A strong European initiative is needed to make fresh money and concrete means available to provide long-term support for regions and cities who are welcoming Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war. The request came up during a debate between local leaders and representatives from the European Commission, at the meeting of the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget ( COTER ). CoR members welcomed the initiatives taken so far by the EU institutions to cope with the emergency, and in particular the simplified procedures allowing regions and cities to redirect cohesion funds towards initiatives for refugees. However, several members, in particular from Polish regions, underlined the need for fresh money as the cohesion resources for the 2014-20 period have already been all allocated or spent.
Władysław Ortyl (PL/ECR), president of the Podkarpackie Region, pointed out that borders regions like his own, are not only using their public resources to assist people in needs, mainly women and children, but they are also starting to experience consequences on their own economy. “Many tourists have cancelled bookings as war is so near. So here we also need support. Many sectors have been hard hit economically by this war,” he stated.
Emil Boc (RU/EPP), Mayor of Cluj-Napoca and former Prime Minister of Romania, highlighted that, at the local and regional level, there are “partnerships with cities from Moldova and Ukraine in order to help them on the ground”, but also that “it is crucial we don’t make a difference between registered and unregistered refugees in order to be able to help all Ukrainian citizens entering the EU.”
Jaroslav Hlinka (SK/PES), Mayor of the Slovakian city of Košice, underlined the efforts of his region in giving the best possible assistance to people fleeing Ukraine: “We will continue to help refugees, but we need an immediate and direct support from the European Union to do so. We need a real European coordinated initiative.”
The debate follows the emergency meeting of the leaders of the CoR six political groups in Rzeszów, near the Poland’s border with Ukraine, attended by Apostolos Tzitzikostas , President of the CoR, Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Younous Omarjee, chairman of the European Parliament’s committee on regional development, and Tetiana Yehorova-Lutsenko, chairwoman of the Kharkiv District Council. Leaders called for common rules and fast-tracked access to maximize the impact of €17 billion EU support package on the ground.
In addition, COTER members adopted the draft opinion on ” The new EU Arctic strategy ” which rejects a further cooperation with Russia in the Arctic area and puts the need of a secure, stable and peaceful Arctic in the foreground. They underlined that existing cooperation structures must be maintained to ensure peaceful collaboration at the intergovernmental level. The rapporteur Mirja Vehkaperä (FI/RE), member of the Oulu City Council, said that “since Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, the operational environment in the Arctic has changed radically. All cooperation with Russians at the Northern region has been suspended and the report seeks to take account of EU sanctions on Russia.”
Rapporteur Vehkaperä further stressed that the rights of indigenous people and the protection of natural resources of the Arctic remain the main focus of the opinion. Climate change is strongly affecting this region which makes a sustainable development of the Arctic crucial. Local and regional leaders emphasized the strategic economic advantage of the Arctic region for the EU due to the availability of raw materials and the geostrategic aspects, but stressed the need for economic know-how and specific resources. The draft opinion is planned to be adopted in the CoR plenary session in June.
Furthermore, CoR members had a first exchange of views on the following opinions: ” 8th report on economic, social and territorial cohesion ” and ” The next generation of own resources for the EU budget ” with Nathalie Sarrabezolles (FR/PES) as rapporteur, ” Guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network (TEN-T) ” with rapporteur Isabelle Boudineau (FR/PES) and ” The New EU Urban Mobility Framework Rapporteur ” with Linda Gaasch (LU/Greens) as rapporteur.
The COTER commission appointed Pedro Chaves de Faria e Castro (PT/EPP) as rapporteur for the opinion on “An updated EU’s Outermost Regions Strategy” and Nikola Dobroslavic (HR/EPP) as rapporteur for the opinion “Towards a macro-regional strategy in the Mediterranean”.
The EU’s member states this week gave the green light to changes in rules governing the disbursement of long-term regional development funding, to enable the use of these funds to address the needs of refugees. This flexibility means, for example, that schools and hospitals will be able to access money that was left over from the EU’s budget for 2014-20, or that is available from the COVID-19 economic recovery package. Applications will also be received for activities that began on 24 February 2022, the date on which Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. European institutions estimate that the set of changes will make almost €17 billion available.
Following the invasion of Ukraine and in line with the EU restrictive measures, the Commission has suspended the cooperation with Russia and Belarus in the European Neighbourhood Instrument cross-border cooperation programmes ( ENI CBC ) and their participation in programming of the 2021-2027 Interreg NEXT programmes.
In the period 2014-2020, within the framework of the Interreg NEXT programme, there were a total of 7 cross-border cooperation projects between EU Member States and Russia, co-financed by the European Union: Kolarctic Programme (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia), Karelia Programme (Finland and Russia), South East Finland-Russia Programme (Finland and Russia), Estonia-Russia Programme (Estonia and Russia), Latvia-Russia Programme (Latvia and Russia), Lithuania-Russia Programme (Lithuania and Russia) and Poland-Russia Programme (Poland and Russia). Russian authorities also participated in Interreg Baltic Sea Region .
Similarly, in the same period the following INTERREG programmes existed with the participation of Belarussian local authorities; Latvia – Lithuania – Belarus ENI CBC and Poland-Belarus-Ukraine CBC, as well as the participation in Interreg Baltic Sea Region.