At its 16th meeting on 16 and 17 November, the EEA EFTA Forum of Local and Regional Authorities met in Brussels to discuss ongoing developments in the European Economic Area. It adopted two opinions: on the European data economy and on an Erasmus programme for local and regional representatives.
Under the chairmanship of Mr Halldór Halldórsson, President of the Icelandic Association of Local Authorities, the Forum deliberated on current local and regional affairs in Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, as well as implications for local and regional authorities in light of current events in Europe.
In its opinion regarding Erasmus, the Forum calls for the establishment of an Erasmus programme for local and regional representatives citing the success of Erasmus+ programme. The important role played by local and regional authorities in implementing Europan legislation and policies and thus the value of exchanging good practice across Europe is underlined. The Forum calls on EEA EFTA States to support the initiative that could benefit the citizens through improved implementation and knowledge at local and regional level, foster new initiatives and construct links across borders.
The Forum heard presentations on the Digital Single Market, the European Data Economy and E-government by Mr Trond Helge Bårdsen, Councillor for ICT, Norwegian Mission to the EU and Mr Kieran McCarthy, Cork City Council, European Committee of the Regions Rapporteur on Building a European Data Economy.
In its opinion on the European data economy, the Forum welcomes the economic benefits that this could bring to the EEA EFTA States, as well as the potential of innovative data and digital services to promote increased efficiency, foster innovation, growth and jobs, and improve choices and lower prices for consumers.
However, the Forum underlines that local and regional authorities are crucial for the success of the Digital Single Market and the European data economy, as they provide substantial portions of services to citizens and businesses. In addition, they operate digital infrastructure, collect data and support the development of vital digital skills.
The opinion stresses the need to have strong data protection rules in place, in order for the digital economy to thrive. It supports the revision of the ePrivacy Directive to ensure a high level of privacy, as well as the European Commission’s efforts to tackle restrictions on the free movement of data and the location of data for storage or processing purposes.
The Forum stresses the importance of consulting with local and regional authorities at an early stage when incorporating the resulting legislation into the EEA Agreement and implementing it nationally, in order to avoid unnecessary costs and administrative burdens.
The Forum also heard a presentation from Mr Marius Vahl, Head of EEA Policy Coordination, EFTA who gave an overview of recent developments in EEA. Reflections on the future of Europe were provided by Mr Eamonn Noonan from the European Parliament and Cllr David Simmonds, Member of the CoR and CoE Congress.
The EEA EFTA Forum was set up by a decision of the Standing Committee of the EFTA States as an informal body to involve elected representatives from local and regional authorities in EEA matters. The Forum works closely with other EEA EFTA bodies and has established links with the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, an EU advisory body that was established in 1994 just after the signing of the EEA Agreement.
The Forum has twelve full members, six from Iceland and six from Norway. Switzerland participates as an observer.
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