Regions throw fund reform proposals into doubt
Meeting in Brussels today (1 April), regional leaders are expected to adopt a report that directly contradicts many of the European Commission's ideas for reforming the EU structural funds in the coming years.
The draft text directly contradicts a number of specific proposals that were put forward by the European Commission in the 5th Cohesion Report, published last November.
First, the EU consultative body is expected to confirm its opposition to the idea that structural fund payments could be suspended if a member state is found not to be following rules laid down in the so-called 'Stability and Growth Pact', for example by failing to bring its national budget deficit down to less than 3% of its annual economic output (GDP).
According to Michel Delebarre, mayor of the northern French city of Dunkirk, who drafted the CoR's response to the 5th Cohesion Report, imposing such conditions on payments would be unfair because regions could be punished for mistakes made by their national governments.
"If a certain number of countries don't respect the European Union's demands with regard to their financial situations, I don't see why the regional level should have to suffer the consequences of decisions that were taken at national level," said Delebarre in an interview with EurActiv.
'Performance reserve' – who would benefit?
Secondly, the CoR is set to reject the Commission's proposal for setting up a kind of 'performance reserve' which would be used to reward regions that are successful in implementing their programmes and achieving a number of specific targets agreed in advance.
Delebarre rejects the performance reserve, which he says would take away money from regions experiencing major difficulties and profit other regions, recovering more quickly.
Another proposal rejected by regional representatives concerns 'development and investment partnership contracts' between the European Commission and member states. Instead they want to have "territorial pacts" that also include regional governments as equal partners in the process.
According to Delebarre, the so-called "territorial pacts" would help turn the concept of multi-level governance into reality, by helping to ensure that regional and local governments are fully involved in the decision-making process from beginning to end.
"The pact would always be between the European level, the national level and the region concerned," said Delebarre, who believes that such an approach would be in the interest of the European Union.
Maintaining the level of spending
Members of the Committee of the Regions will back the Commission's ideas when it comes to maintaining the overall level of the budget for cohesion policy, which currently represents over one third of the total EU budget, or around €50 billion per year.
"It's one of the important policies of the EU," said Delebarre. "It's also the area of EU action which speaks most directly to our citizens, passing through the local and regional authorities, because it's a policy that achieves things," the French socialist added.
Delebarre agrees with the Commission that all of the EU's 271 regions should continue to have the possibility of applying for grants and/or loans in the framework of programmes and instruments that are financed with money from the structural funds.
However, the Dunkirk mayor believes that more money should be allocated to supporting cross-border and trans-national cooperation between regions in different member states.
Backing for a new 'intermediate' category
The Committee of the Regions is expected to throw its support behind the proposal for a new 'intermediate' category for regions which are neither poor (so-called 'convergence' regions), nor prosperous.
"We propose the creation of a new intermediate category for those regions with a GDP per capita between 75% and 90% of the EU average. They are not yet among the regions which we could say have overcome their problems," explained Delebarre, saying some 50 regions would fit in that category.
Such a move would mean redeploying resources within the framework of cohesion policy, as the number of so-called 'convergence' regions is expected to fall significantly between the current period (2007-2013) and the next wave of programmes after 2014.
The regional policy (or cohesion policy) of the European Union has the overall goal of promoting economic prosperity and social cohesion throughout the 27 member states and their 271 regions.
Within the current financial framework (2007-2013), the budget for regional policy amounts to a total of €347 billion over seven years, which is more than one third of the overall EU budget during this period.
Regional policy spending is channelled through three funds – often called 'structural funds'. These are the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Cohesion Fund.
On 10 November 2010, the Commission published its proposals for reforming the EU's cohesion policy in advance of the next wave of programmes, which are due to be launched in 2014.
- July 2011: European Commission due to publish legislative proposals for EU regional funding during next period (2014-2020).