The Forum discussed recent developments in the European Economic Area (EEA), Brexit and the impact of the EEA Agreement on the local and regional level in Member States.
The Forum heard presentations on ‘Whistleblower protection’ from the European Commission (DG JUST) and the Rapporteur on this issue in the European Committee of the Regions (CoR). The participants were also briefed on possible participation of municipalities and regions in the next generation of EU programmes (2021-2027) by the EFTA Secretariat and representatives from the European Commission’s Life Programme Unit.
In its opinion on ‘Whistleblower protection’, the Forum welcomes the initiative at EU level for better protection of whistleblowers and underlines the importance of municipalities and regions working actively to ensure a culture that allows for free and critical expression on matters at their own workplace. The opinion also emphasises the important role municipalities and regions play in society in managing public resources. The Forum emphasises that the procedures for reporting which entail protection against retaliation must be clear and easy to practice.
The Forum is also of the opinion that the three-layers reporting system risks imposing significant administrative burdens and being very costly, in particular for small municipalities. It therefore calls on the EEA EFTA States to seek solutions that reduce these costs and add more flexibility to the reporting system.
In its opinion regarding participation in EU programmes, the Forum welcomes a more coherent, focused and transparent framework, as the administrative burden is a major hurdle preventing municipalities and regions from participating effectively in these programmes. The Forum also calls for more support from the EFTA States on facilitating the access of municipalities and regions to funds available through EU programmes.
The Forum supports the increased focus in the programmes on European youth and actions to reduce drop-outs and to combat unemployment among young people in Europe. The Forum also welcomes the proposal for Horizon Europe and recognises the opportunities for more research and innovation for the development of future public services and employment creation at the local and regional level.
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 members, six from Iceland and six from Norway. Switzerland observes the meeting, but Liechtenstein has decided not to take part for the time being.
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