Investing in sustainable development
We work to make sustainable equality a reality for the European Union. Our priority is to make sure that the targets set by the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals become cornerstones of the next long-term EU strategy, and thus also become central elements of the EU's cohesion policy.
From youth unemployment to the climate crisis, from an ageing population to sustainable energy, from pollution to migration, sustainable development challenges are pressing and we must deliver on them.
We need to change our economic and development model and reinvent the European Unionʼs economic strategy based on long-term sustainable investment and cohesion. This fight sees regions and local authorities at the forefront, because not only are they the level of government closest to the people directly affected by these changes, but because they are also the authorities responsible for more than half of public investment in the EU.
As the PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions, we work to make sure that the targets set by the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals become the fundamentals of the next long-term EU strategy. We argue that achieving sustainable equality must be a priority for the European Union, in order to improve peopleʼs lives and reconnect the European project with its citizens.
The PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions fights for a more flexible application of the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact, in order to increase much-needed public investments to boost growth. We want to defend and improve the EUʼs cohesion policy, which is the Unionʼs largest investment instrument and the most tangible expression of European solidarity to overcome the economic, social and territorial divide. During the 2007-2013 period alone, EU cohesion policy created one million jobs, one-third of all new jobs in the EU in that period of time. The PES Group works to make sure sufficient resources of the EU budget are dedicated to cohesion policy. A particular focus for progressive local and regional leaders is on rural areas in the EU. We believe that it is important to encourage policies to counter population decline, such as investment in innovation and relevant training to make sure that no one feels left behind in the real or perceived peripheral areas. We also insist on making sure that the partnership principle, the place-based approach and the shared management of cohesion policy funds are strengthened. Furthermore, the PES Group will continue to defend the idea that cohesion policy must not be held hostage at European level because of conditionalities that cannot be influenced by local and regional authorities, such as in the case of the Article 7 TEU procedure for serious breach of the EUʼs fundamental values by a Member State.
Finally, we are unequivocally supportive of EU measures to step up the fight against tax fraud, tax evasion, tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning within the EU and at global level.
Sustainable development, dignity for all citizens, environmental protection, social inclusion and tax justice: these are our priorities to build a more progressive Europe.
Building solidarity and social justice
We fight to build a European Union of solidarity that leaves no people and no places behind. Our priority is to promote the crucial role of local and regional authorities as the engines for social justice, innovation and integration.
There has never been a better time to be alive, experts say. Life expectancy has increased, we are more educated than ever, and child mortality has plummeted. And there is no better continent to live on than Europe. The European Union is the richest area in the world and represents the second biggest economy, after the United States.
However, this is not the way many people feel. This is because only a small part of our society has increased its wealth while the majority are facing growing inequalities.
Today over 120 million people are at risk of, or are in, poverty in Europe, and this concerns one child out of four. The number of working poor represents almost 10% of European workers. The gender pay gap is still above 15% on average in the European Union. And around 10% of Europeans live in energy poverty. Many regions of Europe, especially the more remote ones, are marginalised and suffer from growing inequalities in economic, social, and cultural terms.
What we need today is a paradigm shift: the economic, social, environmental and political crises need to be addressed holistically.
The PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions strives to build a European Union of solidarity, to achieve sustainable well-being for the many across all of our territories. To build citizensʼ trust in the EU, we have to strengthen the social dimension of European integration in order to minimise the risk of a race to the bottom between social models, exacerbated by a misguided focus on austerity and restrictive fiscal policies. We will continue to exert pressure in order to have social objectives at the highest priority level in the EU. We also consider an EU unemployment insurance scheme and an EU-wide minimum wage as key PES demands.
