On 27 October 2021, during its 41st session, the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities debated “Covid: the road to recovery?”. The debate tackled pressing issues at stake in European cities and regions: how can societies recover from the crisis as the health situation appears to be stabilizing in many European countries? As local and regional authorities found themselves at the frontline as the pandemic surged, their responses to economic and social challenges remain crucial as the pandemic and its aftermath continues.
OECD Deputy Secretary General, Ulrik Vestergaard-Knudsen, and the Appointed Governor of the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), Carlo Monticelli, participated in the debate as guest speakers.
The OECD Deputy Secretary-General highlighted the heterogeneity of the economic and social consequences of the pandemic among regions. The geography of the Covid-19 crisis has revealed growing regional inequalities in access to health, he explained, and noted that where there is less confidence in governments, vaccination campaigns were less effective. He underlined the need to develop national recovery strategies by moving away from traditional approaches, through proactive regional development policies adapted to the specific region. “We now have an opportunity to leverage the massive inflow of recovery funds from governments to do things differently,” he said. This requires sustainable strategies that strengthen the resilience of regions, in particular with regard to climate change, digitization and the acceleration of remote work.
According to Mr. Vestergaard-Knudsen, cities and regions are key players in this recovery. " Two-thirds of public investment dedicated to climate and environment is undertaken by subnational governments, which are also key public investors as they are responsible for 40% of public expenditure and for 57% of public investment across OECD countries," he explained. He called to provide them with sufficient fiscal space and promote new sources of financing, to clearly allocate responsibilities across public authorities, to capitalise on the role of subnational authorities to restore citizens' trust in government, and to strengthen institutional and fiscal coordination across all levels of government.
Appointed Governor Monticelli underlined the deep economic and social wounds caused by the Covid-19 crisis and the fragility of the recovery. “The pandemic has only added to pre-existing challenges in access to health, education and housing, and we have a collective responsibility to fix this,” he said. Mr. Monticelli underlined the role of local and regional authorities as "precious allies when it comes to delivering high impact social investments to communities most in need". He recalled the CEB's experience in supporting long-term investment programs of local, regional and municipal entities, and its ability to provide flexible and targeted support through different financial instruments. Many CEB’s Covid relief programmes concluded with national governments also included components in support of local and regional governments.
Congress members stressed the need for concrete responses to growing inequalities and the difficulty of investing in times of decreasing responsibilities and budget.
The Congress never stopped supporting and advising local and regional authorities during the pandemic. The web platform Congress Hub relays and promotes concrete initiatives of communities towards recovery. The regular monitoring of the European Charter of Local Self-Government defends their right to autonomy and subsidiarity. In the debates of the 41st session of the Congress, members stressed the need for cities and regions to prepare innovative post-Covid strategies: a smarter, greener, and more inclusive urbanity, the increased importance of digitalisation, and the need to prevent the collapse of democratic achievements.
*** 41st Session of the Congress***