The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has said that he is counting on regions and cities to help the European Union listen to and address citizens’ real concerns. His comment came in a meeting on 11 October with political leaders of the European Committee of the Regions.
The meeting between President Tusk, and the leaders of the CoR – its President and First Vice-President and the presidents of the CoR’s five political groups – came a week before national leaders gather in Brussels for the next European Council (20-21 October) and soon after 27 national leaders met informally in Bratislava on 16 September.
“We are at a critical moment when serious questions are being asked of the European Union. More than ever, we need to be honest and show political leadership, but this must not come only from Brussels; it needs central, but also local and regional governments. I am happy to listen to Mayors and regional Presidents more often, given that they are the closest to people and can share with the EU’s leaders what really works. We need a renewed effort to connect citizens with the European project, so I am very glad the CoR is stepping up its outreach to voters,” President Tusk said during the discussions.
Markku Markkula, President of the Committee of the Regions, said: “Whether it be better regulation or better investment, the EU is making efforts to change for the better. People recognise the positive benefits that the EU brings – through policies such as cohesion funding. But there is a distinct lack of coordination between EU, national and local governments, which is exacerbating resentment towards Europe. People in our towns, cities and regions often feel that not enough is being done to find a common response to societal challenges such unemployment and migration. We should not hide that but acknowledge it and look for solutions, because without courageous answers the current state of play can only lead to increased populism and extremism across the entire European Union.”
Referring to a recent citizens’ dialogue in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, President Markkula remarked: “Europe needs to be for the people and with the people. This is why the European Committee of the Regions is to launch a series of debates in regions and cities initiated by local political leaders to speak to citizens about what they want from Europe. The EU’s cities and regions are determined to bridge the gap by listening to their communities more closely and sharing these concerns in Brussels. We must listen and understand the needs of the citizens, while trying to develop common solutions. We should constantly communicate our decisions in truly human way, not via bureaucratic propaganda.”
The meeting with President Tusk came shortly after a debate in the CoR’s plenary on the present and future of Europe with Danuta Hübner, Chair of the European Parliament’s Constitutional-Affairs Committee.
“A vision and, a clear direction are needed in order to mobilise people and get them involved,” Ms Hübner said. “Without a vision it is practically impossible to get people on board, to make them enthusiastic about change. People have to know where we want to take them and through dialogue can feel owners of the future. But, in order to regain citizens’ trust, we must be also pragmatic and deliver, on security, on competitiveness, on growth.”
The CoR also announced its intention to organise annual political debates on the ‘State of the European Union’s Territories: Regions, Cities and Villages’, as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities.