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Procedure : 2021/2112(DEC)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A9-0063/2022

Texts tabled :

A9-0063/2022

Debates :

PV 04/05/2022 - 6
CRE 04/05/2022 - 6

Votes :

PV 04/05/2022 - 8.10

Texts adopted :

P9_TA(2022)0150

Texts adopted
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Wednesday, 4 May 2022 - Strasbourg
Discharge 2020: EU general budget - Committee of the Regions
P9_TA(2022)0150A9-0063/2022
Decision
 Resolution

1. European Parliament decision of 4 May 2022 on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2020, Section VII – Committee of the Regions (2021/2112(DEC))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2020(1),

–  having regard to the consolidated annual accounts of the European Union for the financial year 2020 (COM(2021)0381 – C9‑0264/2021)(2),

–  having regard to the Committee of the Regions’ annual report to the discharge authority on internal audits carried out in 2020,

–  having regard to the Court of Auditors’ annual report on the implementation of the budget concerning the financial year 2020, together with the institutions’ replies(3),

–  having regard to the statement of assurance(4) as to the reliability of the accounts and the legality and regularity of the underlying transactions provided by the Court of Auditors for the financial year 2020, pursuant to Article 287 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Article 314(10) and Articles 317, 318 and 319 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2018/1046 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 July 2018 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union, amending Regulations (EU) No 1296/2013, (EU) No 1301/2013, (EU) No 1303/2013, (EU) No 1304/2013, (EU) No 1309/2013, (EU) No 1316/2013, (EU) No 223/2014, (EU) No 283/2014, and Decision No 541/2014/EU and repealing Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012(5), and in particular Articles 59, 118, 260, 261 and 262 thereof,

–  having regard to Rule 100 of and Annex V to its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control (A9-0063/2022),

1.  Grants the Secretary-General of the Committee of the Regions discharge in respect of the implementation of the budget of the Committee of the Regions for the financial year 2020;

2.  Sets out its observations in the resolution below;

3.  Instructs its President to forward this decision and the resolution forming an integral part of it to the Committee of the Regions, the European Council, the Council, the Commission and the Court of Auditors, and to arrange for their publication in the Official Journal of the European Union (L series).

(1) OJ L 57, 27.2.2020.
(2) OJ C 436, 28.10.2021, p. 1-206.
(3) OJ C 430, 25.10.2021, p. 7.
(4) OJ C 436, 28.10.2021, p. 207-211.
(5) OJ L 193, 30.7.2018, p. 1.


2. European Parliament resolution of 4 May 2022 with observations forming an integral part of the decision on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2020, Section VII – Committee of the Regions (2021/2112(DEC))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its decision on discharge in respect of the implementation of the general budget of the European Union for the financial year 2020, Section VII – Committee of the Regions,

–  having regard to Rule 100 of and Annex V to its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Budgetary Control (A9-0063/2022),

A.  whereas in the context of the discharge procedure, the discharge authority wishes to stress the particular importance of further strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the Union institutions by improving transparency and accountability, and implementing the concept of performance-based budgeting and good governance of human resources;

B.  whereas the Committee of the Regions (the ‘Committee’) represents and engages with local and regional authorities in the Union decision-making process and pursues its missions of better law making and strengthening Union democracy from the bottom up by sharing their opinions on Union legislation that directly impact regions and cities;

C.  whereas local and regional authorities are responsible for one third of public spending and two thirds of public investment, along with holding competencies in key areas such as education, economic development and cohesion, the environment, social protection, health and services of general interest in many Member States;

D.  whereas the consultation of the Committee by the Commission or the Council is mandatory in certain cases, the Committee may also adopt opinions on its own initiative while enjoying a wide area for referral as set out in the Treaties, allowing it to be consulted by Parliament;

E.  whereas, following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and looking at the situation in the regions of the Union, the Committee focused immediately on informing the Union co-legislators of the concrete needs that national and local authorities were experiencing on the ground to fight the pandemic and its consequences;

F.  whereas the Committee developed a COVID-19 action plan and launched a COVID-19 exchange platform to assist, inform, engage and represent regions and cities;

