MEP responsible for Cohesion Policy: It's a new era for EU funds

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German MEP Constanze Krehl was working to win a mandate on EU funds for the 2014-2020 multi-annual financial framework. She says EU funds will be completely revamped to support projects that fall in line with the EU's 2020 goals, but throws her support behind coal plants.

Constanze Krehl is a German Social Democrat MEP, co-rapporteur on the general regulation for EU funds on behalf of the regional committee of the European Parliament. She spoke to EurActiv's Ana-Maria Tolbaru.

How much has the Cohesion Policy for 2007-2013 changed, compared to the old version and is the new Cohesion Policy for 20014-2020 prepared to take on the challenges? Will the poorer regions not lose from these changes?The poorer regions are not losing ... that is not the point. The point is that if you have known, like me, cohesion policy for 20 years already, you know that we start now a new era. Of course, it gives poorer regions a chance for development, because it is an investment programme. But it is really more result-oriented, meaning that it follows the European strategy for development and that this is the 2020 strategy and we are focused on this strategy in a very intensive, close connection to the cohesion policy. This is the direction we should go, with thematic concentration. This is one point to show that we invest money to see success ...

But at the same time you want to simplify the procedures ...

But if you have five funds under the same umbrella with the same rules, with the same decision-making procedures, this is the first real simplification for everybody. For example, in the rural area, where you can use the cohesion funds and the agricultural funds, you have the same procedure, you don't have to think in two different ways for the funding of every project. This is really simplification for every administration.

Do you have the right indicators to measure these results? They have their flaws at the moment, there is no one-size-fits-all, perfect measurement system to date.

Yes, we need the indicators and this will be part of the negotiations in the next months, but this is really only one part of the matter. The other part is that if you have only four thematic objectives used by 80% of the regional funds (like in the developed regions), for example, then you have money specifically for, let's say, energy efficiency. And if you invest a good amount of money in energy efficiency, you have a result and can see the CO2 emissions are going down.

The thematic concentration makes sure you have enough money to invest in some objectives and then you can see a result.

What about the environmentally harmful subsidies? Such as deforesting an area to build a highway? So how do you tackle this in the new regulation?

Life is dangerous ... if you look first ... in some regions we need even the highways. Go to Romania, send them the lobbyists from an environmental organisation and have them look at what kind of streets they have and then they should see if this is helpful for development – some streets you need. But we support, even more so with the Connecting Europe facility, the railway system for example. In the better developed regions, at the moment, we say, OK, if there is a special need, they should do this. But there is nowhere the demand for constructing highways.

But what about subsidising coal plants?

Do you want electricity or not? We are asking for increasing money for renewable energy, but in some cases you need other things. Maybe the environmentally friendly people are not against nuclear power. But in Germany, we are against it, therefore we need some coal plants and gas power stations.

But on the one hand, you have thematic concentration and on the other hand you subsidise coal plants?

That's not allowed. For better-developed regions, that's more or less not possible, because it costs you more money. We prefer, very clearly, to support small and medium enterprises and in exceptions you can support also bigger enterprises. But I know that would not be the case in Germany for energy plants.

How do poorer countries that largely benefit from the Cohesion Policy feel about the thematic concentration? Doesn't it affect the amount of money of money they can get?

In Romania, for example, the energy-efficient renovation of buildings is the only one that works there. It is very successful and that is why they can create a European added value and I am sure this will go on. And the less-developed regions can choose some more objectives, but at the final end we have only 11 and not more and even in the less-developed regions they have to use 60% for five or six objectives. It's clear the less developed regions need broader room for development objectives and that is accepted, too.

What about the Connecting Europe facility?

We give the 10 billion to an agency in Brussels to work with it, that agency chooses the projects.  Then, maybe it could be a project in Romania, or Poland - the cohesion countries – but not necessarily. We say, OK, the agency should look for the cohesion projects, and in the countries where there are projects, they can use their national envelope for the cohesion fund to finance the projects. Which means if, for example, they choose some projects in Romania or Bulgaria, these countries can choose to use the cohesion funds for financing this Connecting Europe facility. That means it is not under centralised management, it is under shared management, like the cohesion fund.

Will cohesion policy be used to counteract the negative impacts of the crisis?

If you ask if the Cohesion Policy can be used as an instrument to come out of the crisis, then I say yes. It is the only instrument of the European Union, which is in the development and investment programme. And that is why I think, in addition, that it is necessary not only to save money in member states, but also to invest in a very intelligent way in the economy.

Greece and Spain and more or less also Italy have never used their funds for investment in the economy. They have made more investment in consumption, also with the structural funds. And this is part of the problem and it is not part of the problem of Western European countries or better developed countries, it is their own problem. And that is why it is necessary to also change the cohesion policy.

That's why we have the thematic concentration. And on the other side, we will find a way for a special partnership for member states which are in a difficult situation. We have changed the current regulation to help Greece and Spain and Portugal and in Greece - we can help them choose what projects are helpful in their financial situation to boost growth and create jobs for their unemployed people.

The special partnership will be part of the thematic concentration or will it be separate?

As I said, this is for the better developed regions, where you need to use 80% of the funds for thematic objectives. And we have to decrease the CO2 emissions. In the poorer regions, they also have some percentages, but much weaker, because the necessity to invest in developed regions is different from the need to invest in the less developed regions. That is a big difference, but of course, we also have some concentration there as well. You have to invest money in some projects which will bore some results.

Where do you stand on macro-conditionality?

We deleted this.

Why?

I think cohesion policy has nothing to do with the economic situation or management of the finances of a member states and if a country is in a bad economic situation, it makes no sense then to delete the money from the structural funds.

Will countries have more flexibility in accessing the funds that had been allocated to them and they did not use? Will reusing the money that can be recycled happen more easily?

There is some simplification, but, of course, you need to train the administration in your country and pay attention to this issue. We want to give more technical assistance, not from the Commission only, but also from the members states' side - to help improve the way the administration works with structural funds. Both the simplification and the education, at least, are two instruments for the better management of the funds.

Polish officials, for example, often claim that for every euro they receive from net contributors, the net contributors indirectly receive a large part of their money back – through market deals, for example. Do you think that net contributors, in general, receive a fair share of the money they contribute to the budget with back?

It's a win-win situation, the only problem is that the taxpayers need to pay, finally, the contribution to the European Union and the companies get the profit back. But no, it is a win-win situation, that's why I am in favour of a strong cohesion policy regulation.

The Council is breaking the UN convention on rights with persons with disabilities by refusing to include ex-ante conventionalities in its next budget proposal, according to the European Disability Forum (EDF). What do you think about that issue?

We are on the line with the European Disability Forum. I think they did everything they wanted [their wish is in Krehl's report]. We want these ex-ante conditionalities, we want them to happen.

The Danish presidency thought the two matters are separate, that you cannot use one tool to tackle a completely different issue. Where do you stand on this?

We do not agree with the Danish presidency is some points, even if they are socialists.

Do you think things will go better under the Cypriot presidency?

I don't know, but hopefully yes. We have seen what the Council [under the Danish presidency] wants to delete and where they have a majority, but it is not our majority. We have another view, we have to negotiate with them.

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