#CohesionAlliance and the debates around the new programming period:



 

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The last coordination meeting of the Cohesion Alliance on 19 February concentrated on updating the last developments in the Parliament and the Council about future Cohesion in a crucial year for next regulations and finances in 2021-2027.

A set of amendments to the proposed Interreg regulations adopted by the European Parliament on January 2019 added some more “suspense” in a promising direction for future European territorial Cooperation. The amendments include the need to keep a place-based approach, a higher involvement of local and regional authorities and the strengthening of subsidiarity, an additional component for outermost regions to cooperate with third countries, more coherence with external action and other policies to achieve goals such as the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and more. Main headlines of this report could be their requests to take back maritime CBC to CBC, an adequate continuity of ongoing cooperation programmes at the new external border of the EU in case of Brexit, more relevance for interregional cooperation, and the substantial increase of the budget to be allocated to Interreg VI.

The latest report on the Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), the general rules for EU funds under shared management – and the final text backed by MEPs includes key requests by local and regional authorities, their associations and the Cohesion Alliance with regards to:

  • Maintaining the architecture of cohesion policy with its three categories of regions (less developed regions, transition regions, and developed regions).
  • Preserving and reaffirming the principle of multilevel governance, including with a reference to the Code of Conduct on partnership.
  • Simplifying and making the funds implementation more flexible.

These are main points of convergence between the European Parliament’s adopted position and the CoR’s demands:

  • reference to the appropriate territorial level for administering the programmes;
  • the need to use the latest available statistical data for NUTS 2 regions;
  • reference to the Code of Conduct for Partnership and multilevel governance;
  • the inclusion of integrated approaches to address demographic or natural challenges in the    Partnership Agreements (and also the operational programmes);
  • the clarification that enabling conditions should only apply to the extent to which they contribute to the objectives of the Funds;
  • the proposal to maintain the 7 year programming period;
  • the increase of pre-financing rates;
  • maintaining the n+3 rule;
  • the establishment of a regional safety net and
  • the increase of the co-financing rates.

The report converges with the key points of CoR opinion prepared by the President of the CoR PES Group Catiuscia Marini (IT/PES), President of the Umbria Region, and by the President of the CoR EPP Group Michael Schneider, State Secretary, Representative of the Land of Saxony-Anhalt to the Federal Government. As highlighted by the CoR President, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, "Both EU political assemblies demand the respect of the principles of partnership and multilevel governance, insist that the preparation and implementation of the investment plans should take place at the appropriate territorial level, and oppose any suspension of funds punishing regions and cities as a consequence of decisions taken by national governments".

According to Ms Marini, this"vote is a breakthrough for cities and regions, as the report takes on board our demands for a strong cohesion policy, that remains available to all regions and is managed in partnership with local actors. The vote also confirms our ambition to make cohesion policy the key tool to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and fight against inequality and climate change at all levels across the EU. We now call on the Member States to do their part. Any delay on the next EU budget would be lethal for local and regional authorities that desperately need cohesion funds to bring forward investment that has a real impact on the lives of citizens."

In a context where many expect cuts to cohesion policy after 2020, the EP report calls for capping the reduction of funds also at regional level, a key request of the CoR, recalled by Mr Schneider: "The European Parliament sends a clear message for a strong and effective Cohesion Policy, which supports investments in our cities and regions also in the next programming period. He congratulated Andrey Novakov and Constanze Krehl on the adoption of their report. In particular, he welcomed the agreement on the 'safety net' which guarantees sustainable continued funding for our regions. This is a good step towards the final agreement on the regulation in time and avoiding delays in the use of the funds starting in 2021."

With regards to the provisions obliging the Commission to freeze structural funds in Member States that fail to comply with the EU's budgetary and fiscal discipline, the Parliament vote, after years of discussions, goes now towards a deletion that was urged by the CoR since 2013, when the rule was introduced.  "Excessive deficit procedures that freeze EU investment on reducing disparities and supporting weakest communities would leave citizens out in the cold at the very moment when they are demanding support from the EU", commented President Lambertz, adding that: "By changing its approach to this issue and increasing the flexibility of the Stability and Growth Pact to boost cohesion policy investment, the European Parliament proves to be closer to the European people and their hope to have more solidarity within the EU".

As for the matching funds that national and regional authorities must make available to activate cohesion policy's financial support – the so called "co-financing rates" –, the EP report is mostly in line with the CoR opinion, demanding to lower the minimum financial effort requested from Member States and regions, in comparison with the Commission's proposal tabled in May.

Full convergence also on reintroducing the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development into the CPR, to better integrate it with the other cohesion funds; securing financial allocation for the whole 2021-2027 period; and keeping the 'n+3' rule - which sets a maximum 3 year deadline between the formal commitment of funds for a project and the moment payments are actually executed – instead of switching to 'n+2' as proposed by the Commission.

As for the regulations for specific European Structural and Investment (ESI) funds, the European Committee of the Regions delivered its proposals last December, while the EP is expected to conclude its work on 26 March by voting the report on the European Fund for Regional Development and Cohesion Fund. MEP Pascal Arimont’s already presented its report on the Specific Provisions for Interreg and MEP Andrea Cozzolino’s on ERDF and Cohesion Fund at the REGI Committee last 3 December.

  • Investing on cohesion policy 2021-2027 the same share of the EU budget invested in the current phase.
  • Making cohesion policy available for all regions in the EU.
  • Deleting macroeconomic conditionality, so funds for regions and cities could not be frozen by the Commission in case of excessive deficit procedure against a Member State.
  • Introducing more flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact to boost cohesion policy investments.

As already mentioned, the Plenary of the Parliament adopted an enormous set of amendments on 16 January 2019 on Interreg provisions, including a substantial increase in funding and some more flexibility in several specific requirements.

There is currently a consistent group of MEPs supporting Cohesion Policy, and we have to support them, being all members of the Alliance in favour of increasing lobby actions towards the European Parliament in September and October (we will also keep on lobbying current MEPS, who can still contribute to reinforce these policies.

New MEPS will take office in July and we will know the composition of the REGI Committee in September. The new Commissioner´s hearing at the Parliament will take place in October, so the members of the Alliance are expected to be very active after the summertime.

At the end of the current Parliament activity (expected in April 2019), a common press-release will be drafted and published by the Alliance.

At the Council, Member States have started the discussion on the ERDF and CPR. A trilogue (informal tripartite meetings of the Parliament, the Council and the Commission) will be open soon and relevant results are expected during the Romanian Presidency. At the end of June the Council Position on Cohesion will be adopted.

Currently there is a significant progress concerning the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027. First discussions will start at the Spring Council Summit (March). There will also be a European Council meeting on MFF in June. A first agreement on the budget for the next programming period will be possibly reached in October. European election should not significantly interfere in this debate.

At the Committee of the Regions, the main opinions on Cohesion Policy will be voted on 4-5 December 2019 (Plenary Session).

An updated brochure of the Cohesion Alliance will be published in March, July and October being the last two ones the most relevant ones.

A common activity will be organised on the 10th July (at the same time of the COTER meeting). The date was already agreed in a previous meeting.

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