On October 12th and 13th, 2018, United Europe’s first Young Professionals Seminar in Budapest took place. Hosted by Innogy in the Andrássy University, 25 participants from almost 20 European countries spent intensive two intensive days on the topic „Europe of the Regions“. The group presented itself with a variety of different professional backgrounds, namely analysts, consultants, department heads, representatives of local government offices and journalists – each and every one with his or her own story on Europe and defintion of region. The event was put forward to shed a light on a multitude of facts – and discuss, how political institutions represented the reality of today’s young professionals.
Europe of the Regions is the name of a political concept designed to promote the regions in the EU member states and support their regional autonomy. For its realization an EU advisory body was established, called European Committee of the Regions (CoR). The group is composed of locally and regionally elected representatives coming from all (still) 28 Member States. Through the CoR they are able to share their view on – and ideally influence – EU legislation directly impacting regions and cities.
This federalist approach is expected to lead to a more efficient regional administration with greater expertise and proximity to the citizens. The influence of the Committee should ensure regions are heard, supported in their interest to remain competitive – in short, the CoR should embody the principles of subsidiarity.
In four workshops the participants discussed the history, impact, function and future of European regions on four different issues over two days: European Institutions – and how to understand European identity, Culture – and how to represent its differences, Economics – and how regional wealth may be influential – as well as Regionalism – and how separatist movements occur.
The first day started with a welcome by Dr Georg Trautnitz, Chair of Management, Organization and CSR at Andrássy University in Budapest (AUB). In his speech Trautnitz pointed out three main ideas of Europe of the regions:
1. The importance of European diversity
The idea of European integration is not meant to dissolve the different regional identities. On the contrary, the European identity itself is composed of the diversity of European regions and their idiosyncrasies.
2. The importance of European unity
Compared to China, the US and Russia each member state of the EU is a negligible entity. The only way, to influence global processes is to act as a unity. The inner diversity of Europe has to be counterbalanced by an outer unity. And this unity can only be achieved by institutionalized forms of deliberation and compromise. Therefore, the European Union must be something that its citizens can identify with. Even if we remain different we also need a European identity.
3. The importance of differentiation
We face very complex problems, problems that are related to the functionality of the European institutions, and that are related to the technological, demographic and environmental challenges ahead. In the face of such problems it is most tempting to suggest simple solutions. The populist tendencies throughout Europe and beyond gain their power out of the promise of simplicity. We have to resist this temptation. We must have the courage to stick to the facts and to use the power of differentiation. The ability to distinguish is one of the core competences of academics.
Afterwards Kata Tüttö, who serves as local councilor at Budapest district XII and alternate member of the European Committee of the Regions, among others, and Marcus Lippold, Principal Representative of Saudi Petroleum Overseas Ltd. (Europe & Russia) in London and former Coordinator for the EU’s international energy policy at the European Commission’s Energy Directorate in Brussels, debated about the Pros & Contras of a Europe of the Regions.
Lippold is not “a great believer in too much political power for the regions”, he said. In his opinion it fractures the EU decision-making process too much and delays it. This is potentially a competitive disadvantage compared to big economic blocs like China where decision making is much faster. It also does not help EU cohesion, inviting regions to potentially grandstand when presenting separist ideas, like e.g. Catalonia, Flanders, Bavaria, Northern Italy… with talk or action of breaking away. The CoR was founded as an answer to repeated criticism that the EU Institutions are too elitist and undemocratic, however, in the eyes of EU citizens, this is still the case and most people have never heard of the CoR. Lippold finds the Covenant of Mayors a much more interesting organization for solving tomorrow’s challenges (also founded by the EU): Cities are driving societies forward. More and more people tend to live in cities, 70 % of the world population are living in cities or surrounding areas. “Their challenges are more similar and they also contribute to the regions, so getting cities together makes much more sense”, he stressed. “Giving more political power to regions I would object to, that is something that is better handled on a national level. Not every cooperation has to be established along political lines.”
Kata Tüttö defended the idea of the CoR and replied that the Covenant of Mayors is not comparable to the CoR, it’s a movement and not an organization with the aim to mobilize mayors to enter the green door, to have a holistic approach on climate change mitigation, adaptation. Most of EU regulations has to be implemented on the local level. Engaging local and regional authorities is essential in reaching ambitious climate and energy targets. European mayors are aiming for livable cities which is not an industrial and bureaucratic approach. Building local communities, rethinking city planning in view of the changing environment: We need to rethink the way where and how we work, how we use our cities, rethinking public spaces and public services. She doesn’t want to defend the whole institution, but she believes in the concept of the Committee of the Regions, it is important that in the legislation process the voice of cities and regions are heard, because they know their reality what will work and what cannot work. She pointed out that the EU, for example, has very ambitious waste recycling rules. These regulations are implemented by local and regional authorities and there are huge differences among regions. Many regions landfill less than 10% of their waste, while others start with a 100% landfilling basis. It seems impossible to get from 100% to 10% in a short time without building a waste incinerator, but some of our regions could do that and are willing to share how. For a strong EU it is important to have strong regions and cities, innovative local leaders who join forces, share best practices and form EU legislation.
After a lively debate between the two representatives and the young professionals, the group members started to work intensively on their particular challenges.
The day ended with a river cruise and a wonderful dinner on the Danube – giving view on the magically enlightened silhouette of Budapest
The second day started with a warm welcome of Marie-Theres Thiell, CEO at Innogy Hungary and host of this YPS.
She told the participants about the history of Innogy in Hungary and how the company is embedded in relations between European regions. Innogy Hungária is a management company steering the activities of Innogy in Hungary, also ELMÜ-ÉMÁSZ, one of the largest energy infrastructure providers and suppliers group in Hungary, belongs to it.
