The future of the EU Budget, fundamental rights and EU values as well as integration of migrants were the main topics of the 134th CoR Plenary that took place on 10-11 April in Brussels.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, kicked off the debate on the launch of the Cities and Regions for Integration of Migrants initiative: “Cities and Regions know best what the situation on the ground is.” He highlighted that integration is crucial for the cohesion of our societies and called on cities and regions to demand long-term solutions to avoid repeating the mistakes of the last decade.

EPP-CoR Vice-President Eleni Loukaidou (EPP/CY) presented an example of integration from Nicosia where an NGO was set up to provide quality services to migrants: “With the right support, immigrants and refugees contribute to local development, become a source of creativity and enrich local life.”

“Now, in times of rising populism, it is more important than ever to support community actions and empowerment of migrants”, continued member Begoña Martinez Arregui (EPP/ES).

Speaking on the future EU Budget, Markku Markkula (EPP/FI), EPP-CoR rapporteur on the Digital Europe Programme, underlined the importance of digitalization: “We need to work together: Local and regional authorities, universities, business and civil society, in order to ensure a high quality of life in our cities and regions, and for our communities and citizens”, he said.

“We should prioritise investments in youth, culture and Cohesion Policy. By investing in youth and culture we invest in the soul of Europe”, said Emil Boc (EPP/RO).

During the debate on local development strategies, our rapporteur on community-led local development, Radim Sršeň (EPP/CZ) stressed the importance of a strong local and regional dimension in CLLD, which fulfils European goals by local means through partnership and active participation of citizens.

A pure urban focus in integrated territorial investments lacks territorial cohesion, continued Csaba Borboly (EPP/RO). “All territories, urban and rural, should be able to benefit from these instruments in the next programming period”, he concluded. “We need more decentralisation to enable a proper use of EU funds in cities and regions and to improve the implementation of European projects“, underlined Rastislav Trnka (EPP/SK).

Koen Lenaerts, President of the Court of Justice of the European Union, led the discussion on fundamental rights and EU values with Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans: “We cannot have democracy without rule of law and fundamental rights. Our citizens want to have access to an efficient justice system, to a Union of rights.”

“There is no freedom without democracy and the rule of law. Freedom is not a given; it needs to be treated as a joint responsibility. We must take care of these values every day, especially local governments close to the citizens”, Olgierd Geblewicz (EPP/PL) stressed.

“How can local and regional authorities defend fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law without the right competences and adequate financial resources? What is the European Commission doing to strengthen the role of our cities and regions in this regard”, asked Franz Schausberger (EPP/AT) during the debate.

“Human rights are also women’s rights. I am pleased that the Committee of the Regions has just adopted a plan to improve the gender balance of its membership. The CoR needs to set an example for others and for local and regional government”, underlined SirpaHertell (EPP/FI).

Speaking on Brexit, our Irish member Barry Ward (EPP/IE) welcomed the EU’s decision to afford more time to Britain in the hope of an orderly departure and thanked the Member States for the support they have shown for Ireland.

Photos of the April Plenary session are available online here.

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