What are the main challenges of the European project? Is the EU still fit for purpose? What is the future of regions in a reformed Union? Here are some highlights of the “Europe: the way forward. What future for regions?” debate held in the City of Maastricht on 29 November as part of the AER Autumn Bureau meeting.
The future of Europe has been part of many conversations among AER member regions. Not surprising, as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty and the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaties, and the European Union steps up to set out a vision for the future of the Union at 27.
The debate, convened by AER and the City of Maastricht in the frame of the “Europe Calling” initiative, offered a truly engaging and insightful conversation on what the future Europe should be and the role regions should play in it.
Professor Ellen Vos focused on the topic of flexible and differentiated integration. Paying particular reference to the book Between Flexibility and Disintegration (De Witte et al. Eds., 2017), the co-director of the Centre for European Law of the Maastricht University argued that flexibility and differentiation are a tool that can further promote the European integration.
Moray Gilland, Head of Unit for Policy Development at the European Commission Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, expanded on the role of cohesion policy in the wider discussions on the future of Europe. Stating that a strong cohesion policy is critically important to a strong Europe, Moray Gilland noted that cohesion policy should remain as the main investment instrument in the EU, covering all Member States and EU regions. However, he cautioned that business as usual is not an option and radical, genuine simplifications will be needed if we want to make it more effective.
The debate continued with Luc Van Den Brande, Member of the Committee of the Regions and Special Adviser of the President Jean-Claude Juncker for the outreach towards Citizens. Mr Van Den Brande emphasised the importance of building an European decision making process based on a multi-level governance and citizens-centred approach. A Europe with regions, where the subsidiarity principle is applied vertically and horizontally across different levels of action and actors, as he concluded.
The perspective from “generation Maastricht” – the younger generation of Europeans – was brought into the debate by Christopher Glück. The President of the Young European Federalists stated that while there is room for young people to engage in EU policy, they do not always have a real influence over decisions. Young people should be meaningfully involved in decision-making at all levels in an inclusive way, if Europe wants to successfully address the challenges facing today and its impact on current and future generations, he said.
During the ongoing political reflection on the future of Europe, AER will continue to stress the importance of European Regions’ voice being an integral part of the discussion. The debate underlined the crucial role played by regions in the European integration process and AER will reiterate the absolute necessity of taking into account the regional and local levels of governance in the future political and institutional reform, with a strong cohesion policy at its heart.