Pandemic’s heavy impact on local economies in the EU

Employment and Social Affairs

Regions and cities will be at the core of Next Generation EU: in her remarks at the 18th European Week of regions and cities (held virtually until 19th October), European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen praised the vital role of regional and local actors in the process aimed at relaunching economy after Covid-19 pandemic.

Von der Leyen highlighted that region and cities should be deeply involved in the preparation of national recovery plans. And this issue is indeed crucial in each single EU member States, now called on to present national plans to define how European funds that will arrive through Next Generation Eu will be used.

“We are engaging in close dialogues with Member States, while they work on their Recovery and Resilience Plans.  And we will do so more intensely in the next weeks”, executive vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said at the Ecofin press conference stressing that Member States will be able to submit these plans “informally” as of 15 October.

“These dialogues will focus on how Member States propose to address the country-specific challenges identified in the European Semester, and how they plan to align their  national priorities with European goals – notably for those green and digital projects where coordination and scale can be very important”, he added.

The two key targets, indeed, related to the use of Eu funds, are to make Europe greener and more digital: the 37% target for climate-mainstreaming and at least 20% for digitalisation. In his opening speech of the EU Regions Week’s Summit, commissioner for Budget and Administration, Johannes Hahn, highlighted the central position of European regions in the digital and green transitions and the in the Recovery Plan.

Many member States are willing to follow EU’s indications. Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, for example, stressed before the Italian Parliament that Rome’s national plan is aimed at encouraging the “green and digital transition”: 40 percent of the expenses will be addressed to the first of these two processes, that is to environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and economy circular; 20 percent in digitization, with incentives for “new 4.0 technologies in production processes and in public administration and citizenship as a whole”.

At the 18th European Week of regions and cities intervened this year even Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel: “This crisis has been a challenge for a Europe without borders. It is so important that we make a package to address the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. We need cooperation to overcome these challenges”, she stressed.

The 18th European Week of regions and cities highlighted the huge impact caused by the pandemic on local economies. The first Ee-wide Regional and Local Barometer – produced by the European Committee of the Regions – highlights that Covid-19 is heavily impacting local authorities’ revenues: in Italy, Germany and France alone, their losses could total 30 billion euros in 2020. The crisis is also widening social and economic inequalities in the EU’s territories. The Report warns that the crisis risks creating a “Covid lost generation” of young people and highlights serious disparities between regional healthcare systems. The increasing rural-urban divide also represents a clear threat to EU’s cohesion.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, said that “only by taking the pulse of our communities can we decide how effective the EU has been on the ground, and what the EU needs to do help its regions, cities and villages”. ”The crisis – continued Tzitzikostas – threatens to create a lost Covid-19 generation, with young people’s jobs being more at risk, and only six Member States able to offer digital education for 80% or more of students.

The 67% of Europeans who want cities and regions to have more influence on EU decisions tell us that it is time to re-think how EU democracy works, to better connect it with people in the territories. As regional and local leaders, we are committed to working together at the EU and national levels to recover from the pandemic and building resilient and sustainable communities”.

From the beginning of the crisis, and thanks to the flexibility introduced in the Cohesion Policy, the EU mobilised over €13 billion in investments to tackle the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, through the European Regional Development Fund (Erdf), the European Social Fund (Esf) and the Cohesion Fund (Cf).

The EU funds helped national, regional and local communities in countering the negative socio-economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In total, €4.1 billion have been reallocated towards healthcare to purchase vital machinery and personal protective equipment to save lives. €8.4 billion have been mobilised through issuing grants, loans, and a series of personalised financial instruments to support the economy and, in particular, Small and Medium enterprises (SMEs) to adapt to the crisis. Finally, around €1.4 billion have been channelled through the ESF to help people and save jobs.

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