On 12 October 2020, the European Committee of the Regions published the first edition of the “The EU Annual Regional and Local Barometer”, which looks at the situation of local and regional authorities in Europe. From now on, the report will be published annually and describes developments in global trends and their implications for EU policies at regional and local level for the coming year.

This year’s edition focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. EU regional and local authorities have been on the frontline in tackling the health crisis and keeping people safe. The report shows how they are also key to the economic recovery. It highlights the impact on the most vulnerable in our communities and presents new public opinion data on these issues, polled less than a month before publication.

Considering the link between local and regional authorities and providers of SGIs, CEEP will monitor the follow-up initiatives which might stem from this report. You can consult the Annual Regional and Local Barometer here, and some key messages here below.

Pandemic as a crisis for the health sector

The rapid spread of the coronavirus initially triggered a public health crisis across the EU, with local and regional authorities immediately having to draw up emergency plans to deal with the pandemic and protect citizens. The pandemic has affected regions to varying degrees. According to the report, this could be partly explained by differences in the health systems’ capacity, the proportion of elderly people in the population and other regional factors such as poverty, urbanisation and air pollution. Another factor was that the virus reached countries and regions at different times.

Evaluation of the Guidance on Public Procurement

The Guidance on Public Procurement that was published by the Commission on 1 April summarised the flexibilities available under the Directives on Public Procurement. As regards the flexibility in public procurement legislation, the respondents of a survey indicate that they were well aware (85%) of this already before the Commission issued its guidance on flexible public procurement under the COVID-19 crisis. A majority (65%) have also used these flexibilities and indicate that to their knowledge these flexibilities were used both at national level (55%) and regional level (60%). An overwhelming majority stressed that the current crisis showed that simplification is feasible, and that it should therefore be implemented.

Evaluation of the Temporary Framework on State Aid as an answer to the pandemic

Turning to state aid, a vast majority of the respondents were aware of the Temporary Framework (85%) and 75% had themselves implemented measures under the Temporary Framework. The most common measure was aid in the form of direct grants (55%), followed by aid in the form of guarantees and loans channelled through credit institutions (35%). In general, the respondents had a favourable view of the Temporary Framework, with 75% agreeing, or strongly agreeing, that the Temporary Framework facilitated an appropriate response to the challenges posed by covid-19. The majority took the view that the Temporary Framework enabled the Member States to offer support measures at short notice and without complications to companies that had experienced liquidity bottlenecks and payment difficulties because of the pandemic.

The impact of the pandemic on the economy and employment

As a result of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, over 90 percent of local and regional authorities within the EU expect a sharp drop in their revenues. On the other hand, the pandemic has also brought about positive developments to a lesser extent. For example, the information and communication sector has grown steadily since the beginning of the crisis and more attention is now being paid to broadband development. In addition, there has been an increase in the acceptance of new forms of work and the provision of online services for interaction between citizens, authorities, and companies.

Acceptability of EU measures at regional and local level

A survey found that EU citizens trusted local and regional authorities (52%) more than the EU (47%) and their national governments (43%) to mitigate the effects of the crisis. Most respondents feel that the influence of local authorities on policy decisions at EU level is too limited. At the same time, more than half of respondents call for the EU to be given greater powers to deal with crises. In future, policy measures should therefore be better coordinated between all levels of government and the regional and local level should be more involved.

The impact on the environment

The pandemic had a positive but temporary effect on air quality within the EU. Whilst the effect was clearly measurable in conurbations, it was significantly lower in rural areas. However, the interaction between the coronavirus, the climate and the environment are very complex and multi-dimensional: For example, there are indications of higher infection rates in areas with higher air pollution.

Concluding recommendations and proposals

Capacities of health and emergency systems in all regions of Europe will be enhanced to better respond to future crises. Financial resources for reconstruction and recovery should be distributed amongst regions according to the intensity of the crisis impact. In addition, the local and regional level should be more closely involved in the design and management of reconstruction and resilience plans, which is currently insufficiently done. A priority should also be to support small and medium-sized enterprises and the cultural sector, which have been particularly weakened by the pandemic. Despite the coronavirus crisis, the implementation of the European Green Deal and the generally desired structural change should not be jeopardised. Furthermore, the partnership and multi-level governance principle in cohesion policy is to be maintained in any case and the internal market strengthened. Finally, the Committee calls to secure the financial position and investment capacity of local and regional authorities in the future and to strengthen democracy both inside and outside the EU.

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