Greetings from the European Week of Regions and Cities in Brussels

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2019-11-05 City of Espoo

The annual European Week of Regions and Cities was held from 7 to 10 October 2019 in Brussels and once again Espoo was well represented.

The seminars and the plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions discussed the policies on climate change and sustainable development, the conditions for entrepreneurship and business activities and the content of the EU’s multiannual financial framework and the urgency of deciding on it to ensure that all activities can fully continue as the new term begins at the beginning of 2021. Other topics brought up at almost every seminar included new innovations, digitalisation and the dissemination of good solutions as quickly as possible through collaboration between regions and cities. Brexit and its consequences were also among the topics discussed.

Convention Centre SQUARE in Brussels

Photo: Virpi Pakkala

The week brought some 10,000 participants and 600 speakers to Brussels. The events spread throughout the city, but the main venues were the SQUARE Brussels Convention Centre, located next to the central railway station, and the building of the European Committee of the Regions next door to the European Parliament.

People joining the European Week of Regions

Photo: Virpi Pakkala

The programme consisted of more than one hundred working sessions, exhibitions and networking events focusing on regional and local development. Every year the content is adapted to the EU’s priorities.

European Committee of the Regions, Sirpa Hertell's opinion in the plenary session

The opinion presented by Sirpa Hertell is being discussed in the photo. The plenary session was chaired by Markku Markkula and Hertell’s expert was Professor Taina Tukiainen from Aalto University. Photo: Pauliina Haijanen.

During the week, the European Committee of the Regions adopted, at its plenary session, the opinion drafted by Sirpa Hertell, a member of the Espoo City Council, outlining the implementation of the UN sustainable development goals at regional and local level.
“We have to remember that the changes are made at local level, as local authorities are responsible for 65% of the implementation of the sustainable development goals. In order to achieve the goals, it is essential to establish local and regional objectives, milestones and progress indicators and to engage the citizens,” Hertell says.

The opinion presented by Hertell focuses on the circular economy, biodiversity, climate actions and clean, affordable energy.
“The sustainable development goals offer Europe an opportunity to achieve a profound economic, ecological and social change. This requires input from European regions and cities. The importance of the local level has been ignored in the Commission’s discussion paper,” Hertell says.

The opening speech on ageing was given on behalf of Markku Markkula by Professor Taina Tukiainen from Aalto University

Photo: Virpi Pakkala

Markku Markkula, the First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions and Chairman of the Espoo City Board, spoke at eight seminars and conferences during the week. During the plenary sessions, Markkula highlighted several examples from Espoo, including the 6Aika cooperation between the six largest cities in Finland to boost digitalisation and urban innovations as well as the joint efforts of Fortum and the City of Espoo to end coal combustion at the Suomenoja power plant by 2025. The opening speech on ageing was given on his behalf by Professor Taina Tukiainen from Aalto University.

“It is wonderful to meet our European partners and discuss common issues such as global warming, research, innovations and ageing and how we can together build the Europe of the future,” Tukiainen said and continued: “The importance of continuous learning cannot be overemphasised. Continuous learning is a natural way of living and sharing our common joy. It is our job to ensure that everyone’s right to learning and play is respected. I believe that it is very important in terms of equality.”

The European Committee of the Regions is an official EU body with 350 members. It takes part in various stages of the EU’s legislative process, one example being the opinions adopted at the plenary sessions. The committee also cooperates closely with authorities at member state, regional and local levels, taking care of influencing channels and promoting political debate not only in Brussels but also in the EU regions and municipalities as well as networks outside Europe.

A photo from a workshop

Photo: Jasmin Repo

European workshops are often more like panels than workshops. At this workshop on 10 October, entitled “Societal challenges in smart cities: towards a more ethical smart city”, Markkula told about urban development in Espoo.

Espoo's official side event at Helsinki EU Office

Photo: Konsta Ylimaunu / Helsinki EU Office

On 8 October, the City of Espoo held an official side event at Helsinki EU Office where 50 representatives of European cities and EU institutions learned about Espoo’s City as a Service development and the utilisation of customer data and artificial intelligence. The guest speaker was Eric Badiqué, Adviser for Artificial Intelligence at the European Commission, and the event was hosted by Jasmin Repo from the City of Espoo (pictured above).

Check out Johanna Lyytikäinen’s blog post if you want to read more about the City of Espoo event at Helsinki EU Office.

A group photo of the Finnish women at the opening event

A group photo of the Finnish women at the opening event. Photo: Markku Markkula.

This blog post features some of the highlights of the European Week of Regions and Cities 2019 in Brussels. #euregionsweek