By continuing to put pressure on the European Commission and the other European institutions to deliver on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, proclaimed on 17 November 2017 in Gothenburg (Sweden), the PES Group is supporting a clear strategy to secure decent working conditions for all, including health and safety at work (e.g. working time, right to disconnect). We are arguing for strong measures to fight precarious employment (e.g. zero-hour contracts) and income (low wages), as well as limited access to social protection with the quasi-exclusion of some forms of employment (e.g. platform jobs), and to defend fair worker mobility in order to combat social dumping. Housing is also a major priority for the PES Group. We believe cities and regions should be free to plan, deliver and finance their social housing and also to help those who live in substandard housing or who have to spend most of their income to be able to afford decent housing. We must ensure that housing policies work as a tool to promote a social mix in our cities and decent living standards for all. We strongly support the plan of the Party of European Socialists for affordable housing in Europe based on a revision of relevant EU State aid rules, improved EU funding for affordable housing and renovation and closer consideration of housing in the EU's economic governance, as well as the necessary measures to identify and address energy poverty.
Social innovation is key to social justice. We need new ideas that meet social needs, create social networks and test new policy frameworks. Social innovation can address poverty and generate sustainable wealth and well-being while promoting a learning and participative society. With this in mind, the PES Group promotes the crucial role of local and regional authorities as the engines for social innovation to create and implement policies that do not leave anyone behind.
Fighting the climate crisis
We believe that local and regional authorities are key to an ambitious climate strategy for the European Union. Our priority is to push for ambitious binding climate targets of 50% CO2 reduction, 40% renewable energy and 40% energy efficiency by 2030 and to reinforce recognition of the central role of cities and regions in the energy transition.
The climate crisis is real and we know it, but what are we doing about it? The earth is getting hotter and extreme weather events are becoming more common, but many European Union Member States are not on track to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement, which would allow us to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Progressive cities and regions are in the front line in the fight against the climate emergency, often even against conservative national governments. This is why we believe that local and regional authorities are the key to an ambitious climate strategy for the European Union. For the PES Group, it is important to stress that the climate crisis is a global problem but, in order to address it in the most effective way possible, a multi-level and multi-stakeholder governance approach is needed. Local and regional bodies are essential, in particular in involving the general public and raising awareness of climate change issues, but also in launching new ideas, attracting investments and implementing specific projects. The PES Group will persevere with its demand for ambitious climate targets, that is, binding targets of 50% CO2 reduction, 40% renewable energy and 40% energy efficiency by 2030. Likewise, we call on the European Commission, on national governments and on the international climate bodies to make sure that the role of local and regional governments is recognised and enhanced with a view to achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement more effectively.
In that sense, we will continue to defend the idea that a system of “locally determined contributions” (LDCs) to the reduction of CO2 emissions should be developed in order to complement the system of the “nationally defined contributions” (NDCs) provided for under the Paris Agreement. We also want the European Commission to strengthen the Covenant of Mayors initiative, which brings together towns, cities and regions from across the world.
The PES Group calls for the revision and strengthening of the EU energy efficiency directive, which should take into account the need for decentralised energy solutions in order to reduce Europe's dependency on fossil fuels and to meet our ambitious climate change targets.
Moreover, together with the S&D Group in the European Parliament, we will continue to put pressure on the European Commission to present an Action Plan against energy poverty, which today affects over 50 million citizens in Europe. We need effective measures at European, national, regional and local level to improve the situation of the most vulnerable people in the EU.
Building social-ecological welfare states and mitigating environmental inequality is necessary to ensure new forms of social protection against the consequences of the climate crisis and the increasing health damages caused by pollution.
For the PES Group, there is a strong interconnection between the environmental and ecological crisis and the social crisis our societies are facing. Rising inequalities and poverty in the European Union affect our environment, but at the same time, they are the consequence of climate change and the deterioration of our natural environment. Therefore, these two challenges need to be addressed together in order to achieve a just transition to sustainability: the fight to save our planet and the fight against injustice are part and parcel of the same battle.
Pushing for a migration compact based on solidarity
We need a fair and comprehensive EU asylum and migration policy which offers protection to those in need and is based on solidarity between EU Member States and regions. Our priority is building safe and legal access to the European Union and giving cities and regions more resources for integration.
According to a recent Eurobarometer Survey (December 2018), citizens still believe immigration is the top challenge that the EU is currently facing (mentioned by 40% of respondents). The migration and refugee crisis, as it is referred to, has right from the outset been a divisive topic for Europe, putting the current EU institutional architecture to the test. While the European Commission has presented important proposals for the reform of the Dublin system, the management of external borders, and the support for integration, national governments have been delaying the creation of a comprehensive European migration policy.
