With the European Week of Regions and Cities opening its doors on Monday (8 September), the debate on Cohesion Policy and its future in the EU’s long-term budget beyond 2020 is definitely at the forefront.
The European Economic and Social Committee will play a determining role on the course of the debate and the final agreement on the proposal.
EURACTIV spoke with Stefano Palmieri, president of the section for Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion at the EESC, on the latest developments and the parallel aspects of the discussions.
Partnership agreement vs centralisation of funds. Is the new proposal weakening the partnership principle?
I think with the partnership agreement, it is definitely better now than it was in the previous programme. You know that regional economies say that “if you want to understand the problem of the local place, you must get your shoes dirty”, you must go inside and work with the people that work there.
And in the proposal, there is a good role for social partners, economic partners and local authorities, because the activities on a local level need the involvement of people that live and work there. I speak about social partners because I come from the trade unions, so also for us, it is a challenge, because we must involve people very strongly, with a lot of expertise and proficiency inside the local authority.
How do you explain the growing gap between North and South, especially regarding youth unemployment?
Regarding this, there are shared responsibilities both at a European and at a member state level. For decades, the Stability and Growth Pact has just been a stability pact, not a growth pact. And that is a problem.
For example, in Italy, Spain and Greece, there is a serious debt problem. In any case, though, it is not understandable why during the years of crisis the Commission’s proposal was “reduce your debt”. You cannot reduce your debt during a crisis. During a crisis, you must have sustained growth, and only when the time is right, can you start to make improvements on your finance.
Regarding the member states, their responsibility has to do with the fact that they do not spend the funds from the Cohesion Policy in the right way, and I think this is a problem of communication. Because, indeed there are funds but they are not undertaken by the member states at national, regional and local levels as they do not have the capability to govern this process, or because they underestimate the importance of Cohesion Policy.
Would you prefer a finalised agreement on Cohesion Policy before the European elections or after the new composition of the institutions?
I think we can criticise the proposal of the Commission, the reduction of Cohesion Policy, the lost linkage with the social pillar… But this is just a starting point. After Brexit and the challenges we face like migration, security and so on, this proposal from the Commission is quite understandable. And there is always an opportunity to change. It is a work in progress.
In any case, though, there must be an agreement before the new elections. Absolutely. If we want for all programmes to start on time, we need an agreement now, or as soon as possible. If not, there will be a worse agreement afterwards.