Pieper agrees with EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who has been making the case that the Union's cohesion policy should continue to cover all 27 member states in order to ensure the prosperity of Europe as a whole.
In an interview with EurActiv, Pieper said, "if Europe wants to move forward, not only the poorest regions should be supported. Innovation should be encouraged in every region, in order to secure competitiveness".
According to Pieper, the use of European money to co-finance projects in relatively wealthy member states is justified because it contributes towards making the EU visible to citizens.
"In countries like Germany, France and the Netherlands, Europe shows its face through local projects in the regions," said the Christian Democrat MEP.
Pieper has been given the task of drafting the European Parliament's response to the Fifth Cohesion Report, published last November, which sets out the European Commission's proposals for the next wave of regional funding programmes, which are due to be launched in 2014.
The Commission wants to link the future Cohesion Funds to the objectives of 'Europe 2020' strategy adopted by EU leaders in June 2010.
Pieper does not see any contradiction between the long-term objectives of the EU's Cohesion Policy, as laid down in the Lisbon Treaty, and the goals of the 'Europe 2020' strategy, which include creating jobs, tackling poverty, and boosting research and innovation.
However, the MEP does believe there are different needs in different parts of Europe. For example, in some Eastern European countries it is necessary to invest in upgrading basic infrastructure in order to create the right conditions for economic development.
Against an intermediate category
The German does not agree with suggestions from the European Commission to introduce a new funding category for regions with a level of GDP per person that is less than 90% but more than 75% of the EU average (the so-called 'intermediate' or 'transition' regions).
The MEP wants to keep the so-called 'convergence' category for the poorest regions (below 75% of average GDP per person). He would also agree with giving extra support to former convergence regions – such as those in Eastern Germany – that are faced with specific handicaps or special needs, for example with regard to economic restructuring.
However, Pieper is opposed to creating a new category that would guarantee additional money for all of the so-called 'intermediate' regions, because he is afraid that such a financial "drip feed" would encourage them to develop a kind of dependency on subsidies from Brussels.
Simpler rules, stricter controls
In recent months a lot of attention has been paid to the issue of how well money from the EU's cohesion funds is being used, amid press reports that not all of the money is being spent correctly.
To guarantee better implementation of regional funds, Pieper wants on the one hand to reduce bureaucracy by having simpler rules, and on the other hand to improve enforcement by having stricter controls.
"In my report I suggest that money that has not been spent in the right way and which has not been paid back by the member states should be subtracted from their allocation in the next funding period," said the MEP.
"Administrations which work in a good and reliable way should have a sort of European stamp to ease the control and reporting burden," he added.
Pieper believes that such a solution would give the most reliable partners more freedom, and allow auditors to spend more time checking the files of grant recipients that do not have an established track record of respecting the rules.
The German MEP insists that regional governments have an important role to play in implementing the EU's Cohesion Policy, and that they should be involved alongside national governments in negotiating partnership agreements with the European Commission.
Concerning the Commission's proposal to link the payment of subsidies to certain conditions, such as reforming administrative procedures, the German is sympathetic to regional governments who have argued that they should not be punished for decisions taken at national level.
However, Pieper believes that the violation of the 'Stability and Growth Pact' is often linked to the misuse of cohesion funding. Therefore it is necessary to closely monitor the member states to make sure that European money is being spent correctly.
For more details on the debate around the future of regional policy in the European Union, see EurActiv's LinksDossier on EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020.