Written by Christiaan van Lierop,
Outreach with experts and the wider policy-making community represents a key part of our work here at the EPRS. That’s why we were delighted to be involved once again in the organisation of a specialist workshop as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities’ Master Class for early career researchers, which took place in Brussels from 8 to 11 October 2018.
This year’s workshop brought together 30 early career researchers from across the EU, specially chosen thanks to their expertise in regional policy. With the negotiations on the post-2020 EU cohesion package well underway, our workshop focused on three of the main legislative proposals under the future cohesion policy framework: the common provision regulation, the regulation on the European Regional Development Fund and the Cohesion Fund, and the regulation on European territorial cooperation (Interreg). Building on the successful formula used in previous years, EPRS experts outlined the main challenges at stake in each of the proposals before handing over to the workshop participants for their input. Discussions were organised around three tables, one for each legislative proposal, with participants asked to take part in the debate at each table in turn, providing everyone with the opportunity to engage in the discussions on each proposal. This elicited a number of key findings, set out below.
Common provisions regulation
Participants considered that there was a need to identify alternative indicators beyond GDP and called for more simplification in programming rules, noting that although bureaucracy should be simplified, Member States still needed to be able to set their own rules, taking local circumstances into account. In this context, they highlighted the importance of empowering local stakeholders, to enable them to be more involved in decision-making about the content of operational programmes. Participants also stressed the need for more data transparency particularly in the case of micro-level data, and for more post-project evaluation.
ERDF and CF regulation
The workshop found that more clarification was needed regarding thematic concentration, and called for the use of a differentiated approach, aligned with country priorities, rather than a ‘one-size fits all’ model. In terms of the choice of indicators used to report results, participants questioned the need to focus on quantitative indicators, noting that qualitative indicators were missing when measuring cohesion processes. In particular, they felt that there was a lack of correlation between output and results, with a linear logic often not visible. Participants also called for a clearer definition of the terms ‘innovation’ and ‘smart’, which were potentially confusing and could lead to misunderstandings when applied.
European territorial cooperation (ETC) regulation
Given the symbolic importance of ETC for the European project, participants questioned why only 2.5 % of the cohesion policy budget had been allocated to the Interreg goal, calling for it to be increased to 5 %. They also criticised the reduction to 52.7 % in the share of ETC resources allocated to cross-border cooperation, as well as the proposed reduction in the EU co-financing rate for Interreg projects from 85 % to 70 %. Participants felt that this reduction could put the participation of less developed countries at risk, calling for the 85 % rate to be retained for projects involving less developed countries, including candidate or other non-EU countries.
This Master Class for early career researchers provided interesting food for thought and an insightful and timely contribution to the current debate.