Cohesion is here to stay
How to beef up this major policy post-2020 will be discussed in the coming months
Maria Koleva, Brussels
30 June, 2017
A bulk of challenges, ranging from globalisation to Brexit, migration crisis, inequalities, unemployment and poverty, were in the focus of the debates on EU cohesion policy. In the current programming period, 30% of EU’s total budget is spent for the regions and cities, but the opinions differ on what will happen in the beginning of next decade. This policy indeed is giving chances to the less developed part of the EU to reduce to some extent their economic and social disparities with the well-off regions. In the discussions on how it will be transformed, there were even voices for scrapping it. The coming months will kick off the negotiations on the next financial period after 2020 and the picture will be more clear.
The 7th Cohesion Forum on 26 and 27 June in Brussels gathered more than 700 high level representatives from European institutions, national governments, regional and local authorities, economic and social partners, NGOs and academia, so as to outline the facets of the post-2020 framework for this crucial to the Union policy. But also to underline that cohesion policy is here to stay.
The event is a significant get-together, taking place every three years, to voice new ideas, thoughts and concerns on the scope and focus of cohesion in view of the fact that in 730 days the UK will quit the EU. And as it is well known, this departure will leave a sizeable gap in the common budget, so the expenditure areas have to be revisited.
The buzzword in the De Gaspari room of the Commission’s Charlemagne building became “glocal” and the EP President Jean-Claude Juncker claimed to be its author. We are in the era of what we can call “glocal” as there is no real border between global, national, regional, local, he said. In his words, cohesion policy irrigates the Union, it affects all regions and it really is a policy that brings us closer to the citizens and meets the challenges being faced by citizens, President Juncker pointed out. He also noted that sometimes people are not aware of the cohesion policy being beneficiaries of that policy. On the so called Juncker Plan, he underlined that one of its objectives was to mobilise more private investment hand in hand with public investment to double the use of financial instruments in the cohesion policy. And up to now, over €200bn are invested in job creation and growth in SMEs, research, and energy efficiency.
Talking about the benefits of cohesion policy for his country, Malta’s PM Joseph Muscat said that its can be seen in many areas, but especially in energy efficiency, renewables and waste management. Thanks to the cohesion money, Malta is the only country in the Mediterranean that doesn’t throw sewage in the sea. “We treat each and every drop of sewage,” he emphasised.
Corina Cretu, EU commissioner for regional policy stated that cohesion policy brings European solidarity to each and every corner of the Union, making sure that everybody has access to the same opportunities. She highlighted that it is a win-win policy for everybody and helps raise standards of living across Europe in those Member States which benefit most from EU-funded projects by investing in public infrastructure, schools, hospitals, training, but also for Europe as a whole. Commenting on the debated new conditionality instrument in the debate of the future of the cohesion policy concerning the respect of rule of law, Commissioner Cretu said it is policy for jobs and growth and not for punishing anybody. All ideas are on the table, but if new conditionalities are to be introduced, they should cover all EU policies and not just cohesion, she added.
On the same topic, Markku Markkula, president of the Committee of the Regions, argued that cohesion money is for the regional and local levels and if a national government is doing something that the European Parliament and the Commission don’t like, the regional and local level should not be punished. It is not an instrument that we are ready to use as punishment, he asserted.