No one today can argue with the fact that the European Union has been facing a poly-crisis in recent years: the financial and economic crises, the rise of populism, the refugee crisis, Brexit and the increasing gap between Europe and its citizens. I think this difficult situation is not irreversible, but the EU – and especially the Member States – need to change their way of thinking, working and communicating about Europe.
One solution would be that the European Union pays more and more attention to private, public and academic actors in its 300 regions: they are the ones who can blow wind in the sails of the European boat. They are to be considered more than only stakeholders or administrative authorities that are there just to apply regulations dictated from the top. All those local and regional key players are the driving force behind Europe. Every single city or region has its own potential and assets; every region has its own economic champion, be it the SMEs or actors in the fields of research and innovation, in cutting-edge industries, in tourism or gastronomy.
From a Europe of the regions in the years 1985-2000 to a Europe with the regions (2010), it is of the utmost importance to now go further and progress towards a Europe of local and regional growth actors. This is where the bonds between citizens and Europe will be strengthened anew: concrete projects which do not come from the top but are born from the initiatives of key socioeconomic actors in each of the European regions. The goal must be to promote the local and regional levels so that the national or federal ones can build again the trust citizens have towards Europe.
More or less 240 local and regional authorities are represented in different ways in Brussels either through their own individual representation, through their association with other regions or through their integration within structures of Member State representations. More than 1,000 people are working every day in Brussels to promote their entities and defend their interests on several domains (structural funds, tourism, innovation, etc). Legally, only Member States are contractual parties to the European Union.
Yet, despite this, it is obvious that cities and regions have more and more interests in European issues. Regions and cities are today more than “hidden actors” in the EU debates. I already explained it in 2010 (see AER report on regionalism) how the “regional dimension” has evolved in 25 years, and how regions and cities have established their presence in Brussels, making the Brussels-Capital Region the World capital of local & regional lobbying. Together with all the regions, cities and regional networks present or represented in Brussels, we will come back to this topic in the new Brussels-Express section: Regions & Cities in Brussels.