Cities need to be at the heart of Europe’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ensure that the critical green and digital transitions stay on track. And this should be coupled with a strong cohesion policy that leaves no place or person behind.
This was one of the messages shared by Madrid’s Deputy Mayor, Begoña Villacís, during an online meeting of the Cohesion Alliance today together with Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms.
As Villacís outlined, cities have been on the front line of responding to this crisis. She commented that, in Madrid, the impact of Covid-19 has created a sudden and profound "shock" on the economy; a burden that represents an expected loss of 10% of GDP in the region of Madrid by the end of the year. This shock has also been asymmetric, impacting more on sectors such as retail and tourism, which both employ many people. In fact, Villacís predicts that 2020 will see an increase in unemployment of around 50% on 2019 figures.
In this context, Cohesion policy is today more essential than ever to support people, business, cities and regions towards a sustainable and fair recovery.
As Villacís put it: “We have an opportunity to reshape the future of our cities by ensuring that the well-being and protection of citizens’ rights are put front and centre.”
“It is in cities where these challenges come together,” she continued, “and where efforts are already being made. But the long term recovery from COVID-19 will require close cooperation between all levels of government, using existing tools such as the EU’s cohesion policy and finding new ways of making public policies, based on citizens’ needs.”
For her part, Commissioner Ferreira responded that we must have a strong cohesion policy which leaves no city and no region behind. In doing so she outlined three key points:
Firstly, she said that a coherent programme is needed, that will run seamlessly over the long term, and one that rises to the twin transitions, both green and digital. This includes the short term crisis response, the medium term impact of React-EU and the longer term return to implementation of the normal funding programmes
Secondly, she advocated a cohesion policy that defends the regions, cities and sectors in greatest need. Of course, different regions and cities have already been differently affected by the crisis, and their recovery will also vary greatly, and so the Commission needs to stand ready to help build the expertise of local authorities.
Thirdly, ‘cohesion policy must remain cohesion policy’ she claimed. Even though cities and regions have performed well during the crisis period, we cannot remain in a crisis mode.
The Cohesion Alliance founding partners handed over a renewed declaration to Commissioner Ferreira, and the chair of the REGI committee of the European Parliament, Younous Omarjee, who also attended the meeting.