Cohesion policy is the European investment tool that ensures that all Member States, regions and municipalities – from less developed to more – are able to benefit from the European integration. Therefore, the future of the policy is inextricably linked to the future of the European Union as a whole, emphasised EPP-CoR President Michael Schneider upon the adoption of his opinion ‘The Future of Cohesion Policy beyond 2020’ in the CoR COTER Commission on March 2nd.

Cohesion policy is an essential counterpart to the internal market rules: it creates a level playing-field for all actors and helps to protect exiting jobs while also creating new ones through investments in the real economy. But President Schneider sees two main areas for improvement – simplification and flexibility of the Cohesion policy, delivered in Europe’s regions through the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds):

The ESI Funds delivery system is overregulated and too complicated. Consequently, many think that ESI Funds support is not attractive and simply not worth the effort. So, the simplification of the shared management programmes should be at the heart of the reform process for post-2020. The policy should be able to respond to crises and unforeseen events in the short term, while always keeping its strategic focus. In the future, there must be a way to offer integrated and differentiated solutions on the ground, cutting across policy areas and issues.”

The synergies between the Structural Funds and other EU funds and loans are also a central element of the opinion. President Schneider continued: “ESI Funds and European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) should be complementary to each other, not pitted against choosing one another. We also should not move too much into a direction of favouring loans over grants, thus stifling the possibilities for local and regional authorities to improve the everyday living conditions of our citizens.”

Finally, the opinion calls for maintaining the basic structure of the Cohesion policy – the three categories of most developed, transition and less developed regions – and strengthening the multi-level governance of the funds. “Cohesion Policy is a tool for all European regions to use in their development and the policy has always been one of the clearest flagbearers of multi-level governance as well as a bottom-up partnership between all levels of government. We should strengthen the territorial and urban dimensions of the funds while also keeping in mind the cross-border cooperation,” President Schneider closed.

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