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 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.