The 'green' funding takes up more than 30% of the regional policy budget for 2007-2013, almost three times as much as in the last budgetary period. The Commission hopes this will boost growth and create new jobs that are unlikely to flee to emerging economies such as China and India.
The lion's share of the money will be spent on helping member states to comply with EU environmental legislation. A further €48 billion will go on achieving Europe's climate objectives, including €23 billion for railways, €6 billion for clean urban transport, €4.8 billion for renewable energies and €4.2 billion for energy efficiency.
Research and innovation will also receive a boost, with €3 billion given to SMEs to help develop environmentally-friendly products and processes (EurActiv 10/07/08).
"Support for the green economy and the environment goes hand-in-hand with the cohesion policy's objective to deliver sustainable growth, jobs and competitiveness," said Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner, pointing out that the investment will be crucial in the current economic downturn, "creating long-term employment and reviving local economies, as well as underpinning the EU's commitment to the fight against climate change".
Meanwhile, MEPs yesterday (9 March) voted to extend EU regional development funding to energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy for housing to all member states.
Only new member states with low GDP per capita can currently use money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for projects like installing solar panels in housing or replacing old boilers with more efficient ones. The Parliament's regional development committee argued, however, that the financial crisis has created an impetus to changes to help create jobs in the building sector, while slowing down climate change by reducing energy consumption.
The new rules do not introduce any new money to the budget, but simply give all member states the option of spending up to 4% of their total ERDF allocation on efficiency and renewable energy schemes for houses. The full plenary is scheduled to vote on the initiative in April.
The EU is trying to speed up the release of funds in response to the economic crisis. The Parliament will discuss new measures tomorrow intended to accelerate the implementation of infrastructure, energy and environment projects.
The changes would allow for faster, more flexible payments, as well as lump sums and flat-rate payments. Moreover, advance payments would be increased to reduce the need for bank loans, which have become difficult to obtain.
"The changes aim to accelerate investment at national and regional level, by simplifying access to grants, especially supporting people hit by the crisis and increasing the availability of finance for small and medium-sized businesses," said Bulgarian Socialist MEP Evgeni Kirilov, the Parliament's rapporteur on the issue.