Investing more to reduce regional disparities and to mobilise regions and cities to create opportunities for citizens should be the key answer to the challenges of the post-Brexit scenario. This was the main message shared by members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) at a meeting in Warsaw on 2 March with the European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Crețu and the ministers for development from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia as well as Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia.
Cohesion policy – worth €454bn until 2020 – is by far the largest investment tool of the EU, supporting inclusive and smart growth in every European region. It reduces development gaps, spreads innovation and enhances the competitiveness of the EU economies by involving EU institutions, national governments as well as local and regional authorities.
Nonetheless, EU regions and cities fear that the crucial objective of economic, social and territorial cohesion could be undermined in the EU budget post 2020, which is due to be proposed by the European Commission by the end of 2017. The main risks are linked to the impact of Brexit on the resources available as well as to attempts to centralise the management of EU's investment decisions, to replace subsidies with loans, and to divert resources to different priorities such as migration, external border management and support for structural reforms.
A day after the presentation of the European Commission White Paper on the Future of the EU, these concerns were discussed in Warsaw by members of the CoR's Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER). "A strong Cohesion Policy, showing the benefits and solidarity of the EU at local and regional level, is decisive to address the current cycle of despair and disengagement. Our message from Warsaw is that the objective of economic, social and territorial cohesion is a key element for the future of Europe," said COTER's chairman, Raffaele Cattaneo (EPP/IT), President of the Regional Council of Lombardy.
In Warsaw, local leaders discussed and adopted a draft opinion on the future of Cohesion Policy after 2020 , prepared by the President of the EPP Group in the CoR, Michael Schneider, Saxony-Anhalt's Secretary of State for EU Affairs.
"No other EU or national policy can achieve what Cohesion Policy has helped to create in countries such as Poland or Germany in the past decades. It is one of the EU policies that has truly an impact on the everyday lives of our citizens, by creating opportunities and support for jobs, growth – contributing to a sense of Europeanness in an age of growing populism. That is why we must ensure that Cohesion Policy remains 'the' investment tool of the European Union, supported in synergy by other funds and grants such as the European Fund for Strategic Investments or Horizon 2020," Mr Schneider emphasised.
European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Creţu said: "Over the last months, we have heard more and more citizens tell us 'We feel politicians and institutions do not care about us, we feel left out!' Therefore, it is time to give them a strong signal. Our message to them must be that Europe cares. And what better way to prove it than through Cohesion Policy? Cohesion Policy's aim is to leave no one behind, to improve everybody's daily life. This is why we must fight for it and for its future as it is our common future. Jobs and growth through Cohesion Policy, yes; but jobs and growth for all, for all regions. "
"Poland – and specifically the Mazovia Region – is a perfect place to reflect on the impact of Cohesion Policy, both on the stronger and on the weaker regions of Europe, and on what is at stake for the Union," said Adam Struzik (EPP/PL), President of the hosting Region of Mazovia.
The meeting was held in parallel with a ministerial gathering of the Visegrad Group+4, at which ministries for economic development from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia as well as Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia adopted a document stressing the vital role of Cohesion Policy for the future of the EU.
"The Joint Paper of the Visegrad Group and their closest partners (V4+4) confirms that we have common ideas on the future of Cohesion Policy. It's very important that in the ongoing European debate we can speak with one voice," said Mateusz Morawiecki, the Deputy Prime Minister of Poland and Minister of Economic Development and Finance.
"Cohesion Policy must be reformed in a way to remain in the interest of all EU Member States and regions and be an important, useful instrument for the achievement of the EU's strategic long-term goals, while promoting issues of key importance for particular regions," added Deputy Minister of Economic Development Jerzy Kwieciński.
At a high-level conference held on 3 March, experts and practitioners exchange views on how to simplify the EU's Cohesion Policy while making it more effective and more responsive to the needs of local economies.
The CoR will discuss and adopt its opinion on the future of Cohesion Policy at its plenary session on 10 May.
Note for editors
The EU's Cohesion Policy is implemented over a seven-year cycle (2014-20) through five European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI funds):
European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) : promotes balanced development in the EU's regions.
European social fund (ESF) : supports employment-related projects throughout Europe and invests in Europe’s human capital – its workers, its young people and all those seeking a job.
Cohesion Fund (CF): funds transport and environment projects in countries whose gross national income (GNI) per inhabitant is less than 90% of the EU average. In 2014-20, these are Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) : focuses on resolving the particular challenges facing the EU's rural areas.
European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF): helps fishermen to adopt sustainable fishing practices and coastal communities to diversify their economies, improving the quality of life on Europe's seaboard.
The total allocations for 2014-20 are 454bn from the EU budget, matched by 183bn from national funds. With a total value of 638bn, Cohesion Policy is the Europe's main investment tool. It is managed in partnership by the European Commission, national governments and regions. More than 176bn have already been invested in the real economy of the EU since the beginning of the current programming period. For more information and country-specific trends and figures, please consult the Cohesion Open Data Portal.
Pictures can be found on the CoR's Flickr account .