G.  whereas the Committee in its resolution of 2 July 2020 adopted three political priorities for the 2020-2025 mandate, accompanied by three communication campaigns: ‘Bringing Europe closer to people: Democracy and the future of the EU’; ‘Managing fundamental societal transformations: Building resilient regional and local communities’; ‘Cohesion, our fundamental value: Place-based EU policies’;

H.  whereas the Committee identified nine flagship initiatives to make its action more strategic and impactful: (1) Recovery and Resilience Facility, (2) Health related COVID-19 response ,(3) The Action Plan for the Implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, (4) CoR4Climate Pact, (5) The future of cross-border cooperation, (6) The New Pact for Migration and Integration, (7) Conference on the Future of Europe, (8) Long-term vision for Rural Areas, and (9) Strategic Committee’s Budget – ensuring a fair share of the resources for the Committee;

I.  whereas the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary for the Committee to review and adapt its internal functioning and work methods in order to continue to fulfil its mission;

1.  Notes with satisfaction that the Court of Auditors (the ‘Court’) identified no significant weaknesses in respect of the audited topics related to human resources and procurement for the Committee;

2.  Emphasises the fact that on the basis of its audit work, the Court concluded that the payments as a whole for the administrative expenditure of the Union institutions, including the Committee, for the financial year 2020 were free from material error; welcomes the fact that no specific issues relating to the regularity of the transactions were detected by the Court;

3.  Is aware that Chapter 9 ‘Administration’ of the Annual Report of the Court is focused on expenditure on human resources, buildings, equipment, energy, communication and information technology and that the Court indicates that such spending is low-risk;

Budgetary and financial management

4.  Notes that the Committee budget for 2020 amounted to EUR 101,5 million (a 2,8 % increase compared to the 2019 budget of EUR 98,75 million); notes that the Committee’s budget is mostly administrative with the main part being used for expenditure related to human resources, buildings and furniture, equipment and miscellaneous operation costs;

5.  Notes that EUR 94,1 million (92,7 %) of all appropriations was committed by the end of 2020 and that EUR 83,6 million (82,4 %) was paid; observes that EUR 7,4 million was uncommitted at the end of 2020 and thus was returned to the Union budget, which is considerably more than in 2019 where EUR 0,4 million (less than 0,5 %) was uncommitted; acknowledges that the uncommitted appropriations are mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic and encourages the Committee to enhance the monitoring and management of the available appropriations;

6.  Notes that COVID-19 related savings for 2020 are estimated at more than EUR 11 million, and were made mainly in the domains of members’ meeting and travel allowances (EUR 120 046 carried forward to 2021), interpretation, missions and, to a lesser extent, building running costs; notes that the additional expenditure caused directly by the COVID-19 pandemic was rather limited, mainly in the domain of medical services (less than EUR 100 000) and staff salaries (more than EUR 400 000);

7.  Notes that the Committee does not have one specific mopping-up transfer at the end of the year but carries out budget execution reviews at regular intervals during the budget implementation year; notes that in 2020 the Committee submitted five transfers of appropriations to the budgetary authority for approximately EUR 6,6 million (or 6,5 % of its budget) out of which only EUR 4.9 million was authorised by the budget authority and executed by the Committee, to a large extent from the domains that produced substantial savings (members meetings and travel allowances, interpretation and missions) into the domains that needed reinforcement (including IT, buildings, communication and external expertise);

8.  Notes a negative trend in the overall execution rate for payments (82,4 % in 2020, 88,8 % in 2019 and 91,0 % in 2018); notes that in 2020 this was mainly due to the cancellation of a large number of meetings and events due to the travelling restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic;

9.  Notes that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent travel restrictions, meetings from mid-March until mid-May 2020 were cancelled, while starting from mid-May remote and hybrid meetings were organised; notes the decision of the Committee’s bureau to establish a flat-rate remote meeting allowance for its members of EUR 200 (compared to the standard flat-rate meeting allowance of EUR 323) to cover the expenses incurred while preparing for and participating in meetings, provided that the member was effectively prevented from attending the meeting physically and that attendance was authorised; observes that on 9 October 2020 the Bureau established a similar remote allowance for experts and speakers;

10.  Notes that starting from 2020 members can have up to 100 % of their language course costs reimbursed (instead of 66 % as before), within a maximum amount of EUR 1 200 per year, in order to support their participation in remote meetings that do not always have interpretation services; notes that EUR 27 500 was transferred to the relevant budget line in 2020 to support that change; encourages the Committee to ensure a reasonable correlation between language training and the needs and duties of the requesting member;

11.  Notes that in the area of public procurement, 18 calls for tenders above EUR 15 000 were organised, of which eight were awarded in 2020; notes that three procedures were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that the remaining seven procedures were scheduled for contract signing in 2021; observes with satisfaction that six procedures were organised on behalf of the Committee by the joint services shared by the Committee and the European Economic and Social Committee (the ‘EESC’);

Internal management, performance, internal control

12.  Welcomes the launch in 2020 of the Committee’s reform programme, ‘Going for IMPact!’, the intention of which is to modernise its administration, to use its resources more efficiently and to boost its impact and outreach; notes that four clusters were identified in order to achieve those objectives and highlights the cluster on lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic; appreciates the inclusive analysis of the Committee’s priorities (including suggestions by staff), coupled with an exercise of administrative simplification; is aware that nine cross-service non-hierarchical task forces were created as a result and that a new organisational chart was presented on 7 December 2020;

13.  Welcomes the intensive cooperation between the Committee and the Commission, as the input of the Committee, capturing the views of regional and local authorities, is important for a balanced policy assessment process, in particular with regard to the Fit for Future Platform, the REFIT Platform and the RegHub network, as well as the Committee’s contribution to the action plan to implement the European Pillar of Social Rights and the Porto Social Summit in 2021; highlights that the Committee has set up a Committee-United Kingdom contact group to provide a framework for political cooperation;

14.  Welcomes the Committee’s commitment to strengthen its involvement in the entire political and legislative cycle of the Union, building on the cooperation with Parliament and the Commission; believes that more involvement by the Committee throughout all stages of the Union legislative process would be beneficial in order to place regional and local authorities at the heart of drafting and implementing Union policies, in particular in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic;

15.  Notes that the Committee adopted 8 resolutions and 48 opinions in 2020 (compared to 5 resolutions and 49 opinions in 2019); takes into account that, due to the difficulties in adopting opinions via referrals within the tight interinstitutional deadlines at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Committee resorted to the adoption of own-initiative opinions, based on Commission documents, to effectively and timely contribute to the Union response to the pandemic;

16.  Notes the Committee’s efforts in disseminating its opinions together with other reports and activities that also contribute to achieving its mission; acknowledges that the Commission’s impact assessment regularly takes into account the Committee’s opinions; calls on the Committee to ensure that every opinion is shared with the Members of the relevant committees of Parliament and to officially and systematically request a speaking slot at the presentation of Parliament’s draft reports, in line with the cooperation agreement between Parliament and the Committee;

17.  Is aware that compliance and effectiveness exercises were carried out in 2019 and in 2020 to assess to what extent the Committee complied with the 16 internal control standards and to what extent their implementation was effective; underlines that the task force on ‘Simplification of the administrative environment’ elaborated a set of administrative simplification measures, many of which are currently being implemented; notes with satisfaction that an ex post control exercise was carried out in 2020 and that no major issues were identified apart from the need to update written procedures as a result of the new paperless working methods; notes that the central verification service of the Committee processed more than 13 000 files, and that 318 verified transactions (compared to 381 in 2019) were either corrected or rejected;

18.  Is aware that the Committee, in order to comply with the Financial Regulation, contracted an external expert to carry out a cost-effectiveness analysis; appreciates that, to reduce any risk of inappropriate use of the budget, the Committee has created a centrally monitored internal control environment coupled with a partially decentralised financial model in a way that ensures that all financial transactions are subject to verification by an independent verifying agent; notes that the Committee launched a multi-annual action plan for a gradual revision and simplification of the existing internal control environment; asks the Committee to report on the progress of the implementation of that plan that started in 2021 and will continue in 2022;

