The EU has been urged to “focus” on Europe’s poorer regions in deciding the bloc’s next long-term budget, writes Martin Banks.

The appeal was made by the President of the most populated region in Slovakia during a visit to Brussels.

Milan Majerský, President of the Prešov self-governing region, said, “We are just asking the EU to focus more on small towns and villages, including in my region, that feel they are being left behind.”

Majerský led a delegation of officials from his region which, despite being a popular tourist destination, ranks among the most economically deprived in Slovakia.

The group comprised mayors from towns and villages in Prešov region which has a population of some 825,000 making it the biggest in the country, but is blighted by weak infrastructure and low foreign direct investment.

The  three-day Slovak visit was timed to coincide with the European Week of Regions and Cities which takes place all this week, and also the debate on the next EU long-term budget, known as the MMF.

Majerský, in an interview with this website, said that despite the fact that the region boasts the world-famous Tatra Mountains, attracting tens of thousands of visitors every year, Prešov region suffers economically, particularly compared with other Slovak regions.

He also cited specific issues that are perceived as an economic  burden, including the large number of Roma people in Prešov region.

Out of the estimated 400,000 Roma in Slovakia, about half are located in Prešov region. But many are unemployed and, says Majerský, contribute little to the economic wellbeing of the area.

“This is not a slight on Roma,” he insisted, “but merely stating a fact.”

He also highlighted a special programme in the village of Raslavice in his region from which 120 Roma people had benefited. This involves planting vegetables and is, he says, one example of what is being done locally to tackle what he calls a “big challenge.”

Majerský also pointed to the EU’s “Catching Up Regions” initiative which aims to kickstart poorer regions like Prešov. The Brussels visit was timely, he noted, as the second phase of the programme, also backed by the World Bank, is about to start.

“The aim of this is to help places like ours to move from being a developing region to a developed one.”

The official cited two areas as examples  of where greater  investment is urgently needed.

The first is the Starina dam which provides drinking water for the region but, ironically, is unable to do so currently for those living nearby. These currently have to rely on often polluted water from their own wells.

Another example he spoke about is a Carpathian beech forest located in his region, also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The forest, bordering Poland and Ukraine, is “ripe for tourism” but is currently lacking adequate infrastructure, especially the sewage system, said Majerský.

These, he said, are but two illustrations of how increased investment in the region would help “on various levels” including sparking job creation and boosting tourism.

It was ironic, he said, that the Tatra Mountains alone attract 1.2m overnight stays per year but some villages in Prešov region had less than 15 inhabitants.

“Coupled with a rapidly ageing population there is also a real brain drain problem across the whole region with young people moving out of the area to other parts of Slovakia or to Western Europe. This has to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

There was a particular shortage of physicians, civil engineers and craftsmen, he told EU Today.

He added, “Over the past 20 years, infrastructure improvements have taken place but mostly in larger towns and cities. This is now needed in the smaller towns and villages in places like Prešov region and that is the key message we will deliver on this visit.”

Some of the improvements that are urgently needed in Prešov region, one of eight self governing regions in the country, include roads, biking trails and sewage systems, he said.

He said, “We are here to emphasise our priorities for economic investment and job creation in our region. Prešov region has a beautiful environment featuring the Tatra Mountains. We are very keen to maintain the highest environmental standards and have neither nuclear nor coal fired electricity generating stations within our boundary.”

“The next EU spending round is being discussed and we hope to take advantage of the opportunities this presents,” he concluded.

The delegation, including six regional MPs, has met MEPs, EU officials and representatives from the Committee of Regions.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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