Regions are key to the success of the EU recovery plan: involve them!

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
Regions are key to the success of the EU recovery plan: involve them!
On 21 July 2020, the European Council agreed to a recovery fund of 750 billion € branded Next Generation EU in order to support member states hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been a year now that the European Union finds itself under the biggest threat in decades, seeking to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic and social consequences derived from it.

The ambitious EU Recovery plan “Next Generation EU”, especially via its main instrument the Recovery and Resilience Facility, offers the possibility to deploy a significant amount of resources in the EU territories to realise key reforms and projects that should help the EU’s economies face the green and digital transitions.

The national recovery and resilience plans, which will list the reforms and investments in each Member State, will be the main tool for guiding the economic policies at EU and national level in the years to come. As I see it, a significant number of EU funded programmes under the MFF 2021-2027 will be strongly conditioned by the priorities stated in the plans, including those falling outside the “Next Generation EU” framework.

At the moment, central governments are discussing with the European Commission the final version of the national recovery and resilience plans which have to be submitted by 30 April. At this point in time, I deplore that the regional authorities' involvement in the drafting procedure has been limited in most EU Member States.

As regional authorities, we have faced enormous challenges. We have been on the frontline having to take critical decisions in our territories to fight the pandemic. It is now the time we also have a central role in shaping a smooth and sustainable recovery. We need to be fully associated in the planning decisions and be given a clear role in the governance, considering the specific competences of regions in most of the areas targeted by the recovery plans.

Member States are required to present a summary of the consultation process done with regional and local authorities, even though this is not a critical element in the Commission’s assessment of the plans. From talking to my counterparts in other CPMR Member Regions, I have found that there is a significant diversity in the level and quality of participation of regional authorities in the development of the national recovery and resilience plans. In addition, they have also shared their concerns about the “top-down” approach put in place by Member States, and the fact that they have had little or no opportunity to input into in the draft plans. I am concerned about such reports, and the European Commission should be too.

As President of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, I would like to highlight that the EU Recovery Plan can only be delivered with meaningful contribution and quality participation of regional authorities to define the national recovery plans, for the following reasons.

First of all, regions are key enablers to deliver reforms and investments under the six pillars of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (green transition; digital transformation; economic cohesion, productivity and competitiveness; social and territorial cohesion; health, economic, social and institutional resilience; policies for the next generation). The involvement of regions is needed to achieve EU climate objectives and the European Green Deal but also the digital transition, the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Youth Guarantee. After all, regions are the link between EU objectives and implementation on the ground.

Secondly, the current top-down approach prevents regional authorities from creating strategic links between the Recovery and Resilience Facility and cohesion policy 2021-2027 or other EU funds delivered in partnership with regions. This not only undermines the effectiveness of the EU effort towards achieving a prompt recovery, but it also generates an unwelcome risk of overlaps and competition between the RRF and structural funds.

Thirdly, territorial cohesion being the prime objectives of the EU Recovery Plan, the Recovery and Resilience Facility cannot achieve it if it is not based on the multilevel governance principle and does not ensure the territorial dimension of the plans.

And finally, we think local and regional authorities must be fully involved at national level as partners of the EU economic governance dialogue, also known as the European Semester. Let me explain it in plain terms: EU fiscal rules and recommendations on investment directly touch on the competences of regions, such as social, housing, or support to SMEs to quote a few. From a subsidiarity perspective, some type of mechanism allowing regions to be involved in the European Semester process makes more sense than ever.

All in all, our direct contact with the territories provides us with a clear understanding of the investment needs and opportunities of regions. The Facility being a temporary mechanism to be deployed under a short timeframe, it is essential that projects to be funded have a certain maturity. This is where regional governments can add value: in many respects, we know best which projects are mature enough to be funded under the Facility in order to achieve the desired target. This is why I strongly believe regions deserve a role within the key political decision-making fora to define and implement the recovery and resilience facility.

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