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State secretary Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the representative of the Austrian presidency of the EU Council, the presid...
State secretary Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the representative of the Austrian presidency of the EU Council, the president of the Committee of the Regions, Manfred Dammeyer, sent the following message to the heads of state and of government of the European Union meeting in Pörtschach (Austria) last weekend to discuss the future development of the European Union:

'Citizenship, subsidiarity and efficiency must be the foundations upon which the future structures of the Union are built. Pörtschach must result in genuine, concrete and appropriate decisions relating to these three key concepts; it is no longer enough to issue declarations of intent, we need to open up a new way, thereby laying the foundations for an institutional reform that will be in place for the forthcoming enlargement of the Union and will have the support of ordinary individuals.'

Highlighting the main points raised in discussions between the state secretary and the members of the Bureau of the COR meeting in Salzburg, president Dammeyer told the press that 'in the last resort it is the regional and local authorities who are asked by Europe to apply European regulations affecting ordinary citizens. If member states invoke the principle of subsidiarity to preserve their prerogatives vis-à-vis Europe, they must also understand that the principle has to be applied also when European law is implemented in each individual member state. In European matters even more than elsewhere, it is essential for the Union, national authorities and regional and local authorities to co-operate if the European venture is to be really democratic and Europe is to keep its finger on the pulse of its citizens.'

Mr Dammeyer envisaged in particular the eventual adoption of a procedure whereby consultation of the committee of the regions became compulsory once it was established that a community policy or set of legislative provisions might have a significant financial, economic or environmental effect on regions and towns.

'But this presupposes that our organisation is involved in the preparatory work for institutional reform to be launched in the aftermath of the Pörtschach meeting. What we need is a transparent and constructive debate. Any discussion of what exactly is meant by the principle of subsidiarity lies close to our hearts. Likewise, any discussion of powers below the European level is also of concern to the regions.

Mrs Ferrero-Waldner said: 'The Amsterdam Protocol must now put into practice and the COR will play an important role in this process'.

According to Mr Dammeyer, members of the COR have a very constructive view of the future of Europe: 'The Europe of tomorrow can only be a Europe of solidarity. The Union already contributes to the reduction of regional inequalities. This said, the various forms of inter-regional co-operation - the horizontal dimension of subsidiarity - emanate by and large from regional and local authorities. Whatever the future shape of the European Union, thisdynamism must be encouraged by abolishing the excessive amount of red tape imposed by central governments.'

The COR has instructed its Commission for Institutional Affairs to draw up a draft Opinion entitled 'Towards a new culture of subsidiarity.' At a first reading held last week in Salzburg the commission examined the proposals of Rapporteurs, Michel Delebarre (President of the Nord - Pas de Calais Region -PSE) and Edmund Stoiber (Ministerpräsident of the Land of Bavaria -PPE). The commission adopted a political declaration in which Mr Delebarre underlined 'the desirability of clarifying the distribution of competencies between the Union, the member states and regions and local authorities. In particular this requires finding appropriate dimensions for the different areas of intervention and sticking by them without renationalising what already works well at a European level.'

For Mr Stoiber, 'more than ever, the time has come for a strict observance of the subsidiarity principle: the certain scepticism of our citizens comes from their fear of threats to their regional and national identity. For this reason, the diversity of cultures, which gives Europe its richness, must be maintained.'

Declaration by the Commission on Institutional Affairs of the Committee of the Regions

There is no doubt that European integration has been the outstanding achievement of the nations of Europe in the latter part of the 20th century. Moreover the members of the Committee of the Regions who represent ordinary citizens from regions, towns and local districts regard themselves as champions of the European cause.

The history of the European Union is the history of ever-renewed challenges. On the eve of the 21st century, the EU is still faced with a number of major tasks of undoubted historic importance. It must carry out internal reforms; it wishes to expand eastwards; and it wishes to make a success of Economic and Monetary Union whilst at the same time consolidating its position in the world.

The construction of Europe implies a dynamic process integrating all territorial components of the European Union. This is a complex process whose rules must be continually improved whilst at the same time drawing on past achievements.

The search for a universally comprehensible institutional equilibrium implies the updating of agreements on the powers of the respective institutions although the desired simplification must not result in an automatic reduction of the responsibilities of Community bodies.

The Commission on Institutional Affairs of the Committee of the Regions appeals to the European Council to take into consideration in its Pörtschach discussions the COR's earlier positions, and particularly its 1995 and 1997 resolutions on improving the wording of several EU Treaty articles on the mechanisms for the participation of the regions and local authorities in the running of Europe, detailed arrangements for implementing the principle of subsidiarity, and calling for changes to its own status, organization, scope of action and fields of intervention.

The Commission on Institutional Affairs of the Committee of the Regions welcomes the efforts of the Commission to apply the Protocol on the principle of subsidiarity appended to the Amsterdam Treaty even before ratification of the Treaty.

The Committee of the Regions is firmly convinced that strict adherence to the principle of subsidiarity is an important prerequisite for the success of the process of integration, particularly today:

Given some degree of scepticism about Europe among the public, and the fear that regional and national identities might be lost, the rich variety of European cultures must be protected. The sheer scale of the challenges facing the European Union in the future makes it necessary for Europe to set clear priorities and limit its action to what is necessary. The activities of the EU show some imbalance between areas in which it should do more and areas where it takes action despite the fact that it would probably be sufficient if the Member States, regions or local authorities themselves acted.

The campaign to promote the principle of subsidiarity and closeness to the citizen serves to strengthen European integration. Europe has more to gain from diversity and competition than from standardization. What is needed now is a rational stocktaking of the work done by Europe so that we can emerge in a stronger position to meet the challenges of the future.

The Commission on Institutional Affairs of the Committee of the Regions would like to see a clear delimitation of powers between the Union, the Member States, the regions and local authorities. This calls in particular for the demarcation of fields of intervention, respect for this demarcation and no renationalization of areas that already work satisfactorily at Union level.

This likewise calls for legal texts to be properly examined in advance in terms of their justification and compliance with the principle of subsidiarity. Such preventive action should take place before legislative decisions are adopted by the European authorities. A mechanism for such assessments should be created in order to guarantee and monitor whether the principle of subsidiarity is really being applied.

The Commission on Institutional Affairs of the Committee of the Regions would remind the Council and European Parliament that the principle of subsidiarity must embrace all European, national, regional and local decision-making levels. This will go a long way to meeting the aspirations of European citizens.

Scope for the adoption of decisions at national and regional level should remain as wide as possible when drawing up legislative provisions. General directives should be given preference over regulations. The Community should act in such a way and on such a scale that Member States and regions have maximum freedom to take their own decisions. Responsibility for putting EU legislation into effect should fundamentally remain in the hands of Member States and regions. The principle of closeness to citizens can only be observed if European laws are implemented locally.

European identity is characterized by diversity and harmonization. These characteristics should be taken into consideration in assessing subsidiarity and should be weighed against one another in individual cases. If properly applied, the principle of subsidiarity protects diversity.

The Commission on Institutional Affairs of the Committee of the Regions unequivocally urges the European Council to promote a 'Europe of competition', without neglecting solidarity. Regions, towns and municipalities need room for manoeuvre in such a Europe in order to ensure optimum exploitation of the opportunities offered to them.

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