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    Schausberger again chairman of Western Balkans Working Group

    124th Plenary Session of the CoR

    IRE-Chairman Franz Schausberger was again appointed as Chairman of CoR Working Group “Western Balkans” during the 124. Plenary Session on 12th July 2017 in Brussels for the second term till 2020. The reason for the extraordinary re-appointment was the detailed expertise of Schausberger, who is well acquainted with the West Balkans and his long-standing commitment to the accession processes of these countries.
    Edi Rama (Prime Minister of Albania) with Franz Schausberger (Member of the CoR)
    The Working Group on the Western Balkans was created in 2006 and currently includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

    Its role is to provide CoR members with an instrument aimed at encouraging greater inclusion of the territorial dimension in the enlargement process for the Western Balkans region. The twelve CoR members of the working group meet with the representatives of the regions and municipalities at least twice a year in one of these countries and thus make a valuable contribution to the EU accession process of the West Balkan States.The next meeting of the Working Group is planned in autumn 2017 in Banja Luka, BiH.

    Source: www.cor.europa.eu and www.salzburg.wirtschaftszeit.at


    Karl-Heinz Lambertz elected President of the European Committee of the Regions

    “Europe’s future lies in its regions and cities”

    Schausberger expressed his congratulations to the newly elected President of the CoR Karl-Heinz Lambertz. On the 12th July 2017, members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) elected Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Senator of the German-speaking Community of Belgium (IRE-member), as their new President for the next two and half years.

    President of the Committee of the Regions Karl-Heinz Lambertz and former Governor of Salzburg Franz Schausberger

    Given the many challenges in recent years, he argued that the EU needed to listen to citizens and “rethink from the ground” by giving a greater say to local and regional governments. 

    Laying out his presidency priorities, he said that the CoR will continue to analyze on the EU’s future and would fight to protect the cohesion policy. The President-elect committed to reinforcing the CoR’s ties with all of Europe’s cities and regions and strengthening relations across the EU’s institutions. 

    “Europe must urgently re-establish a true bond of trust with all its citizens by reinforcing policies that protect them and rethink how the EU works. Europe is rooted in its cities and regions. Being on the frontline, local and regional authorities must be given a greater say in deciding Europe’s future“, Lambertz said.

    Previous CoR-President Markku Markkula, who will take over as the CoRs’ First Vice-President addressed the plenary saying: “From the halls and chambers of Brussels, Bratislava and Amsterdam to the streets of Rome, Maastricht and even Marrakesh, we have shown that the EU’s renewal and rebuilding citizens trust begins with increasing collaboration and partnership between European regions and cities.“

    Markkula after serving a two and a half year term as President of CoR was now elected as First Vice-President. The election of President and First Vice-President is in keeping with the agreement made between the Committee’s two largest political parties – European People’s Party (EPP) and Party of the European Socialists (PES) – which ensures an equal share of the leadership during the five-year term of the office.

                                      

    Karl-Heinz Lambertz has been a PES-member of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) since 2001 and held numerous government ministerial posts between 1990 and 1999 before being elected its Minister-President (1999-2014). He was then President of the German-speaking Community Parliament until 2016.

    “Supporting start-ups locally to scale-up internationally”

    Supporting innovative entrepreneurship and dismantling the obstacles to its development through improved access to finance and the single market, better connections between regional entrepreneurial ecosystems and raising awareness about the need to give failed but honest entrepreneurs a second chance are the objectives of an opinion drafted by Tadeusz Truskolaski, Mayor of the Polish City Białystok. The opinion was adopted during CoR plenary session on 12th July.

