Focusing on the role of sustainable local and regional government across Europe
The European Commission has launched the Europe 2020 strategy, a new economic strategy to stimulate sustainable growth and employment with the year 2020 in mind. This strategy will however fail to succeed, much like its predecessor, the Lisbon Strategy, if it does not take into account the local and regional capacity for sustainable development, creativity and innovation, with the well-being of citizens at heart. Municipalities and regions are the most relevant representatives of citizens as they are their voices at the European level.
The vast majority of policy makers and officials at local government level, strongly believe that the question of better living for Europeans should be prioritised over economic factors in EU policies and that decentralised government should be involved at all levels of the policy and decision-making process. The Lisbon Treaty, recognises the role of local and regional governments and further extends the principle of subsidiarity — the EU shall only act if the objective cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states, either at the central or decentralised level. These clauses have given hope to mayors and officials from regions within the member states that EU institutions will better understand the role of decentralised powers as key actors when developing comprehensive recovery and long-term development strategies at the European level.
However, many have raised concerns, claiming that the European Commission does not express how it intends to apply the Treaty provisions and notably so in its official work programme. The European Union’s reconstruction is still underway, but I believe it needs to reassert itself in its development and build a project with all levels of government, including local and regional authorities, due to the fact that these institutions can bring waves of change and bring optimism among the national economies. Europe is based on the common will of citizens to reach a higher level of development, be it social, cultural, economic, environmental or intellectual, and to share the wealth that comes with it. Cities and regions are committed to building this new Europe by developing cooperation and increasingly sharing their expertise.
European local authorities have been at the forefront of citizenship-building in Europe, for example, through town-twinning and partnership projects, focusing on innovation and developing digital friendly societies. For example there is a municipality in Greece, Nea Smirni, that achieved a breakthrough, by setting up the first free wifi infrastructure system for the citizens, by promoting an e-education structure.
Municipalities and regions are the most relevant representatives of citizens as they are their voices at the European level. Let us bring Europe back to citizenry needs, while connecting citizens to the EU.
Sure politicians and mayors can create a climate of fairness, and boost innovative policies, entrepreneurship, digital services and social policy services by working with key stakeholders – businesses, labor groups, nonprofits, the education community — to develop opportunities for jobs and affordable costs of living within the city. But what mayors can really do, is work with partners beyond the city limits: the more cross-border and regional partnerships, the better.
So, by focusing on what can be done collaboratively, politicians and officials from both the municipalities, such as mayors, but also European leaders may be able to move the ball forward on innovative developments, such as integrating more services in digital platforms, focusing on economic growth.
Kostas Asimakopoulos is a Political Communications expert, with experience on EU Affairs and UK Public Affairs, former Special Adviser of the Greek Government.