This year, the European Week of Regions and Cities is happy to welcome back the whole Cohesion Policy family in October. Be they project promoters, politicians, regional or local authorities, business stakeholders, civil society organisations, academics or colleagues from the EU institutions, the members of this large family will have their say in assessing the challenges in and shaping the future of our communities.
Last year, despite the pandemic, the unprecedented participation of some 12 000 people evidenced the vitality of #EURegionsWeek and of the Cohesion community. The Coronavirus Response Investment Initiatives (CRII/CRII+) and the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe (REACT-EU) helped our communities cushion the impact of the crisis and address their most immediate needs while laying down the foundations of a sustainable recovery. It is now time for #EURegionsWeek, under the motto 'Together for Recovery', to support regions and cities in consolidating inclusive recovery, in a context marked by three major milestones.
The first milestone is the adoption of the legal and policy framework for 2021-27 funding programmes. After 3 years of intensive work with the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, on 24 June 2021 we reached an agreement on which European priorities should be supported and how much of the EUR 373 billion Cohesion funding available should be devoted to each priority. Nevertheless, work is still far from complete. Our Member States and regions now need to meet with their partners and tell us how their respective funding programmes can best support recovery and achieve the green and digital transitions. In this exercise, we should not lose sight of the other European programmes and recovery instruments that should contribute to our common goal of long-term regional development and a more cohesive EU.
“It is now time for #EURegionsWeek , under the motto "Together for Recovery", to support regions and cities in consolidating inclusive recovery ”
The second milestone is the different meetings on the green and digital Transition, with the intensification of discussions on the Fit for 55 and Digital Decade legislative packages, as well as the COP26 Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Glasgow on 1-12 November. The urgency and importance of the climate change challenge should not be forgotten. The floods and the wildfires that tragically hit our regions over the summer remind us how vulnerable we are to extreme weather episodes caused by climate change. The time for action is now, and cohesion policy has a key role to play in making sure that no one is left behind in these transitions.
The third milestone is the Conference on the Future of Europe. As suggested by the increase in voter turnout during the 2019 European election, EU citizens are becoming increasingly interested in playing an active role in deciding the future of the EU and its policies. The EU needs to provide answers to citizens' concerns and recognise their ambitions. The European Commission is therefore committed to giving citizens and representative associations opportunities to voice and publicly exchange their views in all areas of EU action. #EURegionsWeek is ready to seize this opportunity, by giving a voice to our regions and territories.
Against this background, and following close exchange with # EURegionsWeek partners, we have decided to build the 2021 edition of the Week around the following themes:
Cohesion, from em ergency to resilience; Green transition for a sustainable and green recovery;
Digital Transition for people; Citizens, for an inclusive, participative, and fair recovery.
“The pandemic has emphasised the potential of the digital sphere to reshape and replace carbon-intensive activities"
The first theme builds directly on the #EURegionsWeek's core values. Cohesion is at the heart of European integration, an essential solidarity pillar that grants every region and person the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of belonging to the world's largest internal market. We are proud of the role played in recent years by our regions and cities in conveying/ delivering cohesion to each and every corner of the EU. This was true in the hardest moments of the pandemic and will also be when forging a new resilience to face future challenges.
A number of voices have pointed out that the planet cannot wait until the end of the pandemic. This is why REACT-EU and 2021?27 Cohesion Policy are prioritising projects that deliver and embody the green, job-rich transition, of course to boost recovery, but above all to prepare the EU for an extensively different, carbon-neutral economy.
There will be no green transition without a digital transition for people. The pandemic has emphasised the potential of the digital sphere to reshape and replace carbon-intensive activities. Fewer physical gatherings and less commuting means indeed lower carbon emissions and a lesser impact on climate. However, the pandemic has also unveiled a worrying digital divide that prevents a number of Europeans from reaping the benefits of the digital sphere. A substantial share of REACT-EU is therefore already dedicated to supporting e-learning and e-inclusion. I am sure that the #EURegionsWeek sessions will help reinforce this momentum by facilitating the exchange of digital good practices among participants.
Ultimately, the success of recovery and transition will depend on our ability to rally citizens? support and trigger change in individuals' behaviour, but this can only come from a participatory approach. We need more of Cohesion Policy's partnership principle in our decision-making. This is why # EURegionsWeek wishes to open our doors to citizens, welcome them to our dialogues and collect their feedback through the "Voice of the Week" a survey that will be carried out among participants over the 4 days and contribute feedback and suggestions to the Conference on the Future of Europe.
We have prepared # EuropeanRegionsWeek with our partners, in particular Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the Committee of the Regions. I am very much looking forward to welcoming participants on Monday 11 October to discuss the future of a more resilient and cohesive Europe together.
Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms