Written by Vasileios Margaras,
European Parliament Vice-President Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso (EPP, Spain) opened an EPRS roundtable discussion on ‘Setting European Priorities: The cohesion policy perspective’ on 20 June in the EP Library reading room. An audience of representatives from local and regional offices, as well as MEP offices and officials, demonstrated the growing interest in the future of cohesion policy. Providing an overview of the cohesion policy contribution to the lives of European citizens – and the current challenges – the Vice-President referred to the Treaties that established the European Union, which underpin European integration.
Cohesion policy contributes positively to job creation, sustainable development and entrepreneurial competitiveness in the EU. Vice-President Valcárcel Siso applauded the indisputable progress achieved with the use of European Structural and Investment Funds. There is no substitute for cohesion policy – which covers Europe’s basic needs – and should continue to do so. The EU should not leave behind those who need help. As negotiations begin for the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework, the time is now right for a proper debate on cohesion policy.
However – although Brexit constitutes a major issue for the EU budget – it should not monopolise the discussion on the future of cohesion policy. Questions to address include what form of financial support for regions are most suitable: grants – or financial instruments? In this respect, the European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI, known as the Juncker investment plan), should contribute added value to cohesion policy, rather than being seen a substitute. The discussion also highlighted the issues of governance, rural-urban connections and the urban dimension of the EU, as themes of major importance. Linking cohesion policy to the priorities of EU economic governance is a further crucial, albeit divisive issue, which underlines tensions between contributing and receiving countries.
Lambert van Nistelrooij (EPP, The Netherlands) highlighted the importance of European territorial cooperation and smart specialisation. The latter is vital to Europe’s prosperity, as it boosts production and exports in a global era. It is important to further explore solutions to improve communication of cohesion policy, particularly as, for citizens, even the benefits of completed projects may take years to materialise. There is a need for a real code of conduct on partnership, so that the involvement of local and regional actors in the shaping of cohesion policy continues.
Focusing on the difficulties that bureaucratic overload causes local and regional authorities when dealing with the ESI Funds, Petr Osvald, Member of the Committee of Regions, made the case for simplification. Indeed, this was a common priority for all the panel speakers. Greater flexibility would make cohesion policy programmes easier to implement. Osvald also mentioned the recently established Alliance on the future of cohesion policy, created with Committee of the Regions support, and the participation of many other regional lobbies.
Professor Simona Piattoni (EUI/University of Trento) focused on structural adjustment and macroeconomic management – providing a multilevel governance perspective. Piattoni mentioned that the many different targets and priorities have overloaded cohesion policy. Better indicators, differentiated instruments, and special task forces may make it more efficient. Piattoni also discussed uneven capacity for governance, as well as underperforming regions, and made suggestions as to how to tackle the problems.
The session concluded with a lively discussion, which touched upon many of the issues raised by the panellists. The debate will certainly continue until the next MFF priorities emerge.
For a deeper understanding of the issues, try the following EPRS publications:
- Challenges for EU cohesion policy: Issues in the forthcoming post-2020 reform (EN,FR,ES)
- EFSI and ESI Funds: Complementarity or contradiction?
- Guide to EU Funding 2014-2020
- Delivering the Urban Agenda for the EU
- Beyond GDP: Global and regional development indicators
- Economic and budgetary outlook for the European Union 2017