SPEECH/06/… Danuta Hübner Member of the European Commission responsible for Regional Policy "Sustainable Regional Development in the European Union” European Forum "Climate Change: Energy and Mobility" Geneva, 23 January 2006 Mr. Chairman, Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, It is an honour for me to be here with you. I have accepted with pleasure to attend this Forum organised by the European Foundation for the Sustainable Development of the Regions [FEDRE], because I know that the FEDRE does such essential work in promoting territorial cohesion throughout all the regions of the Member States of the Council of Europe and I would like to thank you for all your efforts. Also, this event has given me the chance to return, even if only for one day, to Geneva, where I spent a few years. Probably my intervention today would not make the headlines in a congress of environmental specialists, but this event represents in my view an opportunity to take climate change as a starting point for a wider and more forward-looking contribution. So let me begin with a few words on climate change before going on to look at broader economic, social and environmental challenges. And finally I would like to stress the importance of regional and local levels of government in addressing all these challenges. Why is climate change important to us? Projected changes in climate, perhaps like any other changes, may have both beneficial and adverse effects on our lives, water resources, agriculture, natural ecosystems and human health. But there seems to be no doubt that the larger the changes in climate the more the adverse effects should dominate. For instance, some crop and forest productivities could benefit from a small climate change. But for many other natural systems, the adverse effects should be dominant, especially if warming exceeds a few degrees. Although it is not possible to link any particular event definitively to global warming; it is indisputable that we are more and more exposed to natural risks: floods, droughts, cold spells, and so on. Furthermore, as we all know, the vulnerability of human populations and natural systems to climate change differs substantially across regions and across populations within regions. The European Union is serious about it and, as agreed in Montreal last December, it will take on new commitments when the current emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012. Europe has led, and will continue to lead, the endeavour to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Its cohesion and collective force is remarkable. We are set to meet our reduction target for 2008-2012. When you go back home you are private citizens, but you are all here as representatives of local and regional authorities, the business and the academic communities, and international organisations, and therefore you, like me and the other participants in this event, have a greater responsibility. Climate change could be taken as a genuine example of a subject that can, and indeed must, be addressed at all levels of governance. It is relevant to everybody. In the year 2000, when global business leaders met at the World Economic Forum in Davos, they anticipated that climate change would be the greatest challenge they would face in the 21st Century. They also declared it to be a challenge which, with leadership, we could meet. But we need to follow that up with concrete actions and better behaviour in a framework of strong cooperation. This brings me to the second point. What are the challenges that Europe is facing today, and how are we addressing them? When I think what Europe needs today, among the first ideas that come to my mind is Europe’s capacity to change. I was enthusiastic in 2004 to start my work as Commissioner for regional policy, and particularly because I realised that I had the challenge to address the expectations of the citizens. Unfortunately, 2005 would be remembered as marked by the failures of the referenda in France and in the Netherlands. But we are now more optimistic, and with reason. When I and my fellow Commissioners met the Austrian Prime Minister, Wolfgang Schüssel, in Vienna on 9 January to mark the beginning of the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the Union, we agreed with his statement that “Europe needs a fresh start”. Europe needs ideas and commitments. We are all aware that we cannot follow the pattern of development characterising our economies in recent years – low growth, poor labour market performance and trailing competitiveness. Soon we will be increasingly facing the consequences of ageing of our societies. The choice of a “no change” scenario would be disastrous for the well-being of our citizens. The world around us is changing, rapidly and profoundly. Meeting this challenge requires enormous efforts from Europe. The sooner we build Europe’s capacity to innovate, to grow and to create sustainable employment, the better able we shall be to take full advantage of globalisation, technical progress and longer life-spans. When the Commission presented a revitalised Lisbon agenda last February, we decided to harness all our policies in pursuit of growth and jobs, social cohesion and environmental sustainability. And Member States agreed with us that regional policy should be a key instrument in this. They agreed that we should fully exploit its potential to bring faster growth and more jobs to Europe’s economy and to contribute