4 MIN READ TIME

Apostolos Tzitzikostas

The European Week of Regions and Cities (#EURegions Week) is the biggest annual Brussels-based event dedicated to cohesion policy. Over the past 18 years, it has gathered thousands of regional governors, mayors, local, national and European politicians, administrators, experts and journalists to discuss the future of cities and regions in the EU.

In 2020, the first-ever digital #EURegionsWeek reached record numbers of more than 12 000 participants and 510 sessions. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, these figures confirm that #EURegionsWeek became a must-attend event for raising awareness among decision-makers of the views of regions and cities and their practical proposals for EU policymaking.

Green and digital transitions, citizens' engagement and cohesion policy are the main topics of the 2021 edition, which will be again fully digital to respect the COVID-19 preventive measures.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that cohesion policy is needed now more than ever to strengthen resilience in Europe, protect citizens, bring the recovery to every corner of the European Union and leave no one behind.

In September, we celebrated the first four years of the # Cohesion Alliance, the EU-wide coalition that we created together with the leading European associations of cities and regions, advocating for a stronger cohesion policy. Along with the other founding members, we renewed our commitment to join forces and keep cohesion policy as a top priority of the EU. Moreover, we will be vigilant that the partnership principle is fully applied by Member St at es in the design and implementation of the cohesion policy for 2021-27.

The European Union will not succeed in its recovery strategy by taking a top-down approach. The EU must respond to the real needs of people in the places where they live and work. Only by applying a bottom-up approach Europe can succeed and rebuild citizens? support in their hearts and minds. The pandemic and the recent floods and fires have hit the lives of our communities, and it was Europe's 1 million local and regional leaders who were on the frontline working with public and emergency services to save lives and our economies.

"we will be vigilant that the partnership principle is fully applied by Member States in the design and implementation of the cohesion policy for 2021-27"

Not involving local actors, responsible for delivering 70 % of all EU laws, sufficiently in the design and implementation of National Recovery and Resilience Plans is a threat to Europe's recovery. The European Green Deal will become a reality only if it happens at local and regional levels with locally elected politicians. If not, it will fail. The Conference on the Future of Europe risks being a "beauty contest " between Brussels institutions if it does not reach all local communities across Europe.

Our Committee fully supports the priorities set by President Ursula von der Leyen in her speech on the State of the Union: with an EU budget and recovery plan of unprecedented proportion, we now need to invest together to ensure we recover together while simultaneously accelerating the climate and digital transitions. For these reasons, coherence and synergies between the recovery instruments and the structural funds are of paramount importance to avoid overlaps and maximise the impact of the European action.

Hundreds of regional managing authorities are currently under enormous stress to conclude 2014-20 cohesion program m es, launch the 2021' 27 programmes and contribute to the kick-off of national recovery and resilience plans. A coordinated approach between all levels of government is crucial now more than ever, as we highlighted during the first High-Level Forum on Regional Recovery and Resilience that we organised on 24 September together with the Slovenian Presidency of the EU.

However, good policies and strategies are successful only if they are built on reliable data and studies on the ground. Therefore, the European Committee of the Regions will present its second EU Annual Regional and Local Barometer on 12 October 2021, offering a snapshot of the many effects of the pandemic on the EU's regions and cities and showing the wide differences that exist within our Union and within each Member State.

"The European Green Deal will become a reality only if it happens at local and regional levels with locally elected politicians"

It will show the pandemic's "scissor effect" on local and regional finances, how our regions and cities are progressing -or struggling- as they seek to master the green and digital transition, how the challenge of narrowing the economic and social differences between regions has become more complex, and how regions and cities are modernizing local democracy. In addition, through the most wide-ranging survey ever conducted among the 1.15 million local and regional politicians in the EU, it will show the opinions of the politicians who make our Union stronger ever y day in their local communities.

Data, knowledge and visuals from ESPON - have been key to building our Barometer, and they are of paramount importance in supporting, understanding and analysing the impact of cohesion policy on the ground. Reliable data are key to supporting the activities of 1 million locally elected politicians in Europe, helping them better understand the territorial needs in the EU and making cohesion policy even more efficient.

We should join our forces now more than ever to monitor the impact of a historic instrument such as Next Generation EU on EU cities and regions, improve synergies with cohesion policy and ensure that no citizen is left behind in the European recovery and long-term transition to a green and digital economy.

This article appears in the EURegionsWeek 2021 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the EURegionsWeek 2021 Issue of TerritoriALL