Navigating recovery through EU and local partnership

27 January 2022

Throughout the last two years of the pandemic, certain patterns have repeated themselves for local authorities across Europe. Responding to this unprecedented crisis meant taking urgent actions: to ensure children continue to receive a good education; the elderly are well cared for; that businesses, HORECA establishments and the cultural sector were compensated where possible; and that access to adequate healthcare and information is available to all.

Such actions, among others taken by local and regional authorities, have heavily impacted city budgets, as expenditures rose and revenues fell – leaving a shortfall of perhaps some €180bn at the local level across the EU27.

In many cases, this shortfall has been mitigated thanks to significant national and EU level support. The European Commission’s Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII & CRII Plus) and REACT-EU, which dipped into the EU’s existing cohesion fund and provided additional spending flexibility, helped to steady an otherwise sinking ship and has been at the core of many local recovery strategies.

However, there remains a risk of uneven recovery, which would exacerbate existing disparities across Europe. Rather, delegates to the European Committee of the Region’s plenary session today, were there to say that Europe’s recovery must be better coordinated among and across these different levels of government.

“As cities, we are fully aware that the decisions we make today will have implications for the investment priorities for many years to come,” said Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence who was recently appointed as a member of the CoR’s Commissions for Natural Resources, and for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs. “Our priority is to make sure we invest in urban, transformative projects that can bring forward a green, digital and just future,” he added.

And, with a value of about €392bn for the 2021-27 period, Nardella acknowledged that “cohesion policy is and will remain our most important investment tool.”

During his intervention in Thursday’s plenary, the Florentine mayor cited the example of the PON Metro, the programme dedicated to metropolitan areas, which, among other things, provided resources to Florence to partner with other Italian cities to redesign and modernise public services through greater digitisation.

For example, thanks in large part to the monies made available through the cohesion funds, the city developed its Infomobility App, which keeps people updated on city mobility. Each user receives up-to-date information on urgent road works, accidents, transit times at local public transport stops, availability of parking spaces, and many other items related to mobility in the Florentine area.

In this way, the App helps people to choose the most sustainable way to move around Florence. The successful first term of this project directly empowered Italian cities to implement cohesion programmes. Building on this, the city is now engaged in PON Metro Plus, which will provide further resources for similar projects over the next seven-year period.

Continue to support local recovery actions

Given that local and regional authorities are the end beneficiaries of cohesion policy, and play a crucial role in delivering an effective recovery, Nardella and other representatives of the Cohesion Alliance used the occasion to call on the European Commission to engage local authorities in the design of future ‘operational programmes’ – the plans sent in by national authorities which outline how the relevant monies will be distributed.

They also demanded that the current 100% co-financing rate that was a direct response to Covid19 stimulus measures, be extended for another year.

For her part, European Commissioner Elisa Ferreira, responsible for cohesion and reforms said that “the unprecedented amount of funding is a great opportunity, but also a great responsibility, and we must make sure that it brings significant impact on the ground. We need to ensure that it leads to highly needed social progress.”

In connection to this, she highlighted that local partners are essential to this success, and how important it is to build their own capacity so they can successfully contribute to cohesion objectives.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer