector Innovation Platform, aiming at supporting and coordinating public sector innovation, should be established.