Thanks to cohesion policy, the EU invest €454bn between 2014 and 2020 to reduce disparities and support sustainable growth in all its regions, in partnership with national and local actors. In a paper adopted on 11 May, regions and cities argued that this policy has delivered tangible results and should be strengthened in the future. With proper funding, more flexibility, easier procedures and better integration with other EU investment tools, cohesion policy can make the recovery of European economies faster and more inclusive, enabling the Union to tackle urgent challenges such as migration, climate change, and territorial resilience.
With the opinion on the Future of Cohesion Policy post 2020 prepared by Michael Schneider, State Secretary of Saxony-Anhalt and President of the CoR’s EPP Group, the European Committee of the Regions is the first EU institution to adopt a formal position on how to develop EU’s main investment policy for the 27. The opinion is based on evidence from studies and consultations and aims to give a political steer to the forthcoming proposals for the EU’s budget after 2020.
EU regional and local leaders argue that the future cohesion policy should be built bearing in mind that over the last decade hundreds of thousands of projects supported by EU Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds have succeeded in creating jobs, modernising infrastructure, boosting human capital and improving life quality.
Nonetheless, regions and cities are aware that cohesion policy maybe undermined by the financial impact of Brexit and the political pressure to fund new priorities such as defence, security, border controls or investment tools centrally managed by the EU’s institutions. The Committee opposes diverting any funds and demands that, even after Brexit, the current percentage share of the EU budget allocated to cohesion policy remain the same.
“Migration, security or new investment instruments are gaining attention in the public debate but cohesion policy cannot be side-lined at the very moment when we attempt to tackle Euroscepticism and fight for more unity among our citizens. It is the most impressive European instrument of solidarity and building bridges between European communities. It helps to share more equally the benefits of European integration among the European citizens and to nurture our unity in a globalising world“, said Mr Schneider after the plenary vote.
The Committee – Europe’s assembly of regional and local representatives – calls on the other EU institutions and member states to rely on cohesion policy as a participative, democratic and open platform to relaunch the European project, reduce the distance between EU institutions and citizens, and make EU solidarity a tangible reality in every corner of the Union.
The CoR’s President, Markku Markkula, remarked, “The best way to counter populism is through action. Only through delivering sustainable jobs and growth across all of Europe’s regions and cities can we demonstrate that the EU matters. Schneider’s opinion shows our determination that cohesion policy must continue to play a part of Europe’s future. As the EU’s institution of regional and local leaders, we are encouraging the establishment of a strong alliance of all those in favour of a simpler and more effective cohesion that improves the daily lives of every citizen“.
This call was welcomed by EU Budget Commissioner, Günther H. Oettinger, during the debate with members.
To improve its effectiveness, the CoR urges the EU to tackle the complexity and rigidity which is slowing the delivery of cohesion policy. In the absence of adequate simplification and flexibility, they argue, excessive administrative costs coupled with growing legal and financial uncertainty, risk jeopardising the policy’s impact and added value for beneficiaries.