Schneider: Commission’s proposal on Cohesion going in the wrong direction

Michael Schneider, State Secretary, Representative of the Land of Saxony-Anhalt to the Federal Government [European Union / Hatim Kaghat]

The European Commission’s plans to overhaul and slash Cohesion Policy spending in the next seven-year EU budget are going in the wrong direction, says the Committee of the Regions’ Michael Schneider.

Michael Schneider (EPP/DE), representative of the land of Saxony-Anhalt to the Federal Government and Committee of the Regions rapporteur on the “Common Provisions Regulation”, discussed with EURACTIV the future of Cohesion Policy and its relation to the European Semester, the new indicators in the Commission’s proposal and the risks of centralisation of Cohesion funds.

Is there a danger that flexibility could lead to a weakening of audit, and thus end up diminishing accountability of the Cohesion programmes?

I have used the word flexibility very intensely in my opinions, in the meaning that we want room to manoeuvre for the beneficiaries, for the regions, to use the structural funds in a place-based approach. So that not everything is fixed centrally, not everything is planned centrally, but the programmes are planned on a regional or local level.

At the same time, we want – which is something we have demanded for a long time – the national and regional instruments of monitoring and auditing to be used more in the future. Now everything is centralised. There are national and regional systems of implementation based on national and regional laws that do not fit in every detail with European pre-conditions and regulations. Thus, when we talk about flexibility, we think it would be appropriate to better trust – also in line with subsidiarity – in national systems of auditing.

But as far as I can see, the proposal of the Commission is to better use national systems, but there are preconditions, so that accountability is guaranteed. I think that for today it is a huge step in the right direction, following our Committee of the Regions demands for our last opinion on the future of Cohesion Policy. But, we have to check the details further.

In the new proposal, less developed countries will receive bigger financial support. However, they will also need to contribute more through co-financing. What do you believe in relation to that?

In general, we are not happy with the proposals to reduce the part of the seven-year budget that is planned for Cohesion Policy. I am referring to things like less money and higher co-financing rates for the regions. This is maybe a huge loss. We have to analyze the allocation of the funds following the new indicators, but we will debate this and we have lots of questions in this direction.

Our first view is that this proposal goes in the wrong direction.

What is your view on the new indicators proposed by the European Commission in the new proposal?

Indeed, there are new indicators regarding the allocation of the funds, but I am missing one very important indicator that has played an important role in our discussions in the last years. This is the indicator of the demographic problems.

I think the proposals we have now do not take into account enough, they do not respect the demographic problems that we have in several parts of the European Union. For instance, in Germany, in East Germany, but also in Spain and other member states, we have seen a severe and traumatic influence on the economic situation of these regions.

It is a question indeed of Cohesion Policy, but there are not many ideas and we will put a very fine point upon that.

Cohesion will be further linked to the European Semester. However, regions are not involved in this procedure. Does this make them highly dependent on their own governments?

Indeed, there is a danger. The system that we have, the reality that we have today is very different in different member-states. In federal member-states, for example in Germany, things are going very well. The regions have a say and they are involved in the discussion of the part of the country-specific recommendations and in the European Semester. So, in Germany, Belgium and Austria, the national government has to involve the regions. But in most member-states, this is not the case.

We – as far as I can say today – we will criticise the fact that regional affairs are more deeply involved in the European semester, but without the democratic cooperation of the regions. So, there must be guarantees that with stronger links to regional policy and the European Semester, at the same time the regions must have a stronger influence in the member states.

This is also one of our proposals in the Task Force for subsidiarity. We say that, in general, to link Cohesion Policy with the European Semester is a good idea, but in detail, it must be secured, safeguarded that the regions have a say in this process and that it is not a centralised process inside the member states.

So, if this pre-condition is fulfilled, it could be fruitful and efficient.  But only under this pre-condition.

Do you see any signs of further centralisation of Cohesion programmes in the next MFF? What is your opinion on the matter, specifically as far as the European Social Fund is concerned?

Yes, there is a direction in centralisation, both on European and national level.

We will have some debates about this, preparing our opinion. But, my first view is that this is in contrast to everything we are debating about multilevel governance and subsidiarity and involving regional and local levels, involving the citizens.

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