Written by Vasileios Margaras,
In a 2015 speech, European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Corina Creţu, re-ignited the debate on the post-2020 cohesion policy reform by suggesting various issues for reflection. Some of these issues are of a technical nature while others are of a more political nature and may lead to intensive debates. In addition, this reflection coincides with the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) review. The degree and change of the MFF review may alter the scope of EU Regional Policy. The European Parliament debates many of these issues, in particularly within the Committee of Regional Development.
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Which issues should be given priority?
The future of cohesion policy debate is important for regions as it opens up the discussion on the funding allocation and the policy priorities for the post 2020 era. For instance, should cohesion policy continue to invest in advanced EU regions, especially in wealthy metropolitan ones? What should be the best way to support lagging regions, especially those which, in spite of decades of EU support, have not converged towards the EU average? The way cohesion policy could also better support economic growth outside heavily populated areas and regions with special geographical characteristics (e.g. mountainous and insular territories) is put forward by certain regional policy-makers. Still, it seems that priorities are elsewhere: special attention is paid to the role of the urban dimension in cohesion policy both by the European Commission.
Taking into account the wider political agenda
In addition, the way that cohesion policy addresses new or growing challenges (such as energy security, migration and the digital economy) is debated. The simplification of policy for beneficiaries, the importance of achieving better governance and the contribution of cohesion policy to the EU’s economic governance are also on the table. How can cohesion policy can best contribute to its two objectives: competitiveness and cohesion? And how far are these compatible?
With which means should regions be supported?
Finding the most efficient form of support is an important point of reflection: should it be grants, repayable assistance, financial instruments, or possibly a mix of all of these along with further thematic concentration? However, the so-promoted funding instruments may not be always appropriate for all EU regions. Last but not least, the method of allocation of cohesion policy funds is another thought-provoking issue. However, a possible use of new indicators will bring different priorities in the budget allocation.
Opening Pandora’s box?
The discussion over the future of cohesion policy is not “problem free”. Possible re-allocations of funds through a re-prioritisation of policy targets may open up the debate between net contributing and net receiving Member States, or between different political agents who would like to defend their domains from a possible loss or transfer of funds. Due to the appearance of new political priorities, further flexibility of funding may be required in cases of emergency – for instance, the adoption of measures to deal with immigration flows— to the loss of cohesion policy. It may be the case that aspects of cohesion policy may be questioned by the more sceptical European actors. These may look for further reassurances regarding the positive results that cohesion policy has produced so far.