The corona virus pandemic COVID-19 has set an unprecedented challenge for all Europe. It has thus called for urgent, decisive and comprehensive actions especially at the local and regional level. Over the past weeks, we have seen how EPP-led local and regional authorities are taking concrete actions on the ground and mobilizing all their resources to provide solutions to our citizens need.
First and foremost local and regional authorities (LRAs) have been at the forefront to fight the spread of the pandemic.
Extensive efforts have been made in various EPP LRAs including in Cugir (Romania)to clean and disinfect public places and to enforce lock downs and physical distancing. In Mazovia and my region Westpomeranian (Poland)funds were mobilized to buy necessary equipment for hospitals including additional beds and personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks. In Piemonte(Italy)a new hospital was opened to assist patients who recovered from the virus but required monitoring. Covid19 has also brought out the strength of European innovation. Whilst Andalucia(Spain)developed its own ventilators, Estepona(Spain)is supporting the development of masks through 3D printing.
In Madrid(Spain)an App was developed to help citizens in doubt of being infected to seek information swiftly and more effectively and receive personalised recommendations. In Póvoa de Varzim(Portugal)a Drive-Thru Test Centre was set up to test those who were in doubt of being infected. The Region of Attica (Greece)developed a free electronic platform where citizens can videocall a doctor.
The challenging times have also shown how much we value solidarity. Prešov (Slovakia) invested in an electric vehicle whereas Gabrovo (Bulgaria) recruited volunteers to facilitate deliveries of food, medicine and essential products to the elderly and other vulnerable people. In Hessen(Germany)family friendly measures were extended to support parents whose income has been reduced and child care was provided to children whose parents work in the health sector. Covid-19 has left an impact on students and educators. In Virovitičko-Podravska Zupanija(Croatia), Murcia(Spain)and Gdansk (Poland) the LRAs have stepped in to help students with their studies and are supporting students and teachers to have necessary IT equipment,including tablets,for e-learning.
Several LRAs such as the Region of Sicily(Italy)have launched measures to respond to the economic consequence on the pandemic. These include bank guarantees, bank moratoria and late payment schemes. The State of Bavaria (Germany) reduced the VAT for the catering sector. In Braga(Portugal)webinars were held to help SMEs thrive online whereas in Overijssel (Netherlands) virtual visits to SMEs and family businesses are being organised to learn more about the challenges being faced, and thus react with concrete actions.
The regional council of Pays De La Loire(France)is investing €4.3M to support cultural and sports organization whereas Warsaw(Poland)and Espoo (Finland) launched a support package for the cultural sector. In Košice (Slovakia) cultural institutions are offering visitors a virtual visit of their premises via the web or social media.
As a group we are also taking concrete actions at EU level through constant meetings with European counterparts including European Commissioners and MEP’s to ensure that necessary policy decisions, including deployment of EU funds, are taken to help villages, cities and regions respond to the economic consequences of the pandemic, save jobs and plan a robust and safe exit strategy.
All these actions have demonstrated our commitment to find solutions but the corona virus crisis has shown us that we need to urgently lay the ground for a European Union made of more resilient villages, cities and regions. This is why we need to have a European Health Emergency Mechanism to coordinate the distribution of essential medical equipment throughout the EU in cases of a health crisis. We need resilience in all sectors not just health. Our educational systems have also been paralysed by the crisis. Hence, the digital and green transitions must not be halted by the corona virus crisis. On the contrary,we need to move full speed ahead on these fronts.
I thus take this opportunity to call on the EPP family -a political force that has always been at the forefront to propose concrete solutions and groundbreaking EU policies – to develop a strategic paper on resilience which lays the ground for further EU action that will make villages, cities and regions more resilient in terms of economic, social, health, environmental, digital, and financial aspects, given the current and future challenges related to the COVID-19 crisis. This must involve all stakeholders, not only the European and national level, but also local and regional authorities as these have been on the forefront to battle the crisis and its consequences. We owe this to our citizens who believe in the European project. I am confident that together we can overcome this dark chapter in our history.