Dear Secretary General Marianou,
Dear President Cordeiro,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for your invitation today.
I am so sorry that I cannot be here live. We are at the most intense point in negotiations with Council and Parliament on our legal proposals for crisis repair measures and the long term cohesion legislation.
Please know that, even if I am not here today, I am still representing your interests and the interests of all the regions of Europe.
Your topic is very timely. How to address the impact of the crisis, of course. But most importantly: how we, at the European level,,can support regional efforts, your efforts.
Because in this crisis,,the regions of Europe have come to the fore. Not just because lockdowns make everything local. But also because regional and city authorities have really stepped up. From managing the crisis to informing citizens,
you have proved – if proof were needed – that the local level is the solid bedrock of European democracy.
I pay tribute to all your efforts.
And ladies and gentlemen, these efforts are going to be needed all the more, in the coming months and years.
If you read the economic forecasts – and honestly, I recommend that you don’t do this right before bed, because you will not sleep afterwards – if you read the forecasts, you will know that recovery will be long and hard.
The crisis and recovery have particular risks for peripheral and maritime regions. There is a paradox here, because the risk comes from your greatest asset: the sea.
The sea has made your regions open and outward-looking.
But what happens to these open, trading regions
when borders close and maritime transport is disrupted?
The sea in all its moods, from dramatic storm, to sunny calm,
has put your regions among the most beautiful in Europe. Perhaps I am biased, coming from the coast myself, but we can count on the verdict of the tourists: they heavily favour your regions.
For the EU as a whole, tourism represents close to 10% of GDP, 3 million businesses, and 27 million workers.
This industry is particularly concentrated in your regions. But in some regions booking is down to just 10% of pre-Covid figures. When will tourism recover?
And the risks to your regions go beyond the immediate crisis: what happens to the fishing industry, after the manmade disaster of Brexit?
To help you tackle all these challenges, Europe is providing comprehensive support.
I will outline this in 3 points: the short term, the medium term and the long term.
First, short term support. And by this, I mean the immediate crisis response measures.
In the first weeks of the crisis, Europe took several decisive actions.
We started with actions to enable national support. The general escape clause of the Stability and Growth Pact was activated. And a Temporary State Aid Framework was put in place.
The framework has been extended until June 2021.
Then, a new instrument was created, to tackle unemployment risks. The SURE programme, which stands for “Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency”. This is a 100 billion euro recognition of the importance of protecting workers and preserving employment.
And, probably the most visible response, cohesion policy mobilised all available funds to battle the pandemic and cushion the economic impact. The exceptional and immediate flexibility under our Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, meant that support was already being delivered on the ground in April.
So far we have mobilised 14 billion euros of support and there is more to come. Cohesion funds have already supported: 1 billion items of personal protective equipment; 3000 ventilators; and working capital for half a million small businesses.
I urge you, if you are not already doing so, to make full use of our Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative. The support is there, for your urgent needs: we recognise that many of your hospitals are stretched to the limit, or risk this in the coming months; we recognise the difficult situation of the tourism industry; we recognise the insecurity faced by your small businesses and your fishermen;
This was the short term, immediate response. State aids flexibility, the SURE employment initiative and the CRII in cohesion policy.
But we needed more. Something to bridge the gap between the immediate crisis and the long term recovery.
And this brings me to my second point. The medium term response: the European recovery package, next Generation Europe.
This package is historic and unprecedented: the most comprehensive and ambitious recovery plan that the European Union has ever seen.
The largest single element – the Recovery and Resilience Facility – is still taking shape. But it will be based on national recovery plans. I hope that you are already involved in such plans and that you will be co-authors in your national plans.
I have been arguing for a strong place-based dimension for these plans.
I am ready to help you in any way I can.
A good tip to influence the plans is to come with solid regional facts and figures. My services are putting a lot of solid data and analysis online, from the regional competitiveness index to the open data platform. Use all of this to your advantage!
Next Generation Europe will also top up Cohesion policy with an extra 47.5 billion of fresh money. Named REACT-EU, this will be added to the 2014-20 period, so to existing programmes under existing rules.
This increase to cohesion policy more than offsets any previous proposals for decrease. In the next few years, cohesion policy will have a greater budget than ever before.
