The Plenary Session “Global Changes Facing Europe and Local Governments in the 21st Century”

The opening plenary session of the 3rd European Congress of Local Governments was chaired by Bogusław Chrabota, Editor-in-Chief of “Rzeczpospolita” daily – the media partner of the conference. He opened the debate by raising a question: Does the crisis in the European Union influence the idea and functioning of local government?

François Decoster, Chair of the Commission on Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs at the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), reminded that the Committee of the Regions has been founded in 1992, being fully operative in 1994. Mr Decoster underlined that in the regional dimension the EU provides mechanisms aimed at securing peace. The Committee of the Regions is a very complex, technical institution whose main goals are to support the economic development of the member states on the local level. “It is a kind of local voice on the EU stage which aims to bring EU decision-makers closer to the regional problems”, summed up François Decoster. Bogusław Chrabota asked about Jean-Claude Juncker’s  concept of regional reforms and, as a follow-up to Mr Decoster’s speech, recalled that this reform is possible only because the CoR is a platform for a dialogue for local government leaders from different parts of Europe.

 

“We, the Polish local government leaders, have to build the fundaments of cooperation within the EU. As for now, it is a mainly the competence of central governments,” pointed out Jacek Majchrowski, Mayor of the City of Krakow. “Local governments are for example not allowed to invite immigrants to settle in Polish cities and communes. When asked how Krakow is preparing for lower outputs from the EU Cohesion Fund,  Mr Majchrowski undelined that the city is using EU funds in a very efficient way and is prepared for a change, although it won’t be easy.

In Romania, most of the money from the Cohesion Fund was invested in 2007-2013 in infrastructure; in my city, effectiveness reaches up to 90%,” boasted Emil Boc, former Prime Minister of Romania (2008-2012), currently the Mayor of Cluj-Napoca. On the other hand, Emil Boc mentioned delays caused by bureaucratic procedures as a serious obstacle for the financial perspective 2014-2020. He added that it is not possible to create a strong region, a strong country and a stronger EU without offering people a better quality of life.  The EU cohesion policy should focus on creating new jobs and sharing prosperity if the EU wants to weather the crisis. There is a need for citizens to start believing in the EU again. (…) We have to be aware that 60 years of the European integration may go in  vain. Bad crisis management sends populists into the governments. We have to fight their arguments on the local level.”

Arbjan Mazniku, Deputy Mayor of Tirana, presented his local government challenges from the perspective of a country which is not the EU member. “1,5 year ago, Albania introduced a tremendous administrative reform. We have cut a number of administrative units and focused our system on decentralisation”, he pointed out.  “I’m in favour of the statement that mayors should rule the world,” said Mr Mazniku and agreed with other speakers that it is crucial for Europe to take care of the problems of its citizens.

Ossi Savolainen, Regional Mayor of Helsinki-Uusimaa, briefly presented the concept of regional policy in Finland, another non EU member. “The  administrative units in Finland are independent, although from the EU point of view, we are like a remote island,” said Mr Savolainen.  “It is in our common interest to keep the EU strong and prosperous. For us, this is a guarantee of cooperation in the Baltic region,” he stressed.