Europe in My Region

A few months ago we published an entry in the Cantabriaa Europa blog about Cabárceno Nature Park, which was competing in “Europe in My Region”, a competition organised by the Directorate-General for Regional Policy of the European Commission.

This is a repost of La Semana Europea de las Regiones y las Ciudades 2016, originally published by Andrea González González (@regglez, onFacebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) after the European Week of Regions and Cities, which she attended as one of the three Winners of the Europe in My Region 2016 blogging competition.

The competition is part of the Commission’s communication campaign, and its aim is to encourage the public to discover and learn more about projects financed using European funds. It is a campaign comprising publications in blogs about local projects, of which fifty are chosen to be translated and republished. A panel then chooses three winners to attend the European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC) as accredited journalists for the Directorate-General for Regional Policy of the European Commission.

The author of the post about Cabárceno, Andrea González González, attended the European Week of Regions and Cities from 10 to 13 October and writes here to describe her experience.

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Photo of the winners of the “Europe in My Region” competition

Initially known as the “Open Days” of the Committee of the Regions and the Directorate-General for Regional Policy of the European Commission, the EWRC has been held every year since 2003. Its objective is for regional and local public employees and experts and representatives from the academic world to share good practices and their knowledge about regional and urban development, and to report on the progress of the EU Cohesion Policy.
There are two parallel programmes: the press programme and the main programme. In the 2016 press programme there were round tables including journalists who specialise in regional policy, sessions with representatives from the European Commission about EU Cohesion Policy, visits to the European Parliament’s television studio and debate service, the presentation of the winners of the “Europe in My Region” photography competition and a guided tour for journalists in the beautiful district of Molenbeek. The main programme contained the more academic events, which in 2016 focused on topics such as the circular economy, small and medium-sized enterprises, regional sustainable development, foreign relations, regional cooperation, innovation and land development, competitiveness, etc. The programmes shared the EWRC opening session and the RegioStars presentation and awards ceremony.
The opening session, led by European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu and Vice-President of the European Parliament Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso, welcomed all of the regional representatives in the semi-circular chamber of the European Parliament where short speeches were made on the most significant issues in current political debate. Special mention was given to the continuity of EU Cohesion Policy, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, the suspension of funds to Spain and Portugal, the immigration crisis, growing Euroscepticism, and implementing thematic objectives and co-financing at the regional level, which all together dominated the debate forums of the EWRC.

Photo of the opening session of the 2016 EWRC in the chamber of the European Parliament.
Photo of the opening session of the 2016 EWRC in the chamber of the European Parliament.

It’s a shame that the sessions weren’t spread out over a longer period of time, because it was physically impossible to participate in all of them. However, we, the winners of the “Europe in My Region” competition, organised our time so that we could attend all sorts of sessions and soak up as much information as possible in just three days. So much activity in such a short period of time can seem daunting at first, but this is how everyone was able to find sessions and subjects of interest to them at any time during the week.

Photo of a session on good practices in regional social inclusion projects.
Photo of a session on good practices in regional social inclusion projects.

As for the content, and as academics would say, “for simplicity’s sake”, I’ve given myself licence to categorise the most helpful topics from the main sessions, meetings, debates and forums of the EWRC into three large groups: main concerns, proposals and assertions widely supported by the participants.

The following are especially troubling …

  • The belief that the Fund for Strategic Investments could replace the Cohesion Funds. Sometimes they may even complement each other.
  • The clause on macroeconomic conditionality, which calls into question the suspension of funds to Spain and Portugal.
  • The growing lack of confidence in the European Cohesion Policy and Euroscepticism in urban areas.

What do we want to improve? Here are some of the proposals:

  • Greater investment in social entrepreneurship and micro-financing in order to give added value to the Cohesion Funds and the Funds for Strategic Investment.
  • Greater flexibility in execution of the Cohesion Policy in order to deal with emergencies such as the immigration crisis, without losing sight of long-term objectives.
  • Less complexity in implementing the Cohesion Policy, which hinders its functioning.
  • In the future, to establish guaranteed access to European funds by the smallest and most marginal regions, as to a large extent their development depends on this funding.
  • Greater power given to local authorities in order to encourage the people’s liberation.
  • Greater effort to correct mistakes made in implementing the 2014-2020 Operational Programmes.
  • To address the problem of communicating the Cohesion Policy to the public and to increase exchange programmes regarding good practices.
  • A Cohesion Policy that’s present in small urban areas or less developed areas and that’s driven by new technologies. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.
  • Shared management policy between the EU and regions: this game where when things go well it’s thanks to member states and when they go wrong it’s all the EU’s fault has to stop.

The many (many!) assertions included the following:

  • The Cohesion Policy is the only tool facilitating investments that help reduce the likelihood of a two-speed Europe.
“We must fight, not with numbers, but with arguments, in order to maintain the Cohesion Policy in the future” Corina Cretu – European Commissioner of Regional Policy
“We must fight, not with numbers, but with arguments, in order to maintain the Cohesion Policy in the future” Corina Cretu – European Commissioner of Regional Policy
  • The popularisation of financial instruments and expansion of the digital age are crucially important for the future. Mention given to retransmission and the EWRC’s impact in social media.
  • Absorption and execution rates for the 2014-2020 operational programmes are low due to all the previous conditions and to the certification required. Also, the Cohesion Policy does not reach more beneficiaries partly because many of the investments are still at their initial phase.
  • There is a lot to learn and improve in the public-private investment combination. In the case of the EWRC, in combining the Cohesion Policy with financial instruments in the private sector.
  • Europe is the most urbanised continent. According to the latest data from the United Nations, 80% of GDP comes from urban areas where 85% of the population will be living in 2050.

With so many issues on the table, it isn’t surprising that the consecutive debates were intense and extensive. It was very interesting to see how the experts and political representatives interacted with each other and the press. As reporters, we, the winners of the blog competition, were able to ask some fairly daring questions to representatives of European institutions, participate in all scheduled events in both programmes and even attend the RegioStars awards grand ceremony, to which we’ll devote another blog entry.

The basic intention of the “Europe in My Region” blog competition is to communicate good practices for European regional financing through online media. As part of this strategy, inviting the winners to the European Week of Regions and Cities and giving them the opportunity to prepare materials such as this blog entry is a fantastic idea. The prize is doubly attractive because of the training and experience participants gain and the overall communication objective. We can only hope that in the future this pilot project continues, expands its influence and reaches all those bloggers who wish to write and who are currently hidden behind their computer screens.

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