to Europe’s innovation and competitiveness, in a sustainable way. We also need to maintain excellent cooperation among the EU and other international Institutions. Geneva is e perfect place to say that. We must work together if we are to deal successfully with issues such as the differentiation of energy sources or the close links between the environment and mobility. Let me mention in this context the urban policy, which is a case in point where a joined-up approach is essential. We know that Europe’s urban areas face a number of environmental challenges including poor air quality, high levels of traffic and congestion, urban sprawl, greenhouse gas emissions and generation of waste and waste water. These can cause environmental damage and affect human health. While local action is essential, public authorities at regional, national and European level also need to be proactive. The European Union can provide support by promoting Europe’s good practices. It can do so best by encouraging effective networking and exchange of experience between cities. Many solutions already exist in cities but they are not sufficiently disseminated or implemented. According to the United Nations Population Division, for the first time in history more people live in cities than in rural areas. Without sustainable cities, we cannot have sustainability. Cohesion policy, for which I am responsible in the Commission, can do a lot to tackle these concerns. Cohesion policy has undergone, in my view, one of the greatest transformations in the history of the Union. This year, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the entry into force of the European Regional Development Fund. For its first few years, the ERDF represented approximately 4% of the EU’s budget; now the Structural Funds represent around one third of the EU’s budget and as of 2007, around 40%. Probably not all of you are familiar with cohesion policy, but I can assure you that what we have proposed for the future is a modern policy. We will be looking at the ways to streamline our interventions for 2007-2013, in order to maximise synergies and added value. For the first time we will have a well-defined framework for action, which is represented by the Strategic Guidelines for Cohesion. These will represent a key tool for decision-makers: the Member States, the regions, the cities and the other stakeholders will not be let alone, but will be helped in identifying their needs and the best and most efficient means to address them. One of the priorities is the greater focus on the attractiveness of regions and cities, in order to stimulate investment. Crucial elements in this objective will be improved accessibility of the regions, combined with an adequate quality and level of services, and the preservation of environmental potential. We have very explicitly affirmed in these Strategic Guidelines that environmental investments can contribute to the competitiveness of the economy by ensuring long-term sustainability of economic growth, by decreasing external environmental costs to the economy (e.g. health costs, clean-up costs or damage recovery) and by stimulating innovation and job creation. Future cohesion programmes should seek to strengthen potential synergies between environmental protection and growth. Development strategies should be based on a prior evaluation of needs and specific issues faced by regions, and efforts should be made to promote the internalisation of external environmental costs, with the development of market-based instruments. It goes without saying that the concrete actions which flow from these broad guidelines will be adapted to the needs of local citizens and to the economic, social and environmental profile of each region, and decided by them in a close partnership among the Commission, the Member States, the regions and the local authorities. How to act at local and regional level? Europe needs, more then ever, the dynamism and initiative of its regions and cities. Their energy must be channelled in support of our common aims through dialogue and collaboration, involving all levels of governance. We will not succeed in revitalising the European project unless we reach out to every citizen, and in doing this the regions are our indispensable allies. The role of local and regional authorities is paramount. Very recently, the Committee of the Regions conducted a survey to assess the level of involvement of regions and cities in preparing National Reform Programmes under the Lisbon Strategy. The survey found that only 17% of regions and cities were satisfied with their involvement in the preparation of these programmes. Of course, in the not too distant past, they were not involved at all in most Member States, so this represents some progress. But there is scope for a substantial improvement next year. The work to boost competitiveness on the global level will only have an impact if all levels of government work in partnership. Ladies and gentlemen, only by mobilising all the resources and by engaging all stakeholders, at national, regional and local levels, can Europe succeed to promote growth, jobs and solidarity in a logical and sustainable way. Let me again praise your initiative to raise awareness on one of the greatest challenges ahead. I wish your “Planète climat” initiative a success that would help us all live in a better world. Thank you very much for your attention.
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