New COR Pres­i­dent: Baltics is bell­wether for oth­ers as­pir­ing to EU mem­ber­ship

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

Karl-heinz Lam­bertz, a Bel­gian politi­cian hold­ing a Master's De­gree in Law, with an ad­di­tional spe­cial­iza­tion in Ger­man Law and a mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee of the Re­gions (COR) of the Euro­pean Union since 1999, where he be­came the first vice-pres­i­dent of the in­sti­tu­tion in 2015, has taken over the Pres­i­dency of the Com­mit­tee from Markku Markkula. Af­ter the first sit­ting he chaired in the new ca­pac­ity in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, Lam­bertz was kind to an­swer a cou­ple ques­tions from The Baltic Times.

Are you go­ing to con­tinue the poli­cies of your pre­de­ces­sor, Markku Markkula, or are you in­tend­ing to bring some changes?

Fun­da­men­tally, the Com­mit­tee of Re­gions has set its pro­gramme for five years. It started in 2015, and now, we are in the midst of the im­ple­men­ta­tion, so I will con­tinue it and the poli­cies along with Mr Markkula, who, from now on, will be Vice-pres­i­dent of the Com­mit­tee. The pro­gramme has been al­ready adapted to the chal­lenges that the Euro­pean Union faces. In fact, the chal­lenges are on­go­ing and new ones emerge – no one can tell what the po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions will be in Europe in a half year from now. How­ever, we are well aware of two things: first, we need to pre­pare for the next Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tion whilst mak­ing the func­tion­ing of the Euro­pean Union bet­ter. Bet­ter were we well pre­pared for it, hav­ing de­liv­ered on the prom­ises for our cit­i­zens.

What do you be­lieve are the big­gest chal­lenges for the Euro­pean Union, the Com­mit­tee of Re­gions and your pres­i­dency, too?

We have some per­ma­nent chal­lenges aris­ing from our re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing a strong voice of the Euro­pean Union for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties across the bloc. This is a con­tin­u­ous process and our per­for­mance is judged by them on a daily ba­sis.

Se­condly, we have big obli­ga­tions stem­ming from our com­mit­ments to green poli­cies. I find them be­ing of ut­most im­por­tance, thence my sat­is­fac­tion with the Com­mit­tee’s new poli­cies in mak­ing lo­cal trans­porta­tion cleaner (The EC and Cor-ap­proved in early July Clean Bus De­ploy­ment ini­tia­tive is based on the fol­low­ing three pil­lars: a pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion en­dors­ing a com­mon am­bi­tion of cities and man­u­fac­tur­ers to ac­cel­er­ate roll-out of clean buses; cre­at­ing a de­ploy­ment plat­form where pub­lic au­thor­i­ties, pub­lic trans­port op­er­a­tors, man­u­fac­tur­ers and fi­nan­cial or­gan­i­sa­tions can come to­gether with the aim to bet­ter ex­change in­for­ma­tion; cre­at­ing an ex­pert group bring­ing to­gether ac­tors from the de­mand and sup­ply side).

If we want to be suc­cess­ful with a low-car­bon econ­omy, we have to change our minds and pri­ori­tise clean en­ergy en­deav­ors lo­cally.

Thirdly, there’s the com­plex­ity of im­mi­gra­tion is­sues at which cusp is the abil­ity of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to carry out in­te­gra­tion of the new set­tlers. This is an is­sue of im­mense im­por­tance. Last but not least is the acute­ness of so­cial prob­lems in many parts of the bloc – the dis­par­ity of the re­gion’s de­vel­op­ment, so­cial ex­clu­sion, etc.

Can you weigh in on the EU’S Co­he­sion Pol­icy? Does it work well? What do you be­lieve needs to be fixed or ad­justed in it?

I am deeply con­vinced from my per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences that the Co­he­sion Pol­icy is work­ing well, yet noth­ing in the world is change-proof – there’s al­ways some­thing that can or should be done bet­ter. And the Co­he­sion Pol­icy – I mean the eco­nomic co­he­sion, the ter­ri­to­rial and re­gional co­he­sion and many other di­men­sions of it – is not an ex­cep­tion from the rule. We do need to have a bet­ter in­te­gra­tion of all the EU poli­cies – we need to en­sure syn­ergy among them, but syn­ergy does not mean that one pol­icy can be re­placed with the other and vice versa. We have to make sure that EU co­he­sion poli­cies are im­ple­mented by ef­fi­cient, lo­cally trusted au­thor­i­ties.

Do you have an idea how to im­prove the use of EU funds- and the Co­he­sion Pol­icy money – en­hanc­ing the trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity? The re­al­ity is the money is not oc­ca­sion­ally mis­used or em­bez­zled.

I think we have proper mech­a­nisms to see what is be­ing done or what has been done, and how, I mean with Euro­pean money. In fact, the prob­lem I reckon partly lies in the com­plex­ity of some of the au­dits. I some­times think the ad­min­is­tra­tive bur­den for sides is just too big – we must sim­plify some of the over­see­ing pro­ce­dures, stream­lin­ing them, so that they are un­der­stood by all the par­ties in­volved.

How will your agenda as the Pres­i­dent of the Com­mit­tee of Re­gions tap into the agenda of Es­to­nia as the pres­i­dency of the EU’S Euro­pean Coun­cil?

I am def­i­nitely look­ing for­ward to hav­ing syn­ergy with the com­mit­ment that Es­to­nia has as­sumed for a half year. In fact, we have so far very good and in­tense re­la­tions with Es­to­nia – we’ve planned a set of high-pro­file meet­ings of our Com­mit­tee in Septem­ber and we are def­i­nitely look­ing for­ward to them.

Let me end this short in­ter­view with this ques­tion: where do you be­lieve the Baltics are the cham­pi­ons of the EU re­gions and where could they do bet­ter?

I rather not speak of the de­tails, how­ever, I’d like to ac­cen­tu­ate a cou­ple of things. First, the three small Baltic na­tions’ EU ac­ces­sion has played out to be a big suc­cess story for them. Es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the geopo­lit­i­cal and ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion they are in. Se­condly, the Baltics set out an ex­am­ple for the other states as­pir­ing to be­come an EU mem­ber some day.

Karl-heinz Lam­bertz is the new pres­i­dent of the Com­mit­tee of Re­gions in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment

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