Members' Research Service By / November 16, 2023

The future of EU cohesion policy: The emerging debate [Policy podcast]

The years 2023 and 2024 are fundamental for implementing the 2021-2027 cohesion policy programmes, but also for preparing the future of these programmes.

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Written by Balázs Széchy.

Early work is underway on the post-2027 reform of EU cohesion policy. This creates a unique opportunity for regional and local stakeholders to influence national positions and those of the European institutions at an early stage, well before the actual start of the legislative process. This reflection process is not only technical, but is also highly political because it touches on many of the challenges the EU is facing. Key issues include the degree to which other EU policies support cohesion objectives; the balance between the policy’s use in crises and its focus on longer-term goals; the future governance of the policy; where and how its effectiveness can be improved; the continued need to develop institutional capacity; and the impact of any new Member States potentially joining the EU during the next funding period.

The European Commission has set up a high-level group of specialists to examine and re-shape the role of cohesion policy. The group will publish its strategic conclusions and recommendations in early 2024. These will feed into the ninth report on cohesion, a comprehensive document expected to present the Commission’s substantive reform options for the future design of cohesion policy. The first EU institution to adopt an official position on cohesion policy post-2027 will be the Committee of the Regions at its plenary in November 2023.

Cohesion policy is expected to change fundamentally in the coming years. However, there are certain key principles that most stakeholders are intent on keeping, such as: multi-level governance with the representatives of the regions; the place-based approach, which recognises the specific development needs of territories; and the partnership principle, which seeks to include all relevant stakeholders in the design and implementation of the programmes. A key challenge is the policy’s future relationship with the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), a temporary instrument promoting short-term recovery after the pandemic. Undoubtedly, the RRF has strong implications for the post-2027 architecture of EU intervention.

It can be safely assumed, based also on the pace of the previous reforms, that the legislative process to establish the rules for cohesion policy post-2027 will be initiated about 2 years before the end of the funding period, in the first half of 2025. Although interventions concerning the future design of cohesion policy are still feasible afterwards, they would be much less influential as negotiations between the co-legislators progress.

Read the complete briefing on ‘The future of EU cohesion policy: The emerging debate‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Listen to policy podcast ‘The future of EU cohesion policy: The emerging debate’ on YouTube.

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