Human resources, equality and staff well-being

19.  Notes that the number of posts in the establishment plan amounts to 491 which the Committee considers to be insufficient; notes that the Committee resorts to hiring contract staff for mid- to long-term replacements and for specific projects which entails the risk of considerable loss of knowledge and expertise for the Committee when those contracts come to an end; supports the Committee as it continues to negotiate the enlargement of its establishment plan; notes that the occupation rate of the Committee’s establishment plan is 96,3 %, thus reaching the target of at least 96 %; notes that at the end of 2020 the total workforce was 601 (including both statutory and non-statutory staff), compared to 610 at the end of 2019; encourages the Committee in this context to deepen its administrative cooperation with the EESC via the joint services arrangement to pool staff in order to continue to develop more synergies;

20.  Observes that flexible working arrangements are accessible to the large majority of staff of the Committee, but that part-time work and parental leave are used by a limited number of staff of which women represent 77,5 % and 78,72 % respectively; is aware that the Committee provides awareness raising sessions for staff about the flexible working arrangements and recommends that the Committee engages in more intense communication on the viability and benefits of those arrangements and that it ensures that making use of the flexible working arrangements does not penalise in any way the career progress of the relevant members of staff; welcomes the staff survey on telework and work flexibility from which managers and other staff can draw lessons and build flexible work regimes for the future;

21.  Notes that teleworking was already widely used before the COVID-19 pandemic, but that the necessary IT equipment, experience and teleworking culture were not yet present throughout the Committee; observes that IT services of the Committee deployed significant efforts to allow the entire organisation to operate fully remotely; remarks that staff were quickly trained on how to use the different online platforms;

22.  Observes with satisfaction the absorption rate of the general internal competition completed in 2019 (‘talent pool’) with 100 % of the appointments for the AST/SC and AST group and 81 % of the appointments for the AD group coming from the laureates; welcomes the enhanced talent management strategy foreseen for 2022, which aims to implement a more dynamic internal mobility scheme;

23.  Is concerned about the 12 possible cases of burnout reported in 2020, but acknowledges the Committee’s personalised follow-up of absences to facilitate reintegration after a long-term absence; stresses the importance of the Committee’s medical officer and social service worker to provide support and to be in contact with people in difficulty; encourages the Committee to keep the focus on primary prevention to reduce psychosocial risks and burnout as well as the annual medical visits;

24.  Notes that the gender ratio in the Committee’s staff in 2020 was 55,8 % women, compared to 56 % in 2019; regrets the unbalanced distribution in middle (32,4 % women) and senior (25 % women) management; underlines that this is a recurrent issue and reiterates the call for the Committee to continue its efforts to achieve gender balance at all hierarchical levels; notes that the target of 40 % women in management positions established in the equal opportunity action plan is currently in sight (37,5 % in March 2021); welcomes in particular specific incentives to actively encourage female applicants to managerial positions such as the formal recognition of management responsibilities below head of unit level, the mentoring programme launched in 2019 and the pre-managerial training courses; encourages the Committee to put in all the effort necessary in order to achieve its five-year strategy on equal opportunities and to be more ambitious in the annual action plans that implement the strategy; welcomes and encourages, in particular, actions that contribute to balanced gender representation on selection boards and more flexible working arrangements;

25.  Notes that the Committee employs staff from all Member States with the exception of one Member State; welcomes the Committee’s initiatives to increase the visibility of its vacancies, in particular using staff ambassadors and generating a positive ‘employer branding’; calls on the Committee to continue to take steps to reach a proper geographical distribution within its staff, with a particular focus on the management level;

26.  On a positive note, highlights that following the appointment of an equal opportunities officer in 2019, an inter-service task force was set up in 2020 to mainstream equal opportunities in all HR policies and to prepare the five-year strategy (2022-2027); congratulates the initiative of creating contact points for specific issues related to gender, the LGBTIQ community and disability in order to encourage bottom-up initiatives and contribute to making the Committee a more inclusive workplace;

27.  Is aware of the harassment case reported to the EESC by a whistleblower and transmitted to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in August 2020 that concerns a member of staff of the Committee working in the joint services and also contains allegations of mismanagement and financial irregularities; calls on the Committee and the EESC to jointly report to Parliament about the outcome of the investigation by OLAF as well as any further internal verification or measure pending investigation;