The ongoing crises in the EU's neighbourhood require a fair asylum policy, which offers protection to those who need it, prevents the unacceptable loss of lives in trying to reach the European Union and which is based on solidarity between EU Member States and regions in the reception of refugees and asylum seekers. A thorough overhaul of the Dublin regulation is urgently needed. Solidarity amongst Member States and regions requires a system of fair distribution of asylum seekers between Member States, based on a number of objective criteria such as the size of the country and its population, GDP or unemployment rates. The PES Group has made proposals in this direction, but the negotiations are still blocked at the level of the Member States. Together with our friends in the Party of European Socialists family, we will continue to put pressure on the EU Member States to move forward on the proposed reforms, and beyond. As well as safe and legal access to the EU, we need to actively support dialogue and cooperation with countries of origin and transit of migratory movements.
At the same time, we need to build a European migration policy which offers safe and legal channels for immigration. The EU needs a coherent vision on legal migration, including both intra-EU and extra-EU migration, which should not be limited just to highly skilled workers. In both cases, we have to be vigilant to avoid brain-drain and social dumping.
As progressive local and regional politicians have a key role to play when it comes to the integration of migrants, they know well that migration should not be addressed primarily as a security threat. This is why the PES Group has insisted in the context of the debates of the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) that the money for all aspects of migration policy, including reception and integration, must be increased by the same factor as the proposed increase for funds dedicated to border control. We have also called for a greater role for local and regional authorities in ensuring effective implementation of the funds allocated by the European Union, which also requires giving especially smaller local communities the possibility to access EU funds directly.
Strengthening democracy in Europe and beyond
We want the European Union and its values to be cornerstones for societies that are diverse, open and free of any type of discrimination. Our priority is to strengthen European democracy and the protection of fundamental rights at all levels and increase citizens' participation.
Democracy is one of the fundamental principles of the European Union, but today only 49% of Europeʼs citizens are satisfied with the way it works and only 48% believe that their voice counts in the EU, according to a related European Parliament survey (2018). Euroscepticism is growing across our cities and regions because citizens have felt for too long that the European project is something distant from them. As progressive local and regional authorities, we have an important responsibility in building Europe from below and we want to strengthen European democracy at all levels and increase citizens' participation. In this context, we support the idea of developing a structured and permanent system of citizens' dialogues as proposed jointly by the presidents of the European Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
For us, the motto of the European Union – “United in diversity” – translates into the ambition to make the European Union and the fundamental rights and values on which it is built a cornerstone for societies that are diverse, open and free of any type of discrimination and where all identities are respected and welcomed.
The issue of European values is of ever more pressing importance as we see that central elements of the EUʼs common foundation, including division of powers, freedom of the press, association and speech and non-discrimination, are increasingly challenged even within and by EU Member States.
The PES Group will continue to take a firm stance on any violation of the EUʼs fundamental rights and freedoms, and will take political action where these directly concern local and regional authorities and their ability to uphold European values.
This issue will also have to be addressed in relation to the disbursement of future cohesion policy funds and compliance with the rule of law. The mechanism now proposed by the European Commission would allow the EU to suspend, reduce or restrict access to EU funds in proportion to the nature, gravity and scale of the deficiencies observed. The PES Group warns against a mechanism that would penalise Europe's territories – and hence its citizens – by holding them hostage to national governments' actions that go against EU values, as in the case of Hungary and Poland.
The PES Group is also committed to the promotion of dialogue and cooperation with local and regional authorities of countries outside the European Union, be it through the Joint Consultative Committees (JCCs) and Working Groups (WGs) with the candidate and potential candidate countries to join the EU, or through the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly (ARLEM) and the Conference of the Regional and Local Authorities for the Eastern Partnership (CORLEAP) with the countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), or through the actions in decentralised cooperation with the most needed countries of the world. These dialogues should allow to strengthen human rights and defend European values.