Europe is its citizens

Written by Magnus Berntsson on 19 June 2017 in Opinion

Magnus Berntsson explains why he wants the Assembly of European Regions to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between citizens across the continent.

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I have just had the honour of being elected President of the Assembly of European Regions (AER).

For the next two years, I will lead the largest independent network of regions in Europe. I believe that the role of the regions in Europe is more important than ever if the EU wants to regain citizen’s trust in European collaboration.

My brother is only eight years younger than me, but in one way we belong to two different generations.


For him the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall is something he only read about in school or heard about on TV. My generation, on the other hand, will in the end be the last to remember a Europe divided by the Cold War.

I take it as a moral obligation to always remember and to always work against all tendencies of going back to such a state on our continent.

I am convinced that EU and European collaboration in a wider context, must remain close to the people. Only then can the EU be the developing and peace-creating force it was founded to be.

Both the EU itself and the regions of Europe face challenging times ahead. Climate change, migration flows and high youth unemployment are all examples of issues we have to meet together, at all levels.

In most cases the regional level will be where policy results in concrete actions. European regions are diverse and without a strong European cohesion policy, available for all, the forerunners will lose pace and in many countries regional development will come to a complete halt.

This is of course unacceptable and a weakened regional dimension in Europe would be a mistake setting us back for decades.

I do, however, welcome new solutions for regions, such as financial instruments aiming at leveraging private capital to public investments. I believe this will be an important tool to make the most of the EU budget.

Over time this will benefit growth and development but at the same time we have to ensure that the transition to new solutions does not hamper ongoing projects nor leave any region behind.

To me, the EU, and Europe, can never be limited to exchanges taking place in the institutions. Europe is its citizens. Organisations such as the AER help to facilitate cooperation and meetings between people.

During my presidency I will strive to further this. I want people from regions in different countries to meet and learn from each other. This will increase not only the exchange of innovations and ideas, but also the solidarity and understanding between the people of Europe. This is even more important for today’s youth.

AER stands on three pillars. The first is to help member regions find partners and funding in projects and benchmarking. The second is influencing EU decision making.

The third is about youth collaboration and exchange programmes. Over the years, the AER has become an important partner for the European Commission, and is frequently consulted on the drafting of new proposals. One example is the evaluation of the EFSI.

With members from a wide range of countries all over Europe we always have one thing in common: We believe that a strong Europe needs strong regions.

I want to build on and strengthen our ties to the European institutions. That will require a highly professional organisation, and clear positions on important matters.

For the past four years, I was Vice-President and treasurer of AER. During this time, the organisation went through necessary modernisation.

The AER is now on the right path, the economy is sound, members are active and motivated and the AER team is highly skilled and professional. I am proud of the AER today, and I am proud to represent such a dynamic network of regions in wider Europe. I am eager to start this new journey to further enhance the voice of regions in Europe.

About the author

Magnus Berntsson is President of the Assembly of European Regions

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