28.  Welcomes the intensive discussions between the Committee, the staff representatives, all the relevant internal services and other members of staff involved in the decision on protecting the dignity of staff, managing conflict and combatting psychological and sexual harassment in the Committee and its accompanying guide, adopted in 2021; appreciates the organisation of staff awareness-raising actions and the Committee’s zero tolerance approach towards harassment as well as the dedicated online training course; suggests that the Committee makes use of alternative communication activities on relevant topics related to equal opportunities, diversity and inclusion to prevent and manage conflict in the workplace; welcomes the constitution of an advisory board on harassment;

29.  Notes that, to safeguard personal data, no data on staff with disabilities is gathered but points out that a real assessment of the situation and the elaboration of adequate policies in that area is hindered as a result; notes that, nevertheless, the Committee’s equal opportunities policy includes a number of practical steps and concrete measures aiming to provide an inclusive working environment; welcomes the fact that the joint buildings strategy of the Committee and the EESC takes disability fully into account;

30.  Notes that the Committee hosted 47 trainees in 2020, all awarded with a monthly grant and an additional EUR 100 lump sum in order to cover the costs related to teleworking; regrets that unpaid study visits were offered to eight trainees in addition to three short-term study visits which started in 2019 and continued into 2020; reiterates the call on the Committee to make sure that all of its trainees receive a decent remuneration;

Ethical framework and transparency

31.  Welcomes the outcome of the first phase of the mediation process between the Committee and Mr McCoy, former financial controller and internal auditor, with the signing in December 2019 of a political agreement on principles governing the resolution of Mr McCoy’s bona fide whistleblower case; recalls that, based on the 2017 discharge resolution, the appointment of a Member of Parliament as mediator took place and that all parties entered into a mediation process to bring the dispute between the Committee and Mr. McCoy to an end with the objective of reaching an amicable settlement; acknowledges that the Committee pursued the scheduled mediation meetings with Mr McCoy; is aware that the second stage of the mediation concluded on 9 July 2021 with the contribution of Parliament’s mediator, Parliament's Committee on Budgetary Control, Mr. McCoy and the President and the Secretary-General of the Committee and the signing of a final financial settlement; is aware, lastly, that the Committee, after approval of the transfer by the budgetary authorities, successfully executed the agreed payment to Mr McCoy in November 2021; acknowledges the work done by successive rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs for the Committee’s discharge over the past twenty years who, along with the mediation process and the assistance of Parliament's Legal Service, contributed to the resolution of the long-stalled issue; truly regrets the considerable harm caused to Mr McCoy and states that this case should not have remained unresolved for more than eighteen years; expresses its sincere satisfaction with the conclusion of this case and supports the Committee’s actions in order to ensure that such a situation cannot arise again;

32.  Acknowledges that the Agreement of 16 April 2014 between the European Parliament and the European Commission on the transparency register for organisations and self-employed individuals engaged in EU policy-making and policy implementation(1) and the Interinstitutional Agreement of 20 May 2021 between the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission on a mandatory transparency register(2), while allowing the voluntary involvement of Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, do not cover the activities of regional and local authorities and the associations representing them; objects, however, to the view of the Committee that the use of the transparency register set up by those agreements has limited relevance and questions the validity of the Practical Guide on the interaction of staff with external entities (dating back to 2018); recalls the importance of a high level of transparency with respect to lobbying meetings which might influence the Committee in its advisory role to the Union institutions and thus, reiterates its call on the Committee to join the Interinstitutional agreement on a mandatory transparency register;

33.  Regrets that only 66 staff members took part in one or more of the 13 training sessions on ethical issues organised in 2020; encourages the Committee to find ways to increase staff participation in such activities; notes with satisfaction the survey on staff ethics-awareness launched by the end of 2019 and its follow-up in the framework of the internal audit on the same issue; asks the Committee to keep on implementing the recommendations established in September 2020 and to report on the outcomes in due course;

34.  Welcomes the entry into force on 26 January 2020 of the Committee’s code of conduct and the fact that the Secretary-General is not aware of any breaches; regrets, however, that in January 2021 146 financial declarations from members and alternates had still not been submitted in spite of the obligation under the code of conduct to do so; encourages the Committee to obtain the missing financial declarations, making full use of the options provided by the code of conduct;

