We met Corina Cretu, European Commissioner for Regional Policy, to discuss the current challenges Europe is facing in supporting jobs and economic growth. She stressed that, 40 years after its creation, regional policy is the most important investment tool of the EU. The new 2014-2020 priorities are research and innovation, the digital agenda, support to SMEs and the low-carbon economy. Regarding green growth, European Union will invest more than EUR 38 billion in the low-carbon economy, which is twice the amount spent during the previous funding period. These investments will help regions and cities invest in energy-efficient buildings, renewable energy, smart grids and sustainable urban transport. Commissioner Crețu also stressed that we have to cut red tape: “We do need further simplification of our procedures, while preserving sound administrative and financial management. I know this is a difficult challenge, but I do not want to hear again that an SME is no longer interested in receiving our support, because it finds it too lengthy or bureaucratic.”

We talked with Roger Evans, Deputy Mayor of London, about the business development challenges facing cities today as they compete globally for skills and investment. Roger told us about his passion for the city and its vibrant development, describing recent initiatives such as the “Smart London” plan adopted in 2014. He said that London’s economy is expected to double over the next 20 years. We hope to be there to see if he is right, but the chances are high that he will be.

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.”