    The opinion of Mr. Truskolaski therefore suggests to create new opportunities through:

    • Creating a start-up visa and a catalogue of conditions enabling a safe use of qualified intellectual and financial capital from third countries
    • Additional funding for start-ups to develop and protect intellectual property rights
    • Expanding the Enterprise Europe Network’s (EEN) range of services including advice on scaling up and cooperating more with local business incubators, science and technology parks
    • Creating a separate instrument dedicated to networking projects in less-developed regions
    • Encouraging new public procurement procedures exploiting the potential of start-ups and scale-ups
    • Establishing a European venture capital fund of funds
    • Creating innovation brokers linking buyers interested in innovative public procurement with innovative companies and helping them to access venture capital
    • Increasing the budget for COSME, the EU’s main instrument supporting the competitiveness of SMEs
    • Looking into the opportunities of and a regulatory framework for crowdfunding platforms
                                  
    From left to right: Franz Schausberger (IRE-Chairman), Tadeusz Truskolaski (Mayor of the Polish City Białystok) and Christian Buchmann (Member of the Styrian Parliament)  
     
    “SMEs will succeed through smart regulation”

    SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) access to public procurement, the Single Market and finance, SME-friendly VAT and taxation rules and striking a better balance between SME needs and labour, consumer and environmental protection are critical factors behind SME success in Europe. The “smart regulation for SMEs” opinion of the CoR rapporteur Christian Buchmann (Member of the Styrian Parliament) was adopted during the CoR plenary session on 12th July.

    SMEs are the main engines for growth and jobs in Europe, creating two out of three jobs and generating more than half of Europe’s economic production. Nevertheless regulation doesn’t always take into account the SME-specific circumstances, thus hampering local economic growth and innovation.

    “An SME-friendly regulatory environment is an essential precondition for establishing and developing successful businesses and generating more jobs and growth in Europe“, said rapporteur Christian Buchmann.

    Source: www.cor.europa.eu and www.salzburg.wirtschaftszeit.at

    “European Citizen Travel Card”: Schausberger (member of the CoR) for tourism and public transport

    14th Meeting of the Special Commission on Unionship, Governance, Institutional Affairs and External Relations (CIVEX)
     
    On 6th of July 2017, Austrian representatives in the Committee of the Regions (CoR) expressed their support for the introduction of the “European Citizen Travel Card” at the 14th meeting of the CoR commission for citizenship, governance, institutional issues and external relations (CIVEX).

    The free “European Citizen Travel Card” would have “a positive effect on Austrian tourism, unites citizens and at the same time allows discounted prices for Europeans, such as public transport and museums”, according to Franz Schausberger, CoR-representative of Salzburg, who represented the amendment introduced.

    From left to right: Danijel Marusic (regional president of Brod-Posavina), Nikola Dobroslavic (regional president of Dubrovnik-Neretva) and Franz Schausberger
     
    Topics such as refugee problems, the integration of migrants, and measures against populism as well as extremism in Europe were discussed. In addition, it was debated how to foster the cohesion of the 28 EU Member States and the European Union to bring people closer to the local level.

    In the discussion on “Reflecting on Europe” Markku MarkkulaPresident of the CoR, underlined the importance of stressing the role of the local and regional levels during citizens’ debates. Furthermore he told members that the local and regional levels are acknowledged more frequently to be the governance levels which can be operated more closely to citizens. Concerning the Rome Declaration that was signed by 27 Member States and all the EU’s key institutions, he underlined the importance of mentioning subsidiarity and acknowledging the need to work together on levels where it makes sense. Finally he stressed the need for the CoR to influence the renewal process of the EU in a pro-active way and to get in contact with all the political leaders through the CoR members. He concluded by reminding members that the future of the EU should be for and with the citizens.
     
    Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, stressed that the debates are very important to see in which direction the EU should go and to decide on what the EU should look like in the future. He emphasised the importance of having diverse ideas but at the same time reminded members that it is also important to know how to realize them as it would be counterproductive to have a big report on the future of the EU but no ability to implement it. He also pointed out that there should not just be a discussion about competencies but also about their impact on citizens, about solidarity and financial resources. He concluded by underlining the need of going all together in the same direction.

    Arnoldas Abramavicius (Deputy Mayor of Zarasai/Lithuania, IRE-member) told members that as there are 795 municipalities in Armenia, most of these municipalities are very weak, have few financial resources and a very small range of services they can offer. He also reminded members that since 1987, Armenia is in state of war with its neighbouring country Azerbaijan. The local elections in Yerevan were held one month after the national elections, which is a reason that there were only three political parties participating in the elections. As a political comment he stressed that only 40 percent of voters participated in the Yerevan elections: an alarming sign which shows the high level of political apathy and mistrust in the political system, even on the local level.

