The first ever virtual General Assembly, Bureau Meeting and Eurodyssey Forum took place last week on 19-20 November. Owing to the Covid-19 crisis, these meetings scheduled to take place in Barcelona were moved online. Despite these challenges, AER members from across the continent tuned-in; making the most of the new format and ensuring the important work of the AER could continue in earnest.
The General Assembly
The General Assembly & Bureau meetings began with welcoming remarks from AER President, Magnus Bernttson. The President noted that the challenges posed by the pandemic have impacted the work programme of the AER, but stressed the need for optimism and noted the many achievements of the AER despite these difficulties. Most significantly, rumours of severe cuts to Cohesion funding in the next Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) have been avoided due in no small part to the AER’s successful lobbying efforts as part of the Cohesion Alliance. The pandemic has also meant that the AER has been able to arrange many more meetings with high-level policy-makers at our virtual events.
Looking forward, the President announced that the top priority for the AER will be providing expert-led training for member regions on how to make the most of new EU funding instruments in 2021, as well as continuing being the leading voice for regions at the EU level.
Following a presentation on responses to the consultation on the revised AER structure by Institutional Relations & Advocacy Coordinator, Vania Freitas, the General Assembly voted to get rid of Committees and replace them with Working Groups to carry out mutual learning activities. Members also voted in favour of a more streamlined Bureau procedure to draft statements on pressing matters, and to allow Working Group and Bureau meetings to take place in tandem.
The meeting was also the first opportunity for Christian Spahr, the new AER Secretary General to address the members of the General Assembly. In his maiden address, Christian thanked his predecessor, Mathieu Mori for his help in ensuring a smooth handover into the role. Outlining his vision for the AER’s future work, Christian emphasised the “interconnectedness” of AER priorities, noting in this context the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), health, digitalisation, citizenship and democracy. To this end, a key priority of the AER Secretariat going forward will be creating synergies and strengthening thematic connections between the internal AER bodies, and aligning the work of the AER more closely with the policy debates shaping the future of Europe.
The rest of the General Assembly was dedicated to voting on key statutory items. This included adopting the AER Action Plan, the 2019 financial accounts and budget for 2021, and the ratification of Bureau Members for 2020 to 2022. All statutory items listed for adoption in the agenda were ratified by the members of the General Assembly.
Closing the General Assembly, Eurodyssey President, Esther Estany and President of AER’s Committee on Culture, Education & Youth, Radimir Cacic took the opportunity to raise a toast to celebrate thirty-five years of the Eurodyssey programme, and debuted the special anniversary video commissioned for the occasion, which you can view above. Radimir underlined the visionary nature of the Eurodyssey programme, which shows that regions “were way ahead” of other organisations in recognising the need for youth exchanges and intercultural dialogue. He also thanked all those involved in the programme for “making the European project real and bringing it closer to its citizens”.
In her speech, Esther noted that Eurodyssey has been a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, Eurodyssey as a driver of mobility and gainful employment will be crucial in ensuring young people can bounce back from the crisis. In closing, she expressed her hope that the success of Eurodyssey will be a source of inspiration, and “act as a model to other regions to invest in youth mobility.”
The morning session concluded with a Slide Show presenting the work of the AER Projects Team and a highlight video from the 2020 Regional Business Forum (RBF), which took place online and in Novi Said, Serbia. The RBF featured speeches from Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Olivér Várhelyi and EU Ambassador to Serbia, H.E. Sem Fabrizi; a model example of the AER’s increased engagement with top-tier EU policy-makers and representatives.
The AER Bureau Meeting
The busy afternoon continued with the first virtual meeting of the AER Bureau. As the primary political voice of AER, the important work of the Bureau has continued throughout the pandemic, and during the virtual Bureau meeting, members voted on the adoption of two position papers in line with the political priorities of the AER.
The two position papers under discussion were:
1 . Position Paper on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
Members of the Bureau unanimously adopted a position paper on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which underlines the relevance of the SDGs to achieving a sustainable and resilient future for everyone. This position stresses the key role local and regional authorities play in advancing the 2030 Agenda.
2 . Position Paper on Digitalisation:
Bureau Members also unanimously adopted a position paper on Digitalisation. The paper recognises the importance of digitalisation to ensure long-term prosperity across Europe’s regions. Regions and cities are key enablers of this transformation, and in the new digital reality created by Covid-19, it is crucial that Europe’s regions – urban and rural – have the means to seize the initiative and stay competitive.
Finally, Bureau members decided to establish a Taskforce on Climate, which will capitalise on the work carried out by the Taskforce on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Working Group on Energy and Climate Change.
Upon the proposals of the Executive Board and the decision of members of the Bureau, the key priorities for 2021 will focus on kicking off the Taskforce on Climate, re-starting the work of the Taskforce on Democracy, which will focus on shaping the discussions on the future of Europe; as well as starting the Taskforce on Sustainable Mobility and Connectivity.
The Eurodyssey Forum
The first-ever virtual Eurodyssey Forum took place on 19 & 20 of November 2020 following the General Assembly & Bureau. The Forum consisted of virtual sessions bringing together representatives from Eurodyssey regions, hosting companies and youth alumni. Participants discussed the overall status of the programme, and shared experiences and best practices on how to adapt Eurodyssey to the challenges of the pandemic.
You can read more on the Eurodyssey Forum in the dedicated article here.