The European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC) kicked off this week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen leading a long list of high-level guest appearances, including European Commissioners Frans Timmermans, Paolo Gentiloni, Nicolas Schmit, Elisa Ferreira and President of the European Investment Bank Werner Hoyer.
During the exchange with Chancellor Merkel, President of the Renew Europe Group in the European Committee of the Regions (Renew Europe CoR) François Decoster focused on the new Pact for Migration and Asylum, urging the Chancellor to reach an agreement during the German Presidency and highlighting the dependence of the EU’s migration policy on successful integration policies at the local level. Decoster, who featured in a New York Times article in 2018 thanks to his dynamic and creative approach to integration of migrants in his town of Saint Omer, said:
“We need to reinforce the concept of solidarity. The EU’s approach to migration must be solidarity and shared responsibility-based, sustainable in the long term and human rights compliant. Solidarity is a cardinal principle of the EU, which must be respected, not just between Member States, but also towards migrants and towards and between local authorities that face the task of helping migrants on a daily basis.”
Decoster was one of the first to actively discuss and promote the concept of solidarity, for instance in his Migration report dating back to 2015. For years, his city of Saint-Omer was also the only town in that region of France with a “Terre d’Asile” centre for underage refugees.
Coinciding with this year’s EWRC, the European Committee of the Regions is launching the first EU Local and Regional Barometer, which provides a snapshot of the situation on the ground and makes several recommendations. Welcoming the launch of this report, the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen said:
“Local authorities were the first line of defence when the crisis hit. And Europeans know what their Mayors, governors or councillors have done for them. They will be at the core of our recovery.”
In her reply, Renew Europe CoR Vice-President, Ulrika Landergren said:
“We need to focus on competence development in industries in transition, such as the vehicle industry. For producing electric cars, buses and self-driven cars, advanced digital skills are needed. Our focus needs to be put on existing staff and innovative knowledge in university curricula to help our citizens develop digital skills.”
She also asked von der Leyen what the EU can do to put pressure on these authorities to abolish these resolutions and if that is not done to cease also other kind of EU funding to these local and regional authorities, in particular the European Structural and Investment Funds.
The EWRC is the EU’s largest annual event organised jointly by the European Committee of the Regions and the European Commission, attracting in normal circumstances up to 7000 people from all over the EU and beyond. This year, because of COVID-19, most of it is taking place online.