    Source: liaison office of the region of Salzburg to the EU in Brussels and CoR

     
     
     

    What do new housing schemes offer? East Belgium presents a future project

    Demographic challenges for future living

    “My home is my castle – many Belgians live by this principle, especially in the East-Belgian region”, according to the German-speaking community of Belgium, represented in the IRE network. 98 percent of the East Germans between 60 and 79 years of age and 85 percent of people between 80 and 99 years live at home. The possibility to have alternative housing forms in old age should therefore be guaranteed.
     
    The event “Together is one less alone – What can alternative housing offer?”, which took place on 29th of June and 4th of July 2017, showed alternatives for seniors on the basis of a project. Around 80 interested persons were included in the two editions. During the implementation of the project, location marketing and the inclusion of people were seen as priority challenges for the future of East Belgium. This regional future approach, which is to be implemented by 2025, must particularly involve the young generation.

    To cope with these challenges, the focus was mainly on different alternatives to the usual forms of housing, such as the retirement home or the home for elderly. The goal is that seniors can determine and shape their future housing form themselves. Based on this, it can be said that alternative housing forms represent a suitable model against housing shortages in urban centers and vacancies in rural areas.

    Source: www.ostbelgienlive.be

    Braşov/Kronstadt and the city of Linz deepen their relationships

    IRE-member region as guest in Austria
    On the occasion of an event organized by the cultural association Carpatia the IRE-member region Kronstadt/Braşov visited Linz on 30th June 2017. After a first meeting of representatives Braşov/ Kronstadt with the city of Linz in the context of the last IRE conference in September 2016 in Salzburg and another meeting in spring 2017, the representatives of the city of Braşov / Kronstadt met with the cultural association Carpatia.
         

    The event was attended by Deputy Mayor of Linz Detlef Wimmer, a delegation of the city government, a representative of the Romanian Embassy in Vienna, Romanian Honorary Consul Wolfgang Berger-Vogel, the official delegation of Braşov/Kronstadt and, of course, many Romanians, who have chosen Linz and the state of Upper Austria as a new electoral home. “Kronstadt has impressed with dance, tradition, craftsmanship and good classical music” highlighted Cristian Macedonschi, city councilor in Braşov/Kronstadt and representative ofthe Democratic Forum of the Germans in Kronstadt.

    The meeting took place in the new town hall of Linz. Topics such as e-mobility, district heating, international relations and dual training as well as the future of the Kronstadt airport were discussed. In September of this year, an official delegation from Linz will travel to Braşov / Kronstadt to deepen the relationship between the cities. Meanwhile, a European mobility conferenceis planned in Braşov, where mobility specialists from “Smart City Linz” will also be speaking, according to Cristian Macedonschi.                                             

    For more information, please visit: www.brasovcity.ro
              

    Source: Office of the City Council in Braşov/Kronstadt and Romanian Cultural Association Carpatia

     

    Ukraine: Decentralisation success with many challenges

    CoR-Task Force on Ukraine met near Lviv. Decentralisation reform in Ukraine is
    currently focusing on the local level
    .
      

    Ukraine has made considerable progress in a relatively short period of time in fiscal and sectoral decentralisation: Amendments to the budget and tax codes have given local government new budgetary powers. In 2016, the local budgets of amalgamated communities amounted to 281 million UAH. Their own local revenues increased by three times compared to 2015. This increased municipalities’ ability to improve services and infrastructure.  It is necessary that the Ukrainian government keeps continuity in funding for the newly amalgamated municipalities. Constant changes of funding from central government to local government and changes in rules for tax revenues are counterproductive. To get used to the new conditions municipalities need reliable revenue flows.

