Interview with Mercedes Bresso, president, EU Committee of the Regions
“Our goal is to be the EU’s second political assembly”
By Isabelle Smets | Tuesday 17 July 2012
The EU Committee of the Regions (CoR) will choose a new president, on 18 July. Mercedes Bresso, elected in February 2010, will hand over to Ramon Luis Valcárcel Siso (EPP, Spain) under an agreement reached by the political groups. The Italian Socialist reviewed her two and a half years at the head of the EU’s youngest institution forEuropolitics.
What appraisal do you make of your 33 months of presidency?
I was elected at a special time, right after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force. We did a lot of work to be able to put the CoR’s new powers into practice, including the possibility to refer violations of the subsidiarity principle to the EU Court of Justice. The Secretariat-General was reorganised, we started monitoring subsidiarity and we rethought our role in relation to other treaty innovations, including the citizens’ initiative and recognition of the principle of territorial cohesion. We were very active during these two years on key issues: the future EU budget, cohesion policy, the CAP and ‘Europe 2020’. We asserted ourselves internationally as well, particularly on climate change and sustainable development. We were present in Rio. This presidency can pride itself on its achievements: we succeeded in making clear the importance of having to deal with regional and local authorities.
Is this reflected in your relations with the other institutions?
Obviously, starting with the European Commission. Our relations have been strengthened over the last two years with a new cooperation agreement. The Commission is well aware that it is in its interests to work with us. It increasingly relies on us to create instruments connecting Europe and its regions. We worked with the executive on all the key issues. We set up computerised platforms with it – like the ‘Europe 2020’ platform and the EGTC [European grouping for territorial cooperation] platform – which allow exchanges with and between local and regional officials on these European initiatives. Relations with DG Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy were also significantly increased. We took part in joint missions, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Croatia. The CoR was the first institution to admit observers from Croatia.
Are ties with the European Parliament even more natural?
Our goal is to be the EU’s second political assembly. We form alliances with Parliament on many issues, first and foremost cohesion policy. Our rapporteurs and I worked side by side with Parliament’s rapporteurs and results emerged very quickly. We were able to gain support for our positions on important aspects, such as the rejection of macro-conditionality and the involvement of regions and municipalities. Contacts with Parliament also develop at political group level. Our assembly is increasing its use of discretionary referrals.
Relations have also evolved with the European Economic and Social Committee. We have tried to do away with a sort of competition that makes no sense. We have gone beyond simple administrative cooperation. It doesn’t make much sense for us to consider ourselves as competitors. We are partners on cohesion policy, for example. Together we represent the other side of the mirror: Europe that applies, that protests sometimes, and that can make a success - or not – of the EU’s key strategies like ‘Europe 2020’.
Are things harder with the Council?
When you look at where we’ve come from, our relations have improved considerably with the European Council over the last two years, thanks to Herman Van Rompuy. Things are perfect with him: he comes to the CoR, he meets us before important European Councils. That was never done before. Since he comes from a federal state he is a born regionalist and with him, we have been able to structure our relations with the European Council. We have also created very good relations with the Presidencies, especially when decentralised countries are at the helm or countries that attach importance to cohesion policy, like Hungary and Poland. This has helped the CoR increase its visibility. With Cyprus, the CoR was invited for the first time to an informal Employment and Social Policy Council. This is a matter of taking one step at a time.
Is multilevel governance starting to become accepted?
I would say so. We’re even starting to hear it mentioned at the United Nations, in the context of the United Nations Environment Programme. In any case, multilevel governance is the only way to solve competence problems. There are many levels of government in Europe and they cannot be avoided. There cannot be any exclusive distribution of competences.
How will the CoR’s work evolve?
I think that we will increasingly need a strong presence by all our members, especially rapporteurs and committee chairs. An institution’s importance can be seen when the president cannot manage to be present everywhere. We have reached that point. We have to call up all our resources.
What will you do after the presidency?
I am first vice-president and I have my mandate in Torino. I may stand in the next European Parliament elections. I could be very useful there. Parliament needs members who have served as local officials. That works both ways, moreover.