35.  Notes with satisfaction that the Committee’s intranet has pages dedicated to the ethical framework applicable to members of staff; welcomes its publication on the Committee’s website too in addition to the Committee’s code of conduct and the list of missing financial declarations; recommends that the Committee increases the visibility of those documents vis-à-vis the public;

Digitalisation, cybersecurity, data protection

36.  Welcome that many work processes have been digitalised as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and that all meetings have been held remotely or in a hybrid form since March 2020, while all members of staff have been equipped with the necessary IT tools to work from home; congratulates the Committee on the significant improvement of the members’ portal, Phoenix and the Adonis document workflow tool; points out that continuous progress was made with respect to e-invoicing, e-procurement and paperless financial workflows, that a working group on electronic signatures was established, that new versions of the search engines were deployed to better support online meetings for the members while specific measures were drawn up, that an electronic voting system for Committee members was launched, that already existing applications were significantly adapted to better support Committee members and staff, and that the implementation of computer-aided translation tools progressed;

37.  Notes that the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Committee to substantially accelerate the implementation of a number of IT and videoconferencing projects in 2020 with a subsequent additional investment of some EUR 2,7 million; notes that the Committee spent EUR 6 392 372 on IT projects and equipment in 2020 (compared to EUR 4 033 320 in 2019); notes that as well as the Committee’s digital strategy 2019, other projects were developed to digitalise the Committee’s administration and ensure its efficiency; echoes the Committee’s statement that its IT services have been structurally underfunded for years and that budget transfers cannot replace the necessary structurally sound funding of all IT services; notes, in particular, the Committee’s concerns about the cost and overheads for smaller organisations of future common binding cyber-security rules for all Union institutions, bodies and agencies as referred to in its resolution of 10 June 2021 on the EU’s Cybersecurity Strategy for the Digital Decade(3);

38.  Welcomes the creation of a deputy data protection officer to guarantee business-continuity and to reinforce the Committee’s capabilities in that specific area; encourages the Committee to undertake awareness-rising actions and to organise training courses for members of staff handling personal data; notes that, at the request of the EDPS, the Committee mapped the transfers of personal data to third countries and concluded that no activities were affected; notes that the Committee signed the "enrolment" linked to an interinstitutional framework contract with Microsoft and that it has no separate individual licence agreements in place with Microsoft anymore; appreciates the Committee’s active policy on open-source technology; encourages the Committee to further prioritise open-source technology in order to retain control over its own technical systems, avoid dependency and vendor lock-in, provide stronger safeguards for user privacy and data protection, as well as increase security and transparency for the public;

Buildings and security

39.  Is aware that the Committee and the EESC are implementing their long-term buildings strategy focusing on geographical concentration and reorganisation of office allocations; notes that the responsible working group considered it essential to have an additional building with a capacity of around 200 people in order to be able to create good working conditions; notes that that analysis led the Committee and the EESC to negotiate renting the B100 building from the European External Action Service and that the draft administrative agreement was approved by the bureaus of the Committee and the EESC in the last quarter of 2020; is aware that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay in the process;

40.  Highlights that following the exchange of the B68/TRE74 buildings of the Committee and the EESC for the Commission's VMA building, savings will begin to appear in 2023 due to the lower cost of renting the entire VMA building compared to renting the B68/TRE74 buildings and that those savings will be sufficient to cover the rent of the B100 building;

41.  Welcomes the improvements in keys areas within the buildings strategy, namely the refurbishment of existing buildings to create healthier workspaces aligned to ergonomic standards, increase the level of security, reduce electricity consumption and align with environmental obligations;

42.  Notes that the preparatory work for the implementation of the new eVisitors management system started in 2020 and that the eVisitors system was fully functional in November 2021, allowing the efficient management of invitations and online registration of external visitors; reminds the Committee that personal data of visitors should only be held for the time necessary to process the visit;

43.  Notes that, following the takeover of the B100 building in September 2021, tests and asbestos abatement are ongoing; calls on the Committee and the EESC to periodically monitor the conditions of that building and to inform the staff at all times accordingly; recalls its resolution of 20 October 2021 with recommendations to the Commission on protecting workers from asbestos(4);