Ms Thiell’s welcome was followed by a short input by United Europe member Anita Orban, who gave an inspiring kick-off for the second seminar day.
Throughout the day, the groups worked on their topics, the results were presented in the late afternoon.
CONCLUSIONS OF THE 4 WORKING GROUPS:
1. European Institutions and the Committee of the Regions
The first group explored the institutional meaning and “branding of the EU” in a statement that encouraged different ways of engagement for all EU citizens
1. Recommendations to improve visibility of the EU institutions, including COR and better understanding the benefits of the EU membership:
In order to avoid being stuck in the echo chamber, stakeholders should go local – that means: they have to try to reach people directly in their own constituency.
Stakeholder groups / actors – all have to be confronted with their two-fold responsibility: One beingwith local communities – as a bottom-up responsibility, and the other one with political decision makers – as a top-down responsibility.
The groups that need to be activated are:
– Local decision makers
– Members of the COR
– Local representative of the Parliament
– Local representative of the Commission
The goal is
1. to foster awareness of EU / COR in home country
2. that these stakeholders should coordinate on a greater level. Best practice: Head of 2019 EU elections European Parliament CoR joins forces with EP
2. Recommendations to improve visibility: Citizens should be involved more effectively to
• participate in local discussions organized by EU institutions (one way to involve young people is the European Voluntary Service)
• encourage them to organize their own discussion on Europe, to talk about their expectation about membership and their needs
• interact between the Council of Europe and the EU to strengthen regionalism, decentralization and local governance
• A better media strategy with the following ideas for implementation:
– Institutions should communicate in a more digestible format, one could speak about a tabloidization of the EU, and start involving celebrities such as local actors
– Restructure / improve Euronews (raw politics) or establish new pan-European channel with programmes such as BBC World fostering regional shows (transpose US programme beyond 100 days and create European programme) which needs to be totally independent financially and structurally from local government and show a programme that can be broadcasted in every member state
– We need to overcome intra-Eastern divisions between East and West
The second group summed up following findings:
– Protection over promotion
The EU tries to promote the regions, but the regions wants protection of their very own heritage and individuality.
– Diversity within the United Kingdom – just one example for how people are worried about losing their identity. To take the people serious and take away their concerns the EU should protect regional identity.
– The “Americanization“ of Europe, ergo, the creation of a „United States of Europe“ is not desirable from a cultural point of view. The strength of one unified cultural identity cannot work in the localized setting of Europe as it does for the North American continent.
– The use of cultur as a tool – including language and education – can be dividing in a setting such as in Georgia. The country may have not the power to change regional influences from outside, eg. Russian private universities being established – not officially Russian – may have an imposed character as it teaches in non-local languages and may misuse that institution. Similar cases were reported of Catalonia with “less diversity“ being allowed in a school, though not being state imposed.
– The Andrassy University is a positive example of transferring heritage in language and cross regional education. Also, town twinning means of cross-cultural connection, as well as exchange programs in countries speaking the same languages (Belgium, Luxembiurg, FRance or Germany and Austria).
– In the end, it is cross-border cooperation as a interpersonal experience “triggering Europeanization“.
The third group collected the following results concerning economic wealth of regions – its origins, and presented some provocative ideas on the consequences of regional differences in GDP:
– Economics welfare as a motor for the EU integration – considered critical for social and political stability
– Macro factors consisting of 3 points:
1. EU institutions as the key players in order to promote and allow the trade of goods, services and capital.
2. National and local governments frame the fiscal, legal and budgetary as well as infrastructural programs.
3. Private and public sector need to cover expansion and technical innovation, as well as major external investments.
– An election behavior can divide a country, see Italy and Germany, where the decision to elect far right movements seems to be influenced by economic wealth. The probability to elect the latter seems to be higher in regions of lower GDP – thus, “economic reality is influencing the political reality“.
– The differences in the region’s wealth should be balanced out by supporting the creation of a competitive landscape
– Instead of subsidiaries, incentives are needed in the regions that are weaker, considerable investments in form of subsidiaries to weaker regions have failed already in the past, as numerable examples show.
– What remains open is the question if the EU should lower standards for candidate countries or non-EU members (see in Brexit scenarios).
Group four asked the question, how to address regionalism and gave recommendations how to better integrate strong regions in the EU:
– Recognition for strong & weaker regions: give them a feeling of importance and value.
– Institutionalize regional cooperation with EU funds & values
– Increase citizen involvement from the regions in EU decision-making processes
– Discuss and assess the role of Committee of Regions, increase competences
– Create awareness of dependencies – what does independence mean, few citizens understand the consequences of separatims.
– Education of how the EU works, how democracy works
– Fighting disenchantment and non-participation in the population
– Additional points – tools to fight against separatism can be found in the paper „How citizens can hack the EU democracy”
Links to video statements of Speakers and Participants:
Anna Saraste, Finland
Vlado Planinčić, Bosnia & Hercegovina
Camille Alleguede, France
Marie-Theres Thiell, Innogy, Hungary
United Europe’s Young Professionals Seminars are organized with the intention to contribute to international understanding. The seminar in Budapest showed once again the importance of building bridges between nations, cultures and people from all over Europe.
It gave the participants the opportunity to get known different perspectives – inside and outside of the political EU – and created bonds, as all participants felt their common interest lies in the stability and dialogue within Europe. Concluding on the seminar, a lot of the young professionals reported on a wide range of learnings. Both the personal stories of the participants as well as the speakers’ opinions cultivated an atmosphere that would have allowed us to spend even more time together. We all hope for a reunion with all of the participants.
We thank Innogy and Andràssy University for hosting and supporting us!