    An outstanding voluntary amalgamation process of small municipalities reduced the high number of small municipalities and villages. The new hromadas (communities) formed so far might be the “low hanging fruits”. These communities often unite the most active mayors and citizens and their amalgamation was voluntarily. Within less than two years over 1800 municipalities have merged voluntarily to create 413 communities (“hromadas”), a number much higher than experts ever expected.

    Franz Schausberger with the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyy
     Franz Schausberger with the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyy
    For the remaining ones we expect much more difficulty. We must remember that hundreds more are needed, so the amalgamation process needs to be continued. Sectoral decentralisation in a number of sectors e. g. in the areas of health and education were implemented with others to follow.

    Major obstacles – such as inexperience of local authority staff, especially in managing budgets and legal uncertainties on the rights and responsibilities of new municipalities – must be accounted for Rayon/oblast state administrations continue to block local initiatives and substitute functions of local self-government bodies. There are still weak links between regional planning, budget management and project formulation and a lack of public oversight alongside low citizen awareness and trust.

    One key element of the support of the EU, including the Committee of Regions, is to share relevant experiences about successes, but also about risks and even failures. This sharing is about learning from each other, not copying. The system of government and responsibilities at different levels in EU Member States are very different, and reflect very different administrative traditions. Ukraine needs to finds its own system of checks and balances between national and local levels.
    It seems that there is a need for careful reflection on how to proceed further with the reform of state administration and self-government bodies at a regional level. A careful step-by-step approach is recommended. But Government and Rada (parliament) seem not to be capable or sufficiently interested in adopting legislation in support of the decentralisation process.

    The European Union supports the decentralisation reform not only with words but with concrete actions, with technical assistance and significant financial support. One of the main EU programmes is U-LEAD, a joint programme of the EU and its Member States Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Poland and Sweden. The EU is committed to support the reform process with significant amount of funds, exceeding EUR 200 million, mostly (102 million) from U-LEAD. The assistance is delivered through 24 Regional Centres all over Ukraine. These regional centres are very important platforms, providing tools to support the bottom-up dimension of the reforms. 

    The goal is to bring decision making closer to the Ukrainian people and in this way, helping Ukraine to build a more effective and transparent system of multi-level governance, ensuring benefits for ALL citizens. The Decentralisation process is crucial for achieving this result and, therefore, an integral part of the European integration process of Ukraine.

    These were the main results of the Third Meeting of the “Task Force on Ukraine“, organised by the European Committee of the Regions, held in Khyriv, Ukraine, on 30th of June 2017. IRE-chairman Franz Schausberger, in his capacity as special adviser of Johannes Hahn, Commissioner on enlargement and neighbourhood policy, mentioned in his speech the European Court of Auditor’s criticism that the EU funds unfortunately are not always allocated to the intended beneficiaries in a proper, transparent and impartial way by the national authorities of Ukraine.

     

     

    Bosnia and Herzegovina is becoming an economic interesting country for investors

    Relations between Austria and Bosnia-Herzegovina: Austria is the fifth-largest investor in the Republika Srpska
    The Institute of the Regions of Europe (IRE) organized on the 26th of June 2017 in Salzburg an international Panel Discussion on  “Bosnia and Herzegovina – the unknown partner for local and regional relations“, which took place in the International Salzburg Association.  In previous years, the IRE has arranged international panel discussions in various European countries to highlight the importance of interconnectedness and cooperation on municipal and regional levels.

     “Austrian companies have begun to settle in Bosnia and Herzegovina and companies from the West Balkans are on the best way to establish themselves in Austria”, said Dr. Franz Schausberger, Chairman of the IRE and Special Advisor to the EU, at the opening of the discussion. Apart from the fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the “most complex governmental systems in the world”, according to Schausberger, Austrian companies such as NETQM have successfully established themselves in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) for more than 10 years. 