Environment and sustainability

44.  Welcomes the integration of sustainability, environmental and accessibility standards, including those of the Union eco-management and audit scheme (EMAS), as part of the buildings strategy of the Committee and the EESC; notes that since the setting up of their environmental management system, the Committee and the EESC have taken various actions with the aim of improving the energy performance of their buildings and reducing their carbon footprint; is aware that a study of the carbon neutrality of the Committee and the EESC by 2030 is ongoing; welcomes the participation of the Committee in Parliament’s offsetting of greenhouse gas emissions’ scheme;

45.  Welcomes the adoption by the Committee of the paperless policy in February 2020 and observes that, since then, most workflows have become fully paperless; welcomes that the amount of paper used per person per day in 2020 decreased by 52 % compared to 2019 and by 81 % compared to 2015;

46.  Notes that the Committee has a sustainable mobility policy in place which is monitored through staff surveys every three years; observes with satisfaction that the mobility policy includes a 50 % reimbursement of public transport season tickets, service bikes for local professional travelling purposes, 237 bike racks, a number of parking spaces for hybrid or electric cars and the organisation of a number of awareness raising events every year;

47.  Welcomes the inter-institutional framework contract that gives the Committee access to the Green Public Procurement Helpdesk, which is focused on sustainable development, environmental issues and social aspects of public procurement; notes that the Committee applies its environmental policy in each and every relevant procurement process, something that is also screened as part of the EMAS; welcomes the fact that the electricity consumed by the Committee is exclusively provided by green energy from sustainable sources;

48.  Highlights the ‘Green Deal Going Local'’ campaign with the aim of mobilising Committee members and the larger constituencies of local and regional authorities to take positive actions to encourage sustainable development and the green transition (i.e. urban greening, building energy efficiency, sustainable mobility etc.), taking advantage of reinforced cooperation with Parliament`s Directorate for Communication and with the active participation of Members of Parliament;

Communication and multilingualism

49.  Recalls the importance of the Committee developing greater visibility in the media and on the internet and social media in order to make its work known; welcomes the external comprehensive evaluation of the Committee’s communication strategy 2015-2020; understands that the COVID-19 pandemic forced a digital acceleration of public communication; stresses the importance of maximising the Committee’s outreach through the creation of synergies between the Union institutions and the over one million regional and local elected politicians represented by the Committee; encourages the Committee to take advantage of the opportunities offered by its presence on social media and at the same time to explore the possible use of alternative open-source platforms;

50.  Welcomes the involvement of the Committee in the Conference on the Future of Europe, assisting that democratic exercise in reaching the regional and local actors; further encourages the Committee to assist its members in participating in local dialogues with citizens on European matters;

51.  Underlines the campaigns and activities carried out in 2020 targeting interest groups, in particular the memoranda of understanding and action plans with European and national associations representing local and regional interests that include clauses on cooperation and communication matters; understands that the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Committee to temporally pause its citizens’ dialogues; recommends to move the citizens dialogues online to ensure the continuity of this important activity in bringing the Union institutions closer to the people of Europe;

52.  Welcomes, in the area of communication, the two flagship events organised in 2020; remarks that the Committee has coordinated the European Public Communication Conference (EuropPCom) since 2011 and that in 2020 this event was held virtually in June and December, reaching about 2 500 communication experts; highlights the European Week of Regions and Cities, a recognised event involving over 10 000 participants and 800 partners, and the new Regional and Local Barometer, presented in October 2020 and acknowledges that both those initiatives contribute to the Conference on the Future of Europe, together with the project specifically created for that purpose, ‘From local to European’, launched at the end of 2020, involving 50 regions and cities in local, cross-border and transnational citizens’ panels;

53.  Asks the Committee to continue its efforts to improve the visibility of the studies it produces; underlines that, in addition to their publication online, there is a need for pro-active promotion of studies towards all stakeholders; encourages the Committee to reach out to Parliament to enhance cooperation, for instance through the organisation of joint meetings and events;

54.  Calls on the Committee to provide support to local and regional authorities, including those who are not officially represented in the Committee, on matters related to Union opportunities and networking;

