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The European satellite in COVID-19 management

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15 May 2020
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The European satellite in COVID-19 management - © Unsplash/Sharon McCutcheon

The crisis generated by COVID-19 emphasises an idea that has gained momentum since the second half of the century: the need for multilevel governance, which refers to joint action by different territorial levels of government, because states are necessary, but not sufficient.
On the one hand, when faced with a worldwide challenge, states are too small. Therefore, supranational and global management is required. In this sense, the European Union (EU), as well as other territorial levels of government, have tried to respond to two goals that, until now, have seemed difficult to reconcile. As a first step, ensuring the health of the people. Then, reducing the social and economic impacts of the crisis by showing that supranational and international processes are justified, above all, in economic terms. In order to contribute to both goals, the EU applies three lines of action. Firstly, it legislates and adopts legally binding acts within its sphere of competence and to support and complement the performance of its member states. Secondly, it coordinates national responses to maintain coherence in its entire territory. Thirdly, it promotes the solidarity principle, one of the values that underlie the European project.
On the other hand, when faced with a territorial challenge, states are too large. Therefore, regional and local management is required. Despite this, in some European states, the territorial decentralisation of political power is undermined by the need for state and supranational coordination.
The above-mentioned supranational and subnational requirements lead to the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), the EU satellite that tries to ensure the direct participation of subnational bodies in this international and supranational organisation. However, as I have already stated in this blog, its composition is excessively heterogeneous and its functions only oscillate between consultation and territorial lobbying.

The CoR or an association of subnational bodies

On 24 March 2020, the CoR adopted an Action Plan to help subnational bodies in the fight against COVID-19. This Action Plan contemplates five priority lines of action [1], which can be grouped into two blocks.
One block refers to the CoR’s capability to support the exercise of power of regional and local entities as well as the establishment of relationships between them. Thus, it transfers information on the measures that the EU is gradually taking. In addition, it has created a platform for the exchange of experiences between subnational bodies.
Contrastingly, the other block involves the CoR’s power to promote and defend regional and local interests in the EU. Thus, it has asked the EU to adopt and/or to coordinate sanitary and economic measures, which must reflect subnational vision and participation. In addition, it tries to collect evidence on the implementation of public policies designed by the EU to establish itself as the institution that evaluates European policies from a subnational point of view.

Three conclusions can be drawn from the above description. First of all, the function of supporting the exercise of power of regional and local entities and the establishment of relationships between them prevails over the promotion and defence of regional and local interests in the EU. In this way, the CoR does not use its institutional arrangement within the EU framework. In fact, its basic functions make it similar to any association of subnational bodies, among which the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities stands out due to its institutional context within the Council of Europe.
Secondly, the basic functions of the CoR have a symbolic character. For example, one of the fundamental objectives of the aforementioned platform for the exchange of experiences, the main measure of the CoR, is to give visibility to regional and local action.
Thirdly, EU regional and local entities lack of political and territorial will to consider the CoR as an actor that participates in the European decision-making process. For example, returning to the platform for the exchange of experiences, the member state that, until 12 May 2020, made most contributions was Spain, with 27 inputs. However, out of these inputs, 20 were prepared by members of the Spanish delegation of the CoR [2].

Territorial integration

With the economic crisis of 2008 and the United Kingdom’s departure still in our minds, COVID-19 demonstrates, once again, the urgent need to face the reason of being of European integration in order to – starting from there – progress with this integration because the chaotic effects of COVID-19 constitute the greatest future challenge for the EU.
In order to deal with this problem, the EU is being advised to continue the move away from its conception as an international organisation in which its member states take the decisions. With the purpose of reducing the state-centred vision, two paths are presented. Firstly, to continue to deepen the conception of the EU as a supranational organisation in which its own institutions are the ones that take the decisions. Secondly, to introduce, in a real way, a subnational vision within the EU. Without doubt, this European integration starting from a territorial point of view has to be one of the main organisational challenges of the EU after COVID-19.


Óscar Moreno Corchete is a researcher in training at the Faculty of Law of the University of Salamanca, for which he was granted a fellowship by the Spanish Government (FPU). In 2019, he was a guest researcher at the Institute for Comparative Federalism at Eurac Research. His research field is the territorial decentralization of political power and, in his doctoral thesis, he focuses on the territorial identity. He loves spending his free time with his friends.

[1] European Committee of the Regions. (24 March 2020). CoR Action Plan to help regions and cities fight the COVID-19 in the European Union. Recovered from: https://cor.europa.eu/en/engage/Documents/CoR-Action-plan-on-Covid19_24March2020%20.pdf.
[2] European Committee of the Regions. (n.d.). #EuropeansAgainstCovid19. Recovered from: https://cor.europa.eu/es/regions?view=stories.

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