The Catalan Representative Gorka Knörr gave the welcoming speech to the audience
The Catalan Representative Gorka Knörr gave the welcoming speech to the audience

The members of ‘Regions for EU Recovery’ held on Thursday 2 December the second joint event of this initiative under the title ‘Implementation of NGEU Funds: Challenges and Opportunities’. This hybrid event is the follow-up of the first one hosted by Bavaria on March 18, 2021. On this occasion, the host was the Delegation of the Government of Catalonia to the European Union. Political representatives from Flanders, South Tyrol, Lower Austria, and Catalonia shared among themselves and with the European Commission their diverse experiences and best practices on the implementation of these EU funds on the ground.

The Catalan Minister of Foreign Action and Open Government, Victòria Alsina, stressed in her welcoming speech that “the credibility and success of the Next Generation EU funds will directly depend on whether regions are allowed to become part of the driving force that move these investments forward”.

Declan Costello, Deputy Director-General in the Directorate-General of Economic and Financial Affairs at the European Commission, presented the state of play on the implementation of the Next Generation EU funds. He pointed out that “the European Commission wants to work with regional authorities and we [European Commission] will pressure for proper consultation and involvement of regional and local authorities. We will do the utmost but ultimately it belongs to the Member States to do it”. Delving deeper into this matter, he added that “Member States need an effective governance framework including national, regional and local authorities at all stages of the implementation” and that “regions will be key partners for implementing our ambitious objectives since local and regional authorities are responsible for over half of public investment in the EU”. Costello identified some issues that may arise, such as “delays and lack of administrative capacity, especially in Member States with large cohesion transfers”.

Axel Buyse, Diplomatic Representative of Flanders in the EU, presented the ‘Flemish Resilience Recovery Plan’ and affirmed that “the European Commission should take into account the Member States’ specificities, and since the one-size approach does not fit all, a more tailor-made perspective is needed”.

Martin Eichtinger, State Minister for Housing, Labour and International Relations of Lower Austria emphasized that “a successful and sustainable European recovery needs active regional and local involvement from the get-go”.

Martha Gärber, Director of the Department Europe of South Tyrol claimed that “regions need time and space for designing the interventions that best fit territories” and agreed with Eichtinger that “the principle of subsidiarity has to be reintroduced in all procedures”.

On behalf of Catalonia, Matilde Villarroya, Secretary-General for Economic Affairs and European Funds, highlighted that “regions should be able to support their own projects based on capabilities and knowledge”, but that this is not the case in Spain, where “the State communicates the distribution of Recovery and Resilience Funds criteria unilaterally, applying the same programs for all the regions, and in some cases, interfering with competences that are transferred to regions.”  She called for “greater planning and transparency on the part of the State in the programs to be promoted so that the regions have anticipatory capacities”.

Finally, Martin Eichtinger took the floor again to pronounce the closing remarks. The Lower Austrian Minister summarized the main demands of the ‘Regions for EU Recovery’ initiative: “We need more trust, more flexibility, more concentration on regional strategies in order to ensure that the EU Recovery strategy will be a European success”.

During the event, it was announced that ‘Regions for EU Recovery’ are working together on a benchmark document on the regional implementation of NGEU Funds. The results of this benchmark will be available in February 2022.

About ‘Regions for EU Recovery’

‘Regions for EU Recovery’ is an initiative launched during the COVID-19 pandemic and endorsed by over thirty regions from ten EU member states, which are committed to undertake joint efforts to strengthen the role of regions in EU decision-making related to the post-COVID recovery.

 This initiative was publicly launched in March 2021. Simultaneously, a joint letter signed by all 31 regions was sent to Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, David Sassoli, Angela Merkel, António Costa and Janez Jansa to underline their commitment to the European recovery agenda.

The regions involved in this second joint event were (in alphabetical order): Åland Islands, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Baden-Württemberg, Balearic Islands, Basque Country, Bavaria, Bratislava region, Burgenland, Carinthia, Catalonia, Emilia-Romagna, Flanders, Helsinki-Uusimaa , Hessen, Lazio, Lombardy, Lower Austria, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, South Tyrol, Tyrol, Valencia, Vorarlberg, Wallonia and Wielkopolska.

 

The event can be watched here.