The Bureau of the European Committee of the Regions adopted the “Azores declaration” asking to address the impact of the pandemic in a strategic partnership with local and regional authorities
Highlight the need of a particular focus on the outermost regions in the EU’s strategy to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recovery: this is the main objective of the Azores declaration, adopted today by the Bureau of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), virtually gathered in the Autonomous Region of the Azores (Portugal). The document has been presented to representatives of the European Commission, which is currently updating its strategic partnership with outermost regions in light of the serious consequences of the pandemic.
The strategy of the European Union to address the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic must take into account the needs of all regions, starting from the most fragile and hit by the crisis. Therefore, a special focus on the outermost regions is crucial if the EU wants to achieve a sustainable recovery, and demonstrate that cohesion is a fundamental value of the Union.
Through the Azores declaration adopted today by its Bureau, the CoR welcomes the European Commission’s recent announcement to follow the CoR’s recommendation to adapt the EU’s strategy for the outermost regions in light of the serious consequences of the pandemic, and calls on national and regional authorities to use the recovery plans as an opportunity to relaunch their economies through a smart and sustainable approach. However, the CoR calls on the European Commission to be highly vigilant and ensure that Member States fully involve local and regional authorities in the implementation of the national recovery and resilience plans beyond their preparation and submission phases.
The President of the CoR and Governor of the Greek Central Macedonia Region, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, said: “This debate is a precious chance to better understand how to boost recovery, because the Azores Region – and the valuable work of its President – provide an enlightening example of how the threats of the pandemic must be turned into opportunities by mobilising EU cohesion policy alongside all other recovery tools provided at EU and national levels. Here, the pandemic impacted on a context marked by three structural challenges: an outermost region; an insular region; and an economy almost completely focused on one key sector – tourism – which faced specific and deep disruptions. With the Azores Declaration we are calling for the recovery strategy of the European Union to take into account the needs of all regions, starting from the most fragile and hit by the crisis.”
First Vice-President of the CoR and member of the Regional Parliament of Azores, Vasco Cordeiro, stated: “The EU Recovery Plan and the various instruments put forward to address the challenges of the recovery and the digital and green transitions are very good opportunities to fulfil one of the main goals of the EU, which is territorial cohesion. This means that we must address also the specific needs of outermost regions, as recognised and established in the treaties, not only vis-a-vis the European Union measures, but also within the Member States. To achieve territorial cohesion, the EU should therefore make sure that Member States consider and respect the role of local and regional authorities.”
José Manuel Bolieiro (PT/EPP), President of the Autonomous Region of the Azores, said: “This meeting, symbolically held in the Azores, comes at a particularly difficult time for Europeans. Revive Europe. Fighting the pandemic with all the tools at our disposal. And associate this recovery, through the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, to the future we want to draw. A green, digital future, forged in the political partnership imposed on our action by the principle of subsidiarity. I hope that the Azores Declaration will be heeded by the EU institutions and by our States, strengthening the voice of the outermost regions, regional and local authorities in the choices that will determine the future of our communities.”
Ahead of the Bureau meeting, the CoR, in cooperation with the Government of Azores, organised a digital event on the Future of Europe, chaired by the First-Vice President Vasco Alves Cordeiro. The event marked the political opening of the Young Elected Politicians (YEPs) Programme 2021 and was attended by more than 100 YEPs, young politicians from Azores and Madeira, students and civil society representatives. In the context of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the CoR wants to engage young local and regional elected politicians and young people, listening to their wishes, suggestions and concerns to contribute shaping the future of Europe, regions and of European people.
The outermost regions are islands, archipelagos and one land territory (French Guiana) which are geographically very distant from the European continent and are located in the western Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean basin, the Amazonian forest and the Indian Ocean. In total, they are home to 4.8 million citizens
The EU counts nine outermost regions: French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, Reunion Island and Saint-Martin (France), Azores and Madeira (Portugal), and the Canary Islands (Spain).
The specific status granted to the outermost regions under the EU Treaties has led, since 2004, to European strategies that seek to address the challenges these regions face. The last strategy has been adopted in 2017 and the European Commission is now aiming to adapt it to new EU priorities such as the recovery from COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to a greener and more digital economy. A roadmap has been published and it will be open for feedback until 9 June 2021. The roadmap will be followed by a public consultation and then, in the second quarter of next year, by the adoption of the new strategy.
The Bureau is a group of CoR members that can be thought of as CoR’s political driving force: it draws up its political programme and oversees its implementation. The Bureau meets before each plenary session to coordinate the work of the plenary assembly and the commissions. It also gathers two times a year in extraordinary meetings in the EU country holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU.