3rd Summit of the Assembly of European Regions on “Regions and the Economic crisis”.

Paris, France, 16 May 2013.

Opening speech / elements, Nataliya Romanova (Ukraine; ILDG), President of the Congress’ Chamber of the Regions

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank Michèle Sabban, whom I had the pleasure to welcome in March to the Plenary Session of the Chamber of Regions of the Congress of the Council of Europe, for her kind invitation to address this Summit.

The long-standing and fruitful cooperation between the Assembly of the European Regions and the Congress is a solid background on which we can, and indeed we will, continue to build.

We all realise how important today’s theme is, and how important is that regions react and find ways to tackle the crisis. 

During the recent months, we all saw the problems that regions are facing. I think in particular of their difficulties in guaranteeing social services - that they traditionally provide -, and I think of the risks of divide between regions themselves. In addition, the increasing inequalities between urban and rural areas, as well as between the central and peripheral regions, remain an issue for the whole continent.

In economic terms the situation is worrying:

Small and medium size enterprises, which are the richness of Europe, are experiencing serious difficulties: local investments have decreased (as public services contracts have been cut) and in many European countries the internal stability pacts barriers prevent the injection of additional funds.

On the top of this, in several countries the banking system is not intervening for sustaining the productive sectors of the society.

Last but not least, the economic crisis is triggering feelings of fear and anxiety and creating social instability.

In these conditions it will be difficult to regain the growth path!

Within the Congress, we are trying to gather the experience of our members and make some suggestions to regions on how to overcome the crisis.

In March, the Chamber of Regions organised a round table on regionalisation and devolution in the context of the economic crisis and we are preparing a report on the impact of the crisis on local and regional authorities - which will be adopted during the Congress’ plenary session in October -.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Marie-Madeleine Mialot Muller, who is with us today, for the precious contribution she is giving to the work of the Chamber of Regions and for the contribution she will give for the preparation of the Chamber’s report on regionalisation, to be adopted next year.

As I said, our members made concrete proposals for helping the regions to come out of this recessive conjuncture. May I recall some of them.

We think that our priorities should be to increase investments (in particular in green economy), facilitate labour mobility, but also to increase citizens’ participation, guarantee transparency, simplify bureaucracy and sustain cross-border and interregional cooperation.

We propose to introduce moratoria to internal stability pacts, simplify the use of the EU funding and promote the use of “vertical subsidiarity pacts” to incentive local investments. We suggest that small and medium size enterprises network among them more intensively at regional level; they can build networks that can put the entrepreneurs in more favourable positions for negotiating both with their suppliers and bankers. As for the regions, they can - as it is done in France - provide the requisite guaranties on bank loans and help restore access to investment and innovation at this time of difficult access to credit.

But looking beyond economic aspects, the role of regions in Europe should be strengthened in institutional terms too. We have to seek the best way of distributing powers between European, national, regional and local levels, with due regard for the principle of subsidiarity. We have to achieve an efficient distribution of the resources available and an effective co-operation between the various levels of responsibility.

And, what is most important, we have to ensure that the best possible use of public money is made. For doing so, we have to involve as much as possible the citizens in the decisions that touches upon their daily lives. This can be made by an increased use of new information technologies applications and e-democracy.

However, regions should also be able to call themselves into question by simplifying procedures, improving the transparency and comprehensibility of their actions, reducing the overlapping of competences between different entities and reinforcing co-operation between them - also beyond the national borders - !

In a few words regions have to go ahead on the road of good governance and economic effectiveness.

All this is particularly important, if we realize that the financial and economic crisis is turning into a social and political one and that in many countries the level of mistrust between citizens and their political leaders is reaching historical peaks.

The Congress of the Council of Europe is working in these directions.  Good governance and effective local and regional democracy remain our priorities.

I am convinced that the members of the Assembly of European Regions and of the Congress can join their forces for overcoming the crisis and restore the confidence and the well-being of European citizens.