MEPs hear from cities and regions on how COVID stimulus instruments are being used
Ahead of Monday’s hearing of the Regional Development Committee (REGI) on “EU instruments and recovery from Covid-19, a view of cities”, a poignant and shocking incident reminded the committee and its guests that the COVID crisis is, in many ways, far from above.
Friday evening, Pascal Arimont (BE, PPE), member of the REGI commission, had a Molotov cocktail thrown under the window of his children’s room and hate slogans sprayed on his garage door by anti-vaccine activists .
Opening the hearing, the president of REGI, Younous Omarjee (FR, left), added that the incident showed that “our societies are divided, and elected officials, whether they are mayors, deputies or MEPs, are often in first place. line of shameful libel in a hostile environment “.
As for the audition itself, featuring four mayors from Bulgaria, Italy, Poland and the French overseas department and the Reunion region, a possibly unlikely villain emerged when it was a question of which of these four Member States had the least success in directing the EU’s stimulus funds to certain municipalities in need: France.
Starting with Vratsa, of ancient Thracian origin and today the largest city in north-western Bulgaria, the answers to the main questions of the chairman of the REGI committee, “how are the recovery funds and the cohesion policy managed on the ground ”, and whether municipalities were consulted and involved by state authorities, sounded generally positive.
Vratsa Mayor Kalin Kamenov said a swift, unbureaucratic fund distribution helped the city maintain crisis support teams for citizens and attract direct investment, resulting in the creation of 1,500 new jobs. “Despite the pandemic, economic activity has not stopped,” Kamenov reported.
His colleague Pierluigi Biondi, mayor of L’Aquila, the city in central Italy which took on sad importance in 2009 when an earthquake almost completely destroyed it, killing 308 residents and leaving around 65,000 people without. shelter, had a similar story to tell.
“The mayor of Vratsa, Kalin Kamenov, said that a quick and unbureaucratic distribution of funds helped the city to maintain crisis support teams for citizens and to attract direct investment, resulting in the creation of 1 500 new jobs. “Despite the pandemic, economic activity has not stopped. “, reported Kamenov”
Just before the start of the pandemic, L’Aquila had come to the end of a ten-year reconstruction plan worth € 1.8 billion, largely funded by the EU. “We were the biggest construction site in Europe,” recalls Biondi, and “each time a new school, hospital or even a new store opened, it was a party!
When the pandemic struck, the city was well aware of the use of emergency funds and, like in Bulgaria, found “good flexibility” from the EU when making funds available and delivering funds. Italy during their distribution. “The most important tool for us has been guaranteed bank loans, which allow us to invest and improve the liquidity of struggling local businesses,” Biondi explained.
Perhaps the flexibility shown for using funds in crisis situations could be used in the future for those who are not in crisis, he suggested, adding that “if we had tried to follow through strictly the regulations, we would have had real trouble “.
This suggestion was echoed by many REGI members, including Biondi’s colleague from the Fratelli d’Italia party, Raffaele Fitto, co-chair of the ECR group, who argued that “with urgency and flexibility we get better results than usual ”.
Omarjee commented: “This flexibility and efficiency should be a source of inspiration for future EU legislation. We have blown up all the usual ways of thinking, as we have long advocated. The Commission was not initially enthusiastic, but now it is learning by seeing the results.
Krystyna Danilecka-Wojewódzka, mayor of Słupsk, a town rich in medieval history in northwestern Poland near the Baltic coast, pointed out that EU regional funding has helped build and then fund recovery, to fully equip and prepare the city’s new hospital for the pandemic as it continues.
Danilecka-Wojewódzka, who succeeded the current parliament speaker of the delegation on relations with Belarus, Robert Biedroń, as mayor of Słupsk, also underlined the importance of investments for local entrepreneurs made possible by the ‘EU money: “For us, as for everyone else, the pandemic was trying, but it was also inspiring: a local start-up designed and produced a robot capable of disinfecting small rooms without anyone being present “.
Another area universally recognized to have been severely damaged during the pandemic, along with Słupsk without exception, education, has also benefited from stimulus funds. According to Danilecka-Wojewódzka, enough laptops and PCs for all citizens who need them have been purchased to allow appropriate distance education and learning.
“We have asked the French authorities responsible for the regions for additional funding of € 11 million from EU instruments in November 2020, and we are still awaiting a response. »Ericka Bareigts, Mayor of Saint Denis de la Réunion
“The European funds arrived quickly, the procedures were simple and training to manage them was given”, concluded the mayor.
This kind of vital support, among many others, has unfortunately not so far been made available to his colleague Ericka Bareigts, mayor of Saint Denis de la Réunion, the largest city on the French island in 10,000 kilometers from Brussels in the Indian Ocean.
In a town where 40 percent of its inhabitants still live below the poverty line, Mayor Bareigts has had to finance the purchase of computer equipment for schools largely from a municipal budget.
“We have asked the French authorities responsible for the regions for an additional € 11 million in funding for EU instruments in November 2020, and we are still awaiting a response,” she explained.
And she gave another example of Paris apparently not looking too favorably on its outermost region which is, apart from COVID, also very much on the front lines of climate change.
“As part of regional environmental development, we have requested € 10 million to protect the biodiversity of our two rivers. We obtained 149,000 €.
The REGI committee is currently addressing development in the outermost regions with President Omarjee’s own-initiative report (INI) “Islands and cohesion policy: current situation and future challenges”, which was examined by the committee a little later in the afternoon.
Regarding cities and municipalities, the REGI already had its proposals ready for approval in the form of the INI report by Katalin Cseh (Renew, HU) “the challenges for urban areas in the post-COVID-19 era”, which has was adopted in today’s vote.
The rapporteur told Parliament’s magazine on Monday that, despite having been hit hard by the pandemic, cities had “shown leadership in dealing with the crisis on the front lines”.
For the committee, there was no doubt that cities must be engaged as key partners in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic towards an inclusive, sustainable and resilient Europe. This is the only way to address long-standing vulnerabilities and persistent inequalities, and the report adopted today recognizes this ”.
In terms of proposals, Cseh clarified that the report wants the Council and Member States to “allocate up to 15% of the integrated funding in the national recovery and resilience plans for urban areas in order to address the post-COVID challenges. -19 ”.
In addition, there is also a call for “more direct European funding to be made available to local and regional authorities and for the European Urban Initiative to be given a larger budget and scope”.