Following a partnership agreement signed on Tuesday (6 September), the French regional districts – or departments – will be brought closer to the European institutions, notably to facilitate the financing of projects at a more local level.
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The agreement will further facilitate EU funding for France’s 80 departments, which are tasked with the promotion of territorial cohesion and solidarity in areas such as education, health, culture and access to transportation.
“There is a desire for Europe to get closer to the departments for the sake of social and territorial cohesion and a desire for the departments to make a move towards the European ideal which, in a time of crisis, is self-evident,” François Sauvaget, president of the Association of French Departments, told EURACTIV.
On Tuesday, Sauvaget welcomed two permanent representatives of the European Commission in Paris to sign a partnership agreement between the French departments and the EU.
“At the European level, what is particularly important is to ensure the proximity between European policies and the daily life of French citizens. The department is a driving force in this daily life”, said Valérie Drezet-Humez, permanent representative of the European Commission in France.
Pierre Loaëc, head of the European Commission’s regional representation in France, told EURACTIV: “We are really trying to focus on the departmental level to bring Europe as close as possible to local elected officials and territorial agents.”
The agreement’s primary aim is to provide local elected officials with better information on how Europe works and the role of its institutions. The main objective is to raise awareness of the various funding possibilities to support them in their local projects.
Even today, European mechanisms are deemed complex to access and are, therefore, hardly used.
“For the departments, it is a way of benefiting from European opportunities that are perhaps not well known,” Drezet-Humez said.
Employment, youth and environment
Among the primary fields of action of the convention is employment, youth, rural areas, cultural exchanges and energy transition.
Officials also hope the agreement will provide the opportunity for the departments to “bring up the difficulties they experience on a day-to-day basis and which, at a much more macro-European level, are difficult to see”, according to the Commission representative.
In practice, the agreement will consist of webinars concerning the local implementation of European policies, meetings between departmental and European elected representatives, and the dissemination of information on both parties’ websites.
Links between the European Union and the departments already exist through the help of the European Social Fund (ESF): the 80 regional departments have access to this €11.3 million budget to promote employment and social inclusion.
Youth organisations have lately expressed their support for the idea of greater integration with EU institutions.
In the Côte d’Or department in Burgundy-Franche-Comté, the members of the Departmental Youth Council drew up a charter in September 2020 to defend the idea of a more united Europe. The charter drew praise from French President Emmanuel Macron.
“They went to meet their MEPs in Strasbourg to express their hopes and expectations. There is a real desire to get closer to the European institutions,” said Sauvaget.
“In a world under tension, Europe has never been so needed. The ideal of peace and freedom is an answer to the rise of nationalist and populist impulses,” he concluded.
[Edited by Alice Taylor/Nathalie Weatherald]