Luca Zaia: Regions have a central role to play in driving forward Europe

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.

What do you expect as a new member of the European Committee of the Regions?

I have always firmly believed that regions have a central role to play in driving forward the dynamics of the EU. As a new member of the Committee of the Regions, I shall strive to foster the involvement of the regions in the EU decision-making process and ensure that citizens play a more active part. The Europe of the future is a Europe of Regions and Macro-regions. I believe that this is the real challenge: 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.

What will be your priorities in Brussels?

Europe’s richness lies in its diversity. Harnessing local resources is thus key to ending the current economic crisis while preserving the special characteristics of local products. SMEs form the backbone of many regional economies, and they need strategic investment that will also help to boost employment, especially among young people. My work at the Committee will focus on these issues. The key priorities that will guide my work at the Committee of the Regions will be boosting employment and economic growth.

SMEs form the backbone of many regional economies, and they need strategic investment that will also help to boost employment, especially among young people.

The 2014 report on the labour market in the Veneto region shows a period of crisis, with unemployment at 7.6%, and more especially a situation where one young person in two is either unable to find work or only has insecure employment. The region is working to tackle this situation, which is common to many EU regions, by making full use of EU instruments such as the Youth Guarantee and the opportunities provided by projects such as “FITT! Forma il tuo Futuro”, a new scheme for devising innovative ways to support apprenticeship pathways.

Looking at the impact of the financial crisis, how do you see the implementation of the Juncker plan?

Helping to end the crisis and boost employment means giving businesses practical opportunities for growth. The projects submitted by our region for the Juncker plan thus focus on the development of major infrastructure. Our projects include the expansion of Venice airport and its rail links, modernising the Venice-Trieste motorway, the offshore port and deep-water terminal, and the agreement between the northern Adriatic ports. I believe that a framework agreement between the northern Adriatic ports, with the opening of the Adriatic-Baltic corridor, is crucial for the competitiveness of the Adriatic region. Similarly, the inclusion of the offshore port in the Juncker plan recognises the strategic nature of this infrastructure.

How could your innovative actions in the Veneto Region inspire other members of the Committee?

The region is developing major European initiatives to stimulate employment, especially among young people. In recent decades the Veneto has offered Italy and Europe a strong business-development model based on the talent and skills of its many small businesses. This model remains relevant and can still prove a force for regional development and an example for other European regions. The Veneto region has thus taken major initiatives to support youth entrepreneurship, such as its “Crea Lavoro” project, to encourage the creation of new businesses and channel the creative and innovative potential of large numbers of young people.

This has been flanked in recent years by a number of policies to support the central role of the family, as a key factor for strengthening social cohesion and economic development. Particular examples would include policies for improving work-life balance: distance working, part-time, work and home-based crèches, paternity leave; household mutual support networks; “work-life balance audits” – a quality certificate given to firms which adopt measures to improve work-life balance. At the same time, the Veneto region is striving to address the challenge of an ageing population by working to integrate health and social care so as to improve quality of life and reduce the costs of assistance.

The Veneto region is striving to address the challenge of an ageing population by working to integrate health and social care so as to improve quality of life and reduce the costs of assistance.

And it is not only young people who can provide a resource for economic and social development. Our region also pursues active ageing policies which make the most of the experience and skills of older people, with innovative projects such as “civic service” whereby older people can get involved in local community activities. These are good practices which we are keen to share with members from other regions, and which can provide important input for re-launching the economy and jobs, thereby also helping to improve quality of life.