The national allocations of REACT-EU for 2021 were published last week, on 21 October. Calculated by the Commission, they take into account: Member States’ relative prosperity; combined with the impact of the crisis on their economies and societies, including on youth unemployment, as measured by the most recent statistics.
The REACT-EU allocations are national – they had to be. Partly to take account of the latest and most complete data. Partly for the flexibility to fund the regions and sectors which need it most.
But it is our intention that the regions with most needs, get the most investment. We recognise that peripheral and maritime regions have suffered particularly. We recognise your dependence on tourism and on maritime transport both of which have suffered massively in this crisis.
We recognise the role of the fishing industry in your regions, and the structural challenges this poses.
So we have called on Member States to pay particular attention to your allocations under REACT-EU.
Another medium term support: the Brexit Adjustment Reserve. We recognise the risks of Brexit, especially for coastal and fisheries communities. The Council has allocated 5 billion euros ‘to counter unforeseen and adverse consequences in Member States and sectors that are worst affected’.
The Commission will present a concrete proposal in the coming weeks. We cannot comment at this stage on the allocation of the Reserve.
However, I would underline that the Commission is committed to making this a instrument of European solidarity with those who will suffer the most.
We are making every effort to reach a fair, stable and sustainable solution. But as you will know from the news, there is a very real possibility of no deal with the UK. We do not want this scenario, but we have to be prepared for it.
My third point is the long term support, particularly the support from mainstream cohesion policy.
And here I must stress an important point. In a crisis, we focus on problems and needs. But in the long term, I see opportunities and a bright future for the maritime regions of Europe.
Opportunities from the digital revolution. As we have seen in these last few months, the digital economy brings disruption but it also brings the potential for a new way of working, over distance.
Beautiful regions, with incredible culture and fantastic scenery, could be very attractive to the new knowledge industries.
There are opportunities too from the green transition. The opportunity to produce solar, wind and wave energy. The opportunity to exploit the blue economy. The opportunity to create higher added value, sustainable tourism.
So ladies and gentlemen, when we think of the long term future of maritime and peripheral regions, let us try not to think only in terms of immediate problems, but also in terms of the long term opportunities. Let us think of the strengths and potential.
Practically speaking, I urge you to engage in an open and constructive dialogue with national capitals, on the programming of different financial instruments ahead of us, if you have not already done so.
Data provided by the Commission as the basis for national allocations can be helpful in this regard.
There is now a new objective for tourism and culture, under the ERDF recognising the importance of the sector. Make full use of this!
There are opportunities to get the support you need, to create and implement good strategies. Local authorities can use technical assistance to boost administrative capacity. Islands and coastal regions can benefit from macro-regional strategies, from European Territorial Cooperation programmes or dedicated financial engineering instruments.
Outermost regions continue to deserve a special attention in the context of the recovery.
But also specific European policies have been developed for vulnerable territories, such as islands, notably the Islands Facility of Horizon 2020, which includes 100 million euros of small grants, as well as the circular economy islands and the clean energy islands.
The future Connecting Europe Facility includes support for submarine cables to help connectivity and decarbonisation of the power systems.
Moreover, islands and coastal areas are at the forefront of the EU Blue Growth Strategy. The Commission recently published
the EU Blue Economy Report 2020. This report details the wealth of opportunities from the blue economy.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, the current situation is sober, but there is hope and the means to support a fair and balanced recovery are there.
Europe is providing short term support, through the Coronavirus Response Investment initiative. Use this wisely, use it to the full.
Europe is providing with medium term support. The Recovery and Resilience Facility will enable support to investments and reforms.
REACT-EU is there to act as a bridge between the crisis and long term development. I will be paying special attention to the regional dimensions of REACT-EU, to regional allocations – and to the partnership principle.
Europe is providing you with long term support. Cohesion programmes will focus on the opportunities of the twin transition – both digital and green. I believe that these opportunities could transform your regions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
If all of us seize the opportunities wisely and set the right priorities, there are strong chances for a bright future also for Europe’s coastal and island regions, a future where they attract qualified jobs, where tourism is high added value and sustainable, where they provide Europe with renewable energy.
These are your opportunities; these are the tools we are providing. The future is in your hands.
I wish you a fruitful discussion.