We met François Decoster, Mayor of Saint-Omer in France and newly elected chairman of the European Committee of the Regions’ CIVEX commission, which also covers external relations policies, to discuss the recent evolution of the crisis in Ukraine, in particular the state of play of decentralisation reform. Decentralisation reform is part of the Minsk agreement and will tackle the sensitive issue of Eastern regions, but also the broader need for modern and efficient administration.

Luca Zaia is a former Italian Minister of Agriculture and the President of the Veneto Region since 2010. In 1995, he became a Councillor for Agriculture for the Province of Treviso and in 1998 he was elected as the youngest Provincial President in Italy, working in various sectors including agriculture, safety, tourism and education. As a new member of the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels, he has stressed the need to place local authorities at the heart of cohesion policy in order to promote economic growth, revitalise industry, boost employment and combat poverty and social exclusion.

The president of the European Investment Bank, Werner Hoyer, has expressed its commitment and willingness to support growth and jobs, and to assist in the financing of the Juncker plan. In 2014, it lent EUR 77 billion to EU Member States. He also stresseed that “many private investors are starved of investments providing them with a modest but safe return, which the EIB’s AAA rating guarantees.”

Shortly after his election as the new president of the European Committee of the Regions, we met Markku Markkula to discuss not only his views and priorities for his two-and-a-half year term of office, but also his local and regional experience in his native Finland. He stressed that Europe needs to rebuild the trust of its citizens, be more engaged at neighbourhood level, preserve its values and principles, but, first and foremost, in a time of continuing economic crisis, be able to support business-friendly policies and be future-oriented: “Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman had both political courage and vision; today, if we want to renew the European project, we have to be more courageous and innovative and perhaps less politically correct.”

On the occasion of the Scottish referendum, we met in Geneva an eminent expert on regional questions, Emeritus Professor of the University of Geneva, Charles Ricq. Professor Ricq is secretary-general of the European Centre for Observation of the Regions (COEUR). In the course of the interview he stressed that it was important to speak not of a Europe of regions but of a Europe with regions.

Europe is still searching for a way to get back on its feet. We met with Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General since 2006, to discuss the challenges facing Europe’s regions and cities. Secretary-General Gurría stressed that “policies that take account of regional differences will be crucial to mitigating the long-term consequences of the crisis and tackling challenges such as population aging, environmental sustainability and inclusive growth. Our countries need new and original ideas for creating growth and jobs and enhancing public investment, education and transparency. This will require engaging and empowering regions and cities.”