Günther H. Oettinger, joined the CoR Members for the first time in his new capacity as the Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources in the plenary session on May 12th to answer questions on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), future Cohesion Policy and further cooperation, including a proposal for a regional aspect within the country-specific recommendations.
Commissioner Oettinger called for more cooperation around the future MFF – searching for common solutions, programmes and instruments that can be implemented together with the local and regional authorities in the best interest of the citizens. The future budget is faced with many challenges – not least the 10-13bn euro gap left by the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The Commissioner also suspected that these challenges will also most likely postpone the MFF proposals until summer 2018. This, however, brings more scope for the interaction and cooperation with local and regional authorities on the issue – including ideas to renew, update, simplify or merge existing financial tools.
The future of the Cohesion Policy as well as the modernisation and development of the structural programmes were an important share in Commissioner Oettinger’s address to the Members where he strongly advocated for more involvement and engagement from local and regional authorities because “the more we can show added value, simplify and showcase results – the more we will have a stable and sustainable future Cohesion Policy for everyone“. Mr Oettinger also stressed that he will fight against cuts in Cohesion Policy, although some cuts or new priorities are inevitable due to the budget situation.
The Commissioner warmly welcomed President Schneider’s opinion on the future of the Cohesion Policy, which also calls for a wider alliance for all of those key actors that support a stronger and simpler Cohesion Policy. The CoR has for a long time demanded for a simplified Cohesion Policy with less red tape and regulatory burden. EPP-CoR President Michael Schneider was quick to showcase the strain on the local authorities by highlighting that “our experts use 80% of their time to read regulations and study rules and only 20% to draw plans and implement projects – when that relationship should be the other way!”
The case for simplification and better projects was a focal point for Commissioner Oettinger, who stated that “it’s all about a budget focused on results” and hinting at the direction of gaining simplification already during 2017 through changes in the budget regulation. Mr Oettinger encouraged Members to bring forward their priorities for future Cohesion funding while also encouraged them to think carefully about the type of projects to be co-financed, focusing on sustainable actions such as digital infrastructure e.g. rural broadband networks. President Schneider also advocated for sensible projects and to stop wasting money, as the problem of thematic concentration of structural funds’ projects has often ended up straightjacketing regions into unsustainable projects. “We need a territorial place-based approach to correct the situation. Regions know what will work in their areas and how best to use the money sustainably“, Mr Schneider concluded.