LAST DEVELOPMENTS ON EUROPEAN TERRITORIAL COHESION:



 

LAST DEVELOPMENTS ON EUROPEAN TERRITORIAL COHESION

 

The final debates on how territorial cohesion will look like in the next funding period seems to be an obstacle race with many different elements, which are being stressed in this last phase. This article summarizes main facts happened in May-June 2011.

 

On 11th May the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, attended for the first time the plenary of the Committee of the Regions (CoR). He is paying attention to the concerns of local and regional authorities, as it could be seen in the reference included in the Conclusions of the Council on the EU2020 Strategy last March. Next Council in June will focus on immigration, which is a key-issue for regions and municipalities in Southern Europe. Van Rompuy proposed to meet the CoR’s Bureau before every meeting of the European Council.

 

Commissioner Johannes Hahn met on 12th May the presidents of the outermost regions to guarantee that their specific allocations within the EU Cohesion Policy will be kept in the future, despite of the creation of an intermediate category of regions. The Commission already included this new category in the Fifth Cohesion Report, being applicable to regions under threat of losing EU support and those with a GDP between 75-90 % of EU average. This new category would replace current “phasing in” and phasing out” regions (Structural Funds, Convergence Objective).

 

The Committee on Regional Development (REGI) of the European Parliament supported this idea in a report adopted on 26th May, on the future EU Cohesion Policy (rapporteur: Markus Pieper, EPP, Germany), where the proposal was initially rejected. This intermediate category has been included after deep discussions and, due to still existing remarks, this issue will certainly come back in plenary. The main supporting argument is that the new category would treat regions with identical GDP in a same way, whether they exit or not the Convergence Objective. 40 regions could be affected in France, Spain, Italy, the UK, Germany and Belgium.

 

On the other hand, Pieper’s Report also asks the Cohesion Policy to address all EU regions, with preferential support mechanisms for the very remote regions, islands, mountain and scarcely populated regions. It also proposes to increase the share of cohesion policy budget earmarked for Cross-Border Cooperation from 2.5% (today) to 7.5% (after 2013). It also tackles the issue of conditionality, linking particularly the grant of funds to compliance with EU legislation, but rejects obligation for Member States (MSs) to introduce fundamental social and economic reforms. The vote on this report was originally scheduled for 23rd June, but due to a long list of votes, MEPs decided to interrupt the session and finish it in July.

 

The Informal Cohesion Policy Council in Gödőllő (Hungary) last 20th May asked for a closer tie between the future EU Cohesion Policy and the EU 2020 Strategy. Main facts:

-          The majority of MSs do not want a mandatory earmarking for EU 2020 priorities.

-          The main idea is a “basic menu” for MSs to choose, with a lot of flexibility.

-          The Commission asks for smaller choices for most developed regions (only one or two priorities for richer regions).

-          Aid conditionality was also discussed, but MSs will only accept positive incentives. There is consensus on the need that future Cohesion Policy should be more effective and oriented to results, but it is not clear how this should be put into practice: different types of conditionality, a checklist of preconditions to launch Operational Programmes, … Some want these conditions to be included in the general regulation of the Structural Funds, while others prefer to keep them for the negotiations between the Commission and the MSs.

-          Most MSs would only consider a performance reserve if it is limited to programme competition within a given MS. Only a minority is in favour of a European reserve (MSs would compete each other). Main concern is that such a reserve would encourage programmes easier to implement instead of more effective (but complicated) ones. On the other hand, these discussions are made by ministers in charge of regional development (those to implement programmes), but the rules will be adopted at the General Affairs Council (different ministries). To solve this, the Polish Presidency has proposed to organize a formal meeting of ministers in charge of cohesion and regional development in the framework of a General Affairs Council next 16th December 2011 in Brussels.

-          Adoption of a new Territorial Agenda, a review of the document adopted in 2007 during the German presidency, now taking into account the economic crisis, the EU 2020 Strategy, the 5th Cohesion Report and the new Lisbon Treaty. Amongst the recommendations:

  • Inclusion of a territorial dimension in different sectoral policies (governance)
  • Territorial priorities: promotion of polycentric and balanced development, integrated development of cities and regions, territorial cooperation as a factor of competitiveness, etc.
  • Consideration of territorial aspects in impact studies for legislative proposals
  • Adoption of integrated development strategies by cities and regions
  • Improvement of local data to be used by decision makers, etc

The Territorial Agenda is available at http://www.eu2011.hu/files/bveu/documents/TA2020.pdf

(more versions available?)

 

Macro-regions (macro-regional strategies) are gaining relevance all over Europe, either as successful strategic approaches over previously developed cooperation mechanisms (e.g. the Baltic Strategy), or as new approaches for further cooperation (the Danube Strategy). But there are many other initiatives aimed to consolidate a macro-regional strategy in their territories. On 23rd May the Council of Ministers of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative (AII), grouping eight countries (ALB, BIH, HRV, GRC, ITA, MNE, SRB and SVN), met in Brussels invited by the CoR. They agreed to continue working in their macro-regional strategy and obtain a high-level recognition. This would mean an enormous step to accompany developments in the Western Balkans.

 

On 31st May ten French regions met Commissioners Johannes Hahn (Regional Policy) and Lászlo Andor (Employment and Social Affairs), and the Chairpersons of the Parliament’s REGI and EMPL Committees Danuta Hübner and Pervenche Berès. The delegation was headed by the presidents of Aquitaine (Alain Rousset) and Brittany (Jean-Yves Le Drian), and the main aim was the defence of an ambitious cohesion policy before the presentation of the EU Multiannual Budget proposals, securing a “specific approach” for intermediate regions (75-90% of EU GDP), but also the need to support EU least favoured regions. In this same sense, many MEPs have stressed that the focus should be on the poorest regions, but richer areas also face problems that should be dealt with these funds.

 

Another issue on table is the central management of the funds. The regions should be directly involved in the management of programmes, and national authorities should keep a coordination role. The simplification of procedures is a constant demand, as well as the flexibility of the funds to allow faster and more appropriate responses to major challenges. The main indicator to determine eligibility for EU funding should be the GDP.

 

And, as already informed in the AEBR Newsflash May-June (page 2), the presidents of the CoR and main EU associations of local and regional authorities (AEBR, AER, CALRE, CEMR, CRPM, Eurocities and REGLEG) met President José Manuel Barroso in a working lunch on 16th June in Brüssel, in order to show their concerns about he calls for moderation of the next EU budget and exchange about the role of Multilevel Governance, Subsidiarity and Solidarity in the future Cohesion Policy.

 

Now, the Polish Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2011 has elaborated an ambitious agenda for an efficient management of the negotiation of Cohesion regulations, and strengthen the attributes of Cohesion Policy as the territorial development policy of the Union under the new economic governance system and the EU 2020 Strategy, while raising its political profile. The regional participation in the Eastern Partnership has been established as another priority for this period.

<< back