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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Austrian Presidency backs CoR push for territorial cooperation law

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News A proposed law which would allow cross-border regions to team up and provide joint services ranging from hospitals to civil protection emergency response units was given the thumbs-up by the Austrian Presidency yesterday, 16 February.

The country's State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Hans Winkler, told the plenary session of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) that Austria would be “actively promoting” the law in the Council. The draft regulation – first mooted in an opinion of the CoR in 2000 – will be discussed by a working party of senior EU officials of the Council on 23 February and could be in force in time for the launch of the new generation of structural funds' programmes in January 2007. Cross-border regions currently have to arrange bilateral international treaties to provide joint services such as healthcare facilities. One such example is a hospital in the north-east Spanish region of Catalonia, close to the French border region of Midi-Pyrénées. The hospital accepts both Spanish and French patients and is funded by both countries. If the proposed law, known as a European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation (EGTC), gets the go-ahead from the Council, such schemes could be commonplace across the EU – without the need for scores of separate bilateral deals and all the red-tape that involves. The EGTC was among a raft of priorities adopted by the plenary session yesterday following a discussion of a resolution on the CoR's political objectives for 2006-2008. The leaders of the four political groups (EPP, PES, ALDE and UEN-EA) tabled a specific additional section in the resolution to highlight the importance of the territorial cooperation law, which was also strongly endorsed by the CoR's newly-elected President, Michel Delebarre. In general, the Committee's political objectives will focus on three broad targets: • promoting the political and citizens' Europe • strengthening regional solidarity • consolidating the CoR's political and institutional role The seven-page resolution calls for a decentralised debate in Member States, with the aim of identifying the issues which citizens want the EU to tackle in future and as a means for demonstrating the added value of Europe. In particular, the document highlights the need to explain the benefits of enlargement more clearly. As regards regional solidarity, the resolution urges the European Parliament and Council to adjust the agreement reached by the European Council on the EU budget for 2007-2013. It describes the current level of finance earmarked for structural and cohesion policy – 0.37% of EU gross revenue – as “the lowest common denominator of European commitment by Member States governments” and “well below the amount necessary to guarantee the convergence of European regions in the EU-27”. The latter statement was a contentious issue in the plenary. Eberhard Sinner (EPP), head of the Bavarian Chancellery, argued that the CoR should not call into question the “very difficult compromise” reached by the European Council in December, but a majority of members voted against his proposal to soften the Committee's line and in favour of maintaining a united stance with the European Parliament. There was full support, however, for the resolution's call for a more decentralised implementation of the Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs. The document underlines that local and regional authorities should be strongly involved in national reform programmes and states the CoR will be holding an annual ‘ territorial dialogue' with local and regional authority representatives prior to the spring European Council meetings on economic and social reform. The next such dialogue, with Commission Vice-President Günter Verheugen and Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner, will take place at the CoR's headquarters on 1 March. As regards the CoR's political and institutional role, the manifesto stresses the importance of increased cooperation with the European Parliament, particularly in relation to the preparation and follow-up of CoR opinions. It says that implementation of the cooperation protocol signed with the Commission last November will ensure a “more proactive role” for the CoR in the early stages of Community action, as well as allowing it to work more closely with the Commission in the field of communication. It also calls for more systematic cooperation with the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee Finally, the resolution suggests that CoR members themselves have a strong role to play in strengthening the Committee's impact. Michel Delebarre stressed this in his opening speech as President, declaring: “P eople have a right to expect the CoR to help clarify EU actions and raise awareness of local issues upstream and downstream of the EU decision-making process.”

Source :  EU Committee of Regions


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