We met Annabelle Jaeger, member of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Regional Council (France) with responsibility for biodiversity, to hear her thoughts on the negotiations for COP21 that are currently underway. She emphasised that it was possible to make our environmental commitments even more robust by suggesting an even greater reduction in CO2 emissions: “By 2030, we believe that Europe could reduce emissions by half compared with 1990 levels, meet 40% of its energy consumption from renewable energy sources and make energy savings of 40%, particularly in the construction and transport sectors.”

“I want to reform and reorganise Europe’s energy policy in a new European Energy Union”, said Jean-Claude Juncker, the new president of the European Commission, at the beginning of his term of office. We met with his Vice-President responsible for the Energy Union, Maros Sefcovic, to see more clearly where we stand today in terms of deploying a new energy policy of this kind. Maros Sefcovic explained the main feature of the Energy Union strategy, which is a fundamental transition in Europe’s energy system towards a low-carbon economy, as well as his commitment to climate policy: “An ambitious climate policy is an integral part of the Energy Union. EU Member States agreed to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions EU-wide compared to 1990. This is an inspiring contribution to international climate negotiations and the European Union engages in climate diplomacy to convince other countries to join the EU’s efforts”. He believes that local and regional governments have a strategic role in implementing this new strategy.

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.”