The European Union is facing a number of challenges in order to boost economic growth. Efforts are being made to overcome the economic and financial crisis, to ensure the sustainability of public finances, correct macro-economic imbalances, while addressing demographic and climate change.
In many of the areas related to social, economic and environmental challenges, local and regional authorities are often both directly affected and key players in addressing the difficult circumstances faced by the citizens in their daily lives.
Above all, it must be stressed that cohesion policy constitutes the key instrument for giving practical effect to the Lisbon Treaty’s strategic objective of reducing socio-economic and territorial disparities and levelling the playing field on which Member States and regions can contribute to the European integration process.
In this context and with regard to the European Council’s Spring Summit of 24-25 March 2011, the EPP Group in the Committee of the Regions reiterates its position on the current and future contribution of economic, social and territorial cohesion as a growth driver of the European Union.
The EPP Group in the Committee of the Regions therefore
Cohesion policy – enabler of solidarity, growth and integration in EU construction
- underlines the important role of cohesion policy in the harmonious development of the EU by reducing disparities between its regions and cities and contributing to raising the level of GDP; economic, social and territorial cohesion must therefore continue to be a core element of the European integration model;
- points out that cohesion policy, being an investment policy for development, has a proven leverage effect in terms of boosting the economy of regions and cities and thus of the Member States; therefore the link between cohesion policy and a stable economic policy framework should be strengthened, but not by penalising regional and local authorities;
- stresses that the EU budget is an essential expression and tool of advancement in European integration and European solidarity; the EU needs sufficient own resources, which have to be utilised with due regard to the subsidiarity and proportionality principles, while constantly increasing European added value;
- welcomes the proposals of the Fifth cohesion report to give cohesion policy, with its devolved approach and system of multilevel governance, a significant role in linking the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and the new challenges with local and regional authorities;
- shares the view that a major share of available resources must continue to go to the regions and Member States lagging behind in order to reduce the development gaps, help open up fairer opportunities for the regions and foster European solidarity;
- supports the Commission’s proposals regarding transition regions given that the former Convergence regions need special support so that the successes they have achieved with the help of the Structural Funds are not jeopardised by the funding being discontinued;
- underlines that the Regional competitiveness and employment objective must also continue to support all other EU regions, not least in order to boost innovation, social cohesion and competitiveness;
- insists that given its high European added value, territorial cooperation must also remain an objective in its own right to support cross-border, transnational and inter-regional cooperation, and, in particular, to make a practical contribution to territorial cohesion in the European Union;
Cohesion policy and the Europe 2020 strategy
- stresses that cohesion policy has already delivered proven results towards the goals of sustainable, inclusive and smart growth. The future cohesion policy will be consequently geared towards similar objectives, but at the same time it cannot be limited to being a mere tool to be used for the implementation of other development strategies;
- welcomes the Conclusions of the Council of the European Union on the Fifth cohesion report underling that the Europe 2020 strategy objectives can only be achieved in a sustainable manner if disparities between the levels of development in the EU continue to be reduced;
- shares the views expressed by the Council that cohesion policy, through its established multi-level governance structure, is able to provide positive incentives and assistance to ensure the ownership of Europe 2020 objectives at local and regional levels;
Ownership in the conception and implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy
- highlights that regional and local authorities contribute directly to the objectives, including by taking ownership of the Europe 2020 strategy; supports the establishment of territorial pacts as a concrete expression of the partnership principle at central, regional and local levels;
- insists that territorial pacts should not be conceived as new bureaucratic instruments, but as an integral part of National Reform Programmes, to give effect to the principle of multilevel governance through a practical, workable partnership between central, regional and local authorities and in full compliance with national legislation;
- stresses that the territorial pacts are officially supported by the European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions; therefore proposes that the Hungarian Presidency include the proposal on territorial pacts for Europe 2020 in the conclusions of the upcoming EU spring summit in March, as part of its recommendations on the National Reform Programmes;
Efficiency and performance of cohesion while strengthening regional and local capacity-building
- underlines the need for a holistic approach to cohesion policy, agricultural policy and fisheries policy with regard to regional development and demands better coordination and a joint strategic framework for implementing the funds;
- supports the idea that the priorities and the level of intervention of the individual funds should be defined via a bottom-up process based on regional needs and regional strategies; therefore rejects any attempt to define top-down fixed ratios for the individual funds at European level;
- supports a revision of the Community budget that responds to the needs of EU regions and cities and ensures enough flexibility to select policies, while being closely linked to implementation on the ground and ensuring cooperation between territories;
- believes that the current principles of cohesion policy with respect to the system of multilevel governance, subsidiarity and proportionality, multi-annual programme planning and partnership, together with indicator-based programme management and assessment have proven their worth. Welcomes in this respect attempts to reinforce partnership and dialogue between the Commission, Member States, regional and local authorities, which should also be reflected in the Development and Investment Partnership Contracts;
- states that the current system of resource management is too complicated and prone to error. Therefore it must be the common goal of all actors to reduce the administrative burden and simplify resource management as well as settlement and auditing procedures;
- will strongly encourage regional and local authorities to develop appropriate financial and institutional resources in order to ensure more efficient management of programmes and better spending of EU funding and to cope with the complexity of EU funded projects, mainly in terms of administrative burden and red tape; therefore it calls for the EU to organise specific training sessions and Erasmus programmes for regional and local authorities;
- stresses the need to ensure appropriate levels of financing, especially in the context of cuts in public budgets, in order to properly enable regional and local authorities to take part in major projects financed through the Structural Funds.