    Founded in 2005, the Austrian company Network Quality Management GmbH, headquartered in Grödig near Salzburg as well as Mreža Network Derventa d.o.o in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a leading high-tech full-service provider in the area of mechatronics with a production site that employs about 300 people. The supply network- which ranges from electronics, plastics technology, mechanics, metal processing to assembly and final inspection – cooperates with Audi, Bosch and SKIDATA worldwide. CEO and General Manager of NETQM Markus Strasser-Stöckl emphasized above all the well-trained employees in the West Balkan countries as a key factor to invest in Bosnia and Herzegovina: “I stand by the people: They stand for their unity and try to get an education as well as work in their country. The personnel costs are relatively low and most of the people, especially the young generation, are very well trained, which is not self-evident”.
                                      
    From left to right: Milenko Cvijanović (Dorector of MTEL Austria GmbH), Markus Strasser-Stöckl (CEO and General Manager Network Quality Management GmbH), Tomislav Leko (Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Austria), Franz Schausberger (IRE-Chairman and Special Advisor to the EU), Igor Davidović (former Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Washington and Brussels) and Mladen Filipovic (Head of the Representation Office of Republika Srpska in Austria)
     
    Since 2000, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a potential candidate for EU-membership. The overall state, however, is a complex construct which is divided into the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. Within the country, there are always difficulties in finding a common position aligns with the EU.

    “It is hard to say whether we have the specific economic construction to become a member of the European Union, but we need to accept and accelerate those EU processes”, stressed Igor Davidović, former ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Washington and Brussels. This, above all, applies to investment in jobs to reduce unemployment. To achieve this, “regional cooperation between the various cities, cantons and municipalities is important, so that regions can be seen as attractive habitats and thus the rural exodus can be counteracted”.

    In contemplation to reduce unemployment in BiH, Ambassador of BiH in Austria, Tomislav Leko, emphasized the need to improve the conditions for foreign investors, the introduction of a free-trade zone as well as the development of transport corridors. “In pursuance to develop towards the EU, the country needs foreign investments, otherwise the development of the country is difficult to achieve. BiH needs an EU-integration process for transnational development”, added the ambassador.

    As an intermediary to promote the corresponding foreign investors in BiH, the telecommunication company MTEL Austria GmbH, which, according to the director, Dipl. Ing. Milenko Cvijanović, advises Austrian companies to invest in BiH. Based on this, the people from the West Balkan countries who live in Austria represent a “bridging-role” for outstanding cross-border relations.

    Mag. Mladen Filipovic, head of the Republika Srpska office in Austria, drew attention to the priority of persons living in Diaspora from BiH“BiH’s natural resources are its people”. It is only necessary to enter the country, which is accessible in just a few hours due to its central geographical location. Hence, this offers great advantages for companies. Additionally, a huge asset for investments are the “60 percent of jobseekers who have secondary or higher education”, says Filipovic and “30 percent of them are under 30 years of age”. To foster the entrepreneurial and economic potential of Austrian investments in BiH, low tax rates, low tax ratio of 33 percent of gross salary, cost-efficient labor and liberalized laws, have been provided to offers great incentives. Most importantly, the equal treatment of foreign investors paves the foundation for a successful economy.

    Dr. Franz Schausberger, summarized the discussed free trade zone of the West Balkans as a first step towards the EU. To establish themselves within the European market, competitiveness must be achieved. The EU offers funds to facilitate easier access to the market. The panel discussion organized by the IRE opened the possibility of promoting economic contacts between Austria and BiH and thus, according to former Ambassador Igor Davidović, leading BiH to “no longer be an unknown partner for Austria”.

                

     

    IRE-Patron Helmut Kohl dies at 87

    Mourning for the great former Federal Chancellor of Germany
     
    With deep regret the Institute of the Regions of Europe (IRE) announces, that the member of the IRE- Board of Patrons since 2007, Dr. Helmut Kohl, died on Friday June 16th 2017 in Ludwigshafen. Helmut Kohl was 87 years old at the time of his death. 

    Born in 1930 in Ludwigshafen, Kohl was Federal Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 and Chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from 1973 to 1998. His 16-year tenure was the longest of any German chancellor since Otto von Bismarck, and by far the longest of any democratically elected chancellor. 

