The EU's large regional policy budget should be kept at its current level, but only if the European Commission gets a bigger say on how funding is allocated and to which regions, Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar told EURACTIV in an interview, lamenting a lack of coherence in the distribution of structural and cohesion funds.
Currently accounting for approximately 33%, EU regional funds are distributed in a fairly inequitable manner, said Tallinn's citizen-in-chief. He believes that the EU budget earmarked for regional development should remain at its present level, but only if a "considerably bigger share" of decision-making power is shifted from the member states to the European Commission.
This will ensure that cities and regions which are currently listed as ineligible by national governments could also benefit from cohesion funds, he claimed.
Savisaar, who leads the Estonian Centre Party (Keskerakond) and served as prime minister from 1990 to 1992, believes that EU structural funds have had "a significant role in raising the quality of the living environment" in Tallinn.
In fact, regional funds constitute approximately half of the capital city's 2010 budget investments, and a number of major main road construction projects currently in the pipelines are only possible with the support of EU funds.
The mayor believes that the main bottlenecks in applying for and receiving EU funding arise from the current Estonian government as opposed to Brussels. The current administration has not passed the necessary legislation in time and has insufficient administrative capacity to fulfil an equitable distribution of funds among the Baltic country's regions, goes the argument.
As for the future of EU regional policy, Savisaar argues that large metropolitan areas, and capital cities in particular, should receive additional funding, given that they are the development engines of the member states but also the areas with the most concentrated social problems.
For example, the Europe 2020 strategy – which will serve as the blueprint for EU economic growth over the coming decade and which will be a guideline for many regional policy priorities – does not go far enough in this regard, he said.
Furthermore, trilateral agreements between local government, national governments and the Commission "would allow Tallinn and other EU local and regional governments to implement the existing Cohesion Funds regardless of possible policy differences between end users and the member state governments," the mayor argues.
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