This article is part of our special report The road ahead: challenges and opportunities for Europe’s regions.
Social and territorial cohesion among the EU’s region’s, as well as their convergence, must remain at the centre of Europe’s recovery plans lest efforts to support investment and growth should lead to more regional divides, MEP Younous Omarjee told EURACTIV.
The chief of the regional development committee in the European Parliament emphasised that the COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated divides between European regions and highlighted the need to narrow the disparities between the social and economic living standards.
“We have to remember that the COVID-19 crisis has considerably reinforced the necessity and aims when it comes to social and territorial cohesion,” Omarjee (GUE/NGL) said.
The lawmaker, who comes from the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean with a population of 860,00, said that “the regions pay a very heavy price and it is at the regional level that we will be able to reconstruct Europe.”
Though the final figures are still under negotiation between member states and the Parliament, European leaders agreed during the summer marathon summit to slash the funding for cohesion in the EU’s next seven-year budget to €330.2 billion, 11.5% less than the €373.2 billion available for reducing regional disparities during the 2014-2020 period.
Nevertheless, even if the Parliament consents to the lower cohesion figures in the next budget, pushed by member states, the total budget for cohesion and regional development, would be 1.2% more than in the previous seven-year period, thanks to the extra funding of €47.5 billion for the short-term recovery to be borrowed from the markets.
Omarjee said he was concerned, however, by the fact that the borrowed money is not being distributed through the mechanisms already in place at the EU level, and countries have instead opted for national programmes.
“This general [EU] regulation is the guarantee of maintaining a community-based approach and the guarantee that EU policies are implemented in a coherent way in all member states,” the French MEP said.
“And that is why I am a bit concerned with the choices that have been made regarding the recovery fund, which can […] open the path towards a renationalisation of EU policies.”
Member states will draw up national investment and reform plans to access the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), which will channel the bulk of funds borrowed from the markets for recovery.
Omarjee pointed out that “at the root of the [RRF] fund are the Treaty articles concerning cohesion. We have to be able to ensure that the national plans that will be put in place by states contribute to, rather than weaken, territorial cohesion.”
The Europen Commission’s proposal for the RRF is based on Article 175, which obliges the Union and member states to pursue policies that contribute to strengthening the “economic, social and territorial cohesion” and reduce “disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions.”
“We are currently working on regulations that will change the life within regions in the next 10 years,” Omarjee said, adding that his committee will also focus on pushing for simplification and flexibility when it comes to EU funds.
“We did it during the COVID-19 crisis and I think many things will be made more concrete so that these funds are simplified compared to how they are today. This is very important.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]