Inter-institutional cooperation

55.  Welcomes the continuously increasing and effective bilateral cooperation between Parliament and the Committee; encourages both Parliament and the Committee to continue the regular meetings between their Presidents and Vice-Presidents and to enhance the structured cooperation between the respective rapporteurs and both the political groups and the preparatory bodies in which their members are organised; welcomes the decision by the Committee bureau in November 2020 to launch a European Network of Regional and Local EU Councillors which will be aligned with Parliament’s pilot action Building Europe with Local Entities (BELE); notes, furthermore, the continuous collaboration on key political issues with the Commission through cooperation agreements and with the trio presidency of the Council via joint action plans; believes that the Committee’s political cooperation with Parliament, the Council and the Commission should be more systematic given the importance of the Committee as the representative of Union citizens in regions and cities;

56.  Highlights that the new global service level agreements concluded in 2020 with DG Budget, DG DIGIT and the Paymaster Office of the Commission have significantly reduced the number of agreements, paved the way for improvements in the timeliness of information sharing and extended the possibility of securing the use of new Union inter-institutional IT-applications;

57.  Highlights the adoption of the new administrative cooperation agreement between the Committee and the EESC that entered into force on 1 November 2021 which reinforces the governance of the cooperation and the control mechanisms to ensure efficient management of the joint services; notes with satisfaction that the Committee considers that the new agreement is more modern and simpler than the old agreement and that it will be instrumental in creating further synergies between the Committee and the EESC:

58.  Reiterates the position expressed in the previous discharge recommendations on the need to fully implement the cooperation agreement signed between Parliament and the Committee and the EESC from which a total of 60 translators, including 24 from the Committee, were transferred to Parliament in exchange for access to the services of the European Parliamentary Research Service; stresses, in this regard, the Committee’s staff shortage in political areas which negatively impacts the fulfilment of its mandate;

COVID-19 pandemic

59.  Is aware that the COVID-19 pandemic significantly influenced the Committee’s activity, in particular because its Members ordinarily travel to the Committee’s premises up to six times a year to debate its opinions and resolutions; acknowledges the collective efforts that ensured continued support to the political activities of the Committee;

60.  Notes that the business continuity plan (BCP), in place since 2009, allowed an initial reaction but was revealed to be insufficiently fit-for-purpose; welcomes the in-depth revision of the BCP launched in late 2020 to take into account the lessons learned from handling the COVID-19 pandemic; understands that the pandemic revealed the impact of accumulated structural under-investments in some areas of the Committee’s activities, especially with respect to IT; believes that those lessons learnt from the COVID-19 crisis, in particular, should remain an integral part of the Committee’s future way of working;

61.  Values the approach of putting health and safety of members and staff first while the organisation adapted to the continuously evolving situation; stresses that communication initiatives in the area of HR were a vector of stability and security for the staff during the COVID-19 pandemic; observes that staff were asked to not register their specific teleworking hours in order to have the necessary flexibility to combine work and personal responsibilities; notes, in addition, that staff having social or medical difficulties were allowed to telework from abroad under specific circumstances and that a general permission was also temporarily applied, resulting in 110 staff members exceptionally teleworking from abroad in 2020; welcomes the dialogue launched with the staff representatives, including a survey on telework;

62.  Supports the Committee’s approach, prioritising results over counting working hours, using trust based management and ensuring the right to disconnect, in particular by means of the new in-house email policy; welcomes additional measures such as the establishment of a group of volunteer staff members to help colleagues during the confinement period;

63.  Notes the effort to disseminate information on psychosocial topics and topics related to the Joint Sickness Insurance Scheme of the Union institutions, bodies, offices and agencies; further notes the number of appointments in 2020, 246, with the social service, mainly related to stress, conflicts and personal or family problems and the positive results of the coaching for coping mechanism;

64.  Stresses that core activities were pursued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling the Committee to represent the regional and local elected politicians in the Union decision-making process, thus supporting the Union institutions in the handling of the crisis situation at hand;

65.  Encourages the Committee to integrate the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in its internal management strategy in terms of business continuity and crisis management, IT responsiveness, resilience of the organisation, duty of care towards its staff, effective communication and flexible working processes, in order to develop a result-oriented management style on which a healthy work-life balance can be achieved.

(1) OJ L 277, 19.9.2014, p. 11.
(2) OJ L 207, 11.6.2021, p. 1.
(3) OJ C 67, 8.2.2022, p. 81.
(4) Text adopted P9_TA(2021)0427.

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