Cohesion reform, more support for interregional cooperation

Meeting in Jaén, Spain, last week, the members of the Committee of the Regions’ Commission for territorial cohesion (COTER) emphasised the positive knock-on effects of such funding for regional growth and social inclusion. Local and regional politicians from across Europe sent a strong message in favour of maintaining an ambitious EU cohesion policy after 2013, when its current design and funding expires. At the same time, they urged reforms to improve its strategic planning and evaluation and called upon the European Commission to step up its support for interregional cooperation.

Within the framework of the Spanish Presidency, the Committee of the Regions had been invited to Jaén at the initiative of Lucena Barranquero, Secretary General for External Affairs of Andalucía, to debate the future of cohesion policy after the Lisbon treaty.

Summarising today’s discussions, Marek Woźniak (PL/EPP), Marshall of the Wielkopolskie region and First Vice Chair of the COTER Commission, underlined: “For the past twenty years, EU cohesion policy has enabled regions to boost their economic growth and improve their social cohesion, whilst simultaneously strengthening their administrative capacities. We therefore emphasise the need for continuing this policy at European level, based on the values of solidarity, and ambitious in both objectives and funding.”

María del Mar Moreno, Regional Minister of the Presidency for the Andalucían government, said: “Andalucía supports the creation of a transition mechanism to consolidate the progress made over the past few years thanks to cohesion policy, especially given the negative effects of the global economic crisis on certain regions. Only such a transition system would avoid endangering the results achieved by cohesion policy in regions such as Andalucía.”

CoR members agreed on the need to improve strategic planning in cohesion policy and to introduce more effective tools for assessing its results. Any reform must also be in line with the EU’s new objective of “territorial cohesion”, seminar participants insisted. This means that the European institutions have to pay more attention to the regional impact of all EU activities from the outset. The seminar also concluded that cohesion policy should contribute to the new “Europe 2020″ strategy, while retaining its own objectives as set out in the EU treaty.

Addressing the concrete needs of regions all over Europe, the CoR called on the European Commission to step up support for European Groupings for Territorial Cooperation (EGTC), a new EU instrument for regions to carry out interregional cooperation. The Committee also urged the Commission to define more precisely the role of so-called macro-regions in the framework of EU cohesion policy.

CoR braces itself for cohesion policy negotiations
The current EU budget and programmes are set until 2013, but important decisions determining eligibility rules and funding levels for the future European cohesion policy are expected within the next year. Having unanimously adopted the outlook opinion prepared by Michael Schneider (DE/EPP), European affairs state secretary in Saxony-Anhalt, in April, the Committee of the Regions is the first EU body with an official position on the future of cohesion policy.

To further clarify the relationship between cohesion policy and the “Europe 2020″ strategy, the incoming Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union has asked the Committee of the Regions for an opinion on the issue. Michael Schneider is currently drafting this opinion, which is scheduled for adoption in October. Constantin Ostaficiuc (RO/EPP), President of Timiş County Council, is meanwhile preparing the Committee’s response to the European Commission’s recent strategic report on the implementation of the cohesion policy programmes 2007-2013.

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