EU crisis poses a threat to regions in Europe
The regions of Europe, especially those with law-making powers, have to increase their involvement in the core policy of the European Union. They will run the risk of losing ground unless they manage to develop priorities. This conclusion has been drawn at a technical seminar held at Vienna’s City Hall to mark this year’s Europe Day on 9 May 2012.
The gathering at Vienna’s City Hall reflected on the current dramatic situation of the EU. Discussions revolved around the core question whether the cities and regions were losing ground and were doomed to failure against the background of the EU crisis management that changed almost on a weekly basis and continuously introduced new requirements and instruments (e.g. “bail-out packages”). Vienna’s Municipal Council Committee for European and International Affairs invited experts to the City Hall to discuss this issue. The technical seminar was organised by Municipal Department 27 (EU Strategy and Economic Development) chaired by Martin Pospischill. Its title: “Opportunities of co-determination in the EU’s economic governance for European regions with legislative powers (REGLEGs)“. The background: In 2012 Vienna held the Presidency of REGLEG. Together with the Brussels-Capital Region, it commissioned a study on this issue conducted by the European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA) in Maastricht (Netherlands). The findings were presented by study author Manfred Unfried. Introductory remarks were given by the two “red-green initiators” Elisabeth Vitouch (Social Democratic chairwoman of the Committee) and her coalition partner Monika Vana (spokesperson for European affairs of the Greens in Vienna). A brief review was presented also by the secretary-general of the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns Thomas Weninger as well as by Gerda Falkner, professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU).
Crisis widens the gap between rich and poor“The crisis has widened the gap between rich and poor in the EU“ – with this statement study author Unfried introduced the presentation of his findings. It was impossible to draw final conclusions as the underlying facts such as the economic framework were changing “almost on a weekly basis”. According to the interim results, the EU was undergoing rapid transformation. This led to political discontinuities, which were increasingly criticised. Re-nationalisation was one of the consequences of the EU’s current crisis management. The EU Council (of heads of state and government) played a dominating role in the efforts to steer Europe out of the financial, economic and euro crisis, while the involvement of the European Commission was decreasing. EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy had a greater say in crisis management than the head of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso. The European Central Bank in Frankfurt had also come to play a more critical role. The European Parliament complained about and protested against political disregard. Alongside with the European Parliament and Commission, the municipalities faced a risk that their influence would diminish if they failed to make stronger and more direct contributions to the EU’s core policy. Based on the Lisbon concept, in 2009 the attempt had been made to steer Europe out of the crisis through changing the Treaty and involving the municipalities and regions to a greater extent. “This experiment has failed”, said study author Unfried as “the Lisbon model does not work”. The crisis had not only widened the gap between poor and rich in the EU but some regions, above all the poorer ones, were also facing dramatic problems. The situation of the REGLEGs was extremely difficult as they were confronted with new concepts to overcome the financial and economic crisis almost on a weekly basis. The future growth strategy “Europe 2020“ offered “new opportunities“. The consequences of the rapid transformation in the EU were not yet foreseeable. The German administrative researcher recommended the REGLEGs to get involved more deeply and directly in the EU’s core policy, to expand networks, to improve coordination and bundle priorities.
Taking advantage of opportunities for Europe 2020Elisabeth Vitouch, chairwoman of the Committee, came to the conclusion that “Lisbon has failed, but there is still a chance that ‘Europe 2020’ will be successful”. The regions were affected by EU directives and regulations at about 80 per cent but hardly had a direct say regarding the core policy of the EU. It therefore had to remain a declared aim to involve the regions to a greater extent. The cities and regions had “to reflect on intelligent coordination and co-determination strategies to be able to meet the strict requirements without causing social losses and financial disadvantages to the Federal Republic and the federal provinces – and ultimately to grow together more strongly”, said Vitouch. Monika Vana of the Vienna Greens diagnosed that the recent elections in France and Greece had shown very clearly that the people wanted “a reorientation of economic policy towards an investment and sustainability strategy as well as more opportunities for democratic participation in European policy”. Europe’s cities played a key role, especially as far as direct democracy and citizen’s participation were concerned. According to secretary-general of the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns Thomas Weninger, the cities and municipalities were “well on track” to defend and achieve their goals in the EU in the future. Forming part of international networks, this was much easier for the Austrian Association of Cities and Towns than for individual municipalities or regions. The objectives remained unchanged: negotiations about structural reforms with the Federal Republic at national level and genuine rights of the cities and regions to shape the EU’s core policy at European level as EU directives had to be implemented predominantly by the municipalities.
European Institute of Public Administration (EIPA)
O.L. Vrouweplein 22, 6211 HE Maastricht, Netherlands
Tel.: +31 43 32 96 222, Fax: +31 43 32 96 296
Martin Unfried: T: +31 43 3296 230
Municipal Department 27 – EU Strategy and Economic Development
Martin Pospischill, head
Schlesingerplatz 2, 1080 Vienna
European Youth Conference
In May Vienna’s City Hall hosted the spring meeting of the regional youth network of the Committee of the Regions of the EU. The top item on the agenda was to explore strategies to alleviate increasing mass youth unemployment in the EU and to improve employment opportunities of young people through education. Numerous recommendations were made to achieve this goal at the meeting in Vienna.