    Kohl decisively shaped the process of reunification 1989/1990 as a “unification chancellor”. Together with the former French president François Mitterrand, he is considered as one of the architects of the Maastricht Treaty which have established the European Union and the introduction of the euro. Kohl received a large number of national and international awards.
                                                                                   Helmut Kohl with IRE-Chairman Franz Schausberger

    The IRE conveys his deepest sympathy and compassion to his family and will always keep his memory in honor.
     
     

    Predrag Štromar: New Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia

    New Deputy Vice Prime Minister of Croatia from IRE-member region Varaždin

    Croatia’s new coalition government comprising conservative HDZ party and liberal People’s Party (HNS) has been voted into office by parliament, receiving the support of 78 out of 151 MPs. After Ivan Vrdoljak resigned as president of the HNS party, HNS acting president Predrag Štromar was appointed Deputy Prime Minister as well as Construction and Physical Planning Minister of Croatia.

    Until recently, Predrag Štromar was president of the Varaždin County, but lost the third term of office to his former party colleague Radimir Čačić. However, he unexpectedly rose to the top of Croatian politics. His rise began in the party hierarchy in 2001, when he became a member of the presidency of the HNS of the Varaždin County. In 2004, he was not only elected as vice-president of the Varaždin County, who has been a member of the IRE network since 2005, but also as president of the HNS party. Four years later, in 2009, Štromar was elected president of the Varaždin County. The success was repeated four years later. The position of the Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia is the highlight of his career so far.

    From left to right: Franz Schausberger (IRE-Chairman and Special Advisor to the European Union), Predrag Štromar(Deputy Prime Minister of Croatia) and Andrej Plenković (Prime Minister of Croatia)
     
    Štromar was born in 1969 in Varaždin, is married and father of two girls. He studied at the Faculty of Economics and Business in Zagreb and was among other employed at the former food retail giant “Prehrana”. In 2002, he was appointed Director of INA d.d. Varaždin. At the same time, his party committee Radimir Čačić was Minister in the government of Ivica Račan.
     
    Source: www.seenews.com and www.direktno.hr

     

     

    IRE-Chairman Schausberger as guest on Austrian TV Channel Puls 4

    Topic “Disempowering federal states – Yes or No?”
    The second edition of “In the Name of the People” under the direction of the former president of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Republic of Austria, Irmgard Griss, took place on 11th June  2017 at 8:15 pm LIVE on PULS 4. The theme of the second episode dealt with the question of whether to omit legislation from federal states. Former Governor of Salzburg and IRE-Chairman, Franz Schausberger, and the President of the Austrian National Bank, Claus J. Raidl, discussed this controversial issue. They were supported by prominent experts and tried to convince the audience with their opinion on “Disempowering Federal States – Yes or No?”

    From 1996 to 2004 Franz Schausberger was the governor of Salzburg, is special adviser to the EU Commission and for 20 years member of the Committee of the Regions. He defended the Austrian federalism, and had the national music star Marc Pircher as well as the political scientist Kathrin Stainer-Hämmerle in his team. They emphasized citizenship as an importance aspect  of federal states for the life reality of the people. Schausberger also drew attention to the fact that countries need more creative leeways in order to remain attractive to the rural population: A Zillertal mountain farmer would need other laws than a Burgenland wine producer.

    With the help of experts, counter-questions and video-actors, Schausberger (pro federal states) and Raidl (contra federal states) tried to convince the wider audience. The Austrian Panel, which was selected by OGM, finally decided which side had the better arguments. Through social media and telephone hotline, Austria had expressed its opinion: 53 percent agreed with Dr. Schausberger, that the power of federal states should not be deprived. Only 47 percent voted “yes“.

    The result consisted of the distribution between female and male sex as well as municipalities under 2,000 and over 50,000 inhabitants: 58 percent of women and 47 percent of men were against a disempowerment. Regardless of size, a clear trend is evident in Austrian cities: Municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, voted with 55 percent against the disempowerment of federal states. In cities with a population below 2,000, there were even 61 percent who spoke in favor of federal states.

    “In the Name of the People” – the first recurring political show in the main evening program of Austria, deals once a month with the current socio-political issues of Austria. 

     
     

     Source: www.puls4.com und www.ogm.at

     

     


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