We came across a wide range of topics at the annual EU regions event in Brussels, where there was an Irish interest also. The subjects varied from migrants to skills, education and training, farming and leader programmes, climate change and many more areas of interest.Jobs were also a key approach with the skills component and composition in a region being key. An ETB man from Donegal spoke of how Ireland‘s system works but earlier we learned how other countries promoted an entrepreneurial culture, which can help if there is a lack of local jobs and people need to set up their own business.
Sometimes part-time work can be combined with someone going self-employed so that they have some basic income and can see if their project is successful, it was said by an Italian that an entrepreneur culture in an area can ease job losses.Having different skills is also important and being mobile and willing to work in other locations. Today, youth are often working part time in urban regions and there is a growing trend for this in less developed regions.Developing a tech industry is also important and being ready for the future. The Donegal ETB assistant manager spoke of their efforts in combating youth unemployment and trying to have a national youth guarantee as stated by another speaker, he said it is important to get meaningful jobs in the post Brexit context.
He recalled in Donegal how bus loads used to leave the region for jobs in the 80s emigration period and happened again in past decade, but now with more EU assistance they can do more training with apprenticeships and training centres, they look after the older age category who need digital skills and also women too wanting to re-enter the work force with new skills. Post leaving certs courses were also explained.
He gave an example of an electrician with on job training and college courses too over a four-year period off job one quarter on job training three quarters on job learning and working. The qualifications are now transferable across the EU for various levels.
Another theme was how science meets the regions and how young scientists are making an impact across Europe including Ireland. There were also presentations on Social Europe ranging from elderly care to having minimum living standards. The UK spoke about care of the elderly in the community and how social programmes are there. We learned about how Stockholm and Sweden are well ahead on climate changes with zero emissions public transport. How sniffer bikes in the Dutch city of Utrecht can detect air quality with a small electronic device attached to the bike. Promotions of entrepreneurships is a goal of that city too, where the stakeholders co-operate.
States can work together under various programmes and learn from one another. As it turns out Ireland is seen as one of the most better off regions under EU GDP rules, where US multi-national’s profits are included so not fully accurate for the average person.
Europe and Defence
The defence of Europe was another topic and we listened to a German MP speak on how Germany will have to increase defence spending up to 2 per cent, as UK leaves the EU, Russia becomes more assertive and the US is turning inward in world politics. The UK was seen as a great defence country in terms of strength for the EU and their leaving will be missed, hence a bigger load may be on Germany which is not popular in their home country given the tragic history of two world wars.The loss of the UK will lead to about 10 per cent reduction in EU funds for distribution with the cohesion fund to be hit and the CAP and farm supports hit too but not by as much. Climate change and sustainability are key elements in EU spending for the next programme and budget not finalised yet, Ireland will likely pay more. Forestry could be expanded as a carbon positive approach.
These are long-term global goals, said EU regions commissioner Klara, as Greta Thunberg and the extinction rebellion motivates change towards greener goals, one must be optimistic and also realistic. Were we ambitious enough, was one point made at the EP debate.
Karl Lambertz from Luxembourg, President of the European committee of the Regions in the EU, said we should invest more in this renewable energy sector as banks rates are so low and will give a return.
Kirsten Currie of the Highlands in Scotland spoke passionately against Brexit and got very emotional. Scotland is more sensible and mainly left of centre, they feel marginalised by the English moves on Brexit and would rather be with EU than UK outside Europe. Scotland is poorer and benefits more from EU social funds. She reckoned many English leave voters in the poorer north England were getting social funds benefits yet voted to leave in old industrial cities. They were given scary and misleading messages, in this populist revolt support by bigger investors and media titans.
The European Parliament vice president, Klara Dobrev from Hungary, also spoke on the danger of fake news and that the EU needed to do more marketing of the benefits of the EU and not be misled by false messages. The EU is for peace, prosperity, solidarity, values and cohesion. She was anxious to fight against misinformation, which can destroy countries and as a Hungarian, she said she would know.
Brussels and EU need to explain more to its citizens and see where the priorities are. It also suggested that some new laws may be needed in the European parliament was another contribution from a Polish speaker. There was also an information attack on the EU from outside the EU.
There was also a suggestion, following the Brexit result, that the older generation in polls have been shown to be more anti-EU and that young people more pro Europe. Other cross Europe surveys have come up with similar results in countries like Italy and Central Europe, but less so in Northern Europe, excluding UK.