26-27 June 2017: 7th Cohesion Forum in Brussels:



 

In an environment marked by President Jean-Claude Juncker’s White Paper on the Future of Europe. Reflections and Scenarios for the EU27 by 2025 from last March, available in different languages in the following link: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/white-paper-future-europe_en (see article below), and the strong efforts made by EU institutions to “rescue” Cohesion Policy from a possible cut of the EU budget, the 7th Cohesion Forum took place in Brussels, for the first time before the respective Cohesion Report.

Hundreds of thousands of projects all over Europe have received funding from the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund), the ESF (European Social Fund) and the Cohesion Fund (which applies to EU Member States with a GDP lower that 90% of the EU-27 average). Territorial cohesion was added by the Treaty of Lisbon to the previous economic and social cohesion, in order to promote a more balanced and sustainable territorial development, especially at regional level.

The Commission shall submit a report to the Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions every three years on the progress towards achieving economic, social and territorial cohesion. The 6th Report was submitted in 2014 (with little focus on territorial cohesion, as it was already highlighted by the AEBR), so the 7th is expected to be submitted in 2017 (most probably in the fourth quarter of the year). The goal of the 7th Cohesion Report is to describe changes over time and to assess how Cohesion Policy, other EU and national investment policies have reduced disparities across EU regions and States.

The three mentioned funds (ERDF, ESF and Cohesion Fund) plus the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) are what is known as the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds. The 7th Cohesion Report will describe the evolution of economic, social and territorial cohesion, and the role of the funds on the progress made, describing the impact of EU and national policies, and reviewing the application of the provisions linking ESI funds to a sound economic governance. Since the publication of the 6th Cohesion Report, the AEBR has lobbied the Commission (at all levels: Commissioner, Director General, Directors, Heads of Unit and desk-officers) to stress the need to strengthen the focus on territorial cohesion and, particularly, in cross-border areas.

The future of Cohesion Policy is closely linked to the debate on the future of the EU, particularly since the European Commission itself has recently expressed doubts about the added value and the future role of cohesion policy at EU level. In its 123rd Plenary Session on 11-12 May, the CoR approved an own Opinion on The future of Cohesion Policy beyond 2020. For a strong and effective European cohesion Policy beyond 2020. Mr Michael Schneider (DE/EPP), State Secretary at the Land of Saxony-Anhalt, was the rapporteur of this Opinion, which includes an excellent set of policy recommendations for this very important debate on the future of the EU.

Furthermore, the CoR called for an event on 18 May in association with the Assembly of European Regions (AER), the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR), the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), and EUROCITIES, in order to organize an Alliance on the Future of Cohesion Policy in the EU. This event was the occasion to send a strong message to the upcoming Cohesion Forum calling for securing a strong and effective Cohesion Policy for all regions beyond 2020, including the need for a territorial vision, and responding to criticism and detrimental proposals, such as “Scenario 4” of the White Paper.

The consultation strategy of the Commission is based on the 7th Cohesion Forum, held on 26-27 June 2017 in Brussels. Besides, this work will be presented at the European Week of Regions and Cities (former Open Days) on 9-12 October 2017 to get a wide feedback from local and regional stakeholders. It will also be discussed at the General Affairs Council on Cohesion (November 2017). Further consultation activities are expected during the preparation of the new legislative proposal for the post-2020 period, including an open public consultation.

The 7th Cohesion Forum gathered a high number of Commissioners, MEPs, representatives of the Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee, and many representatives of different stakeholders in most sectors. A main message was that Cohesion Policy is an element of upmost importance for the EU, and should be kept or even increased in the next programming period. It is the expression of the European solidarity and now has to answer the new challenges. Very relevant was the participation of Commissioner Moscovici, in charge of economic and financial affairs, who showed a strong commitment to fight unemployment, particularly within the Euro-zone. On the other hand, Commissioner Oettinger, in charge of the EU budget, was fully convinced of the Structural Policy of the EU whenever it means an added value to national measures. Other interventions stressed the need of a European response to globalisation and technological change, as well as the need to have simpler and more effective rules. President Juncker and Commissioner Cretu stressed the need of “glocalisation”: promote intense structural reforms at local level all over Europe to promote our competitiveness in a global environment. Efficiency and resilience were additional keywords. Last but not least, it was highlighted the need to make Cohesion more visible at all levels. Unfortunately, territorial cohesion was not stressed sufficiently, at least from a point of view. In this sense, the AEBR is preparing a letter addressed to all EU authorities highlighting the need to take more into consideration the added value of territorial cohesion of European integration.

The Report might take on most recommendations of the Forum and will include a summary of the ex-post evaluation of Cohesion Policy 2007-2013.

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