Cohesion – the big ‘absent’ from Juncker’s SOTEU speech

epaselect epa07014127 President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker delivers the annual State of The European Union speech in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 12 September 2018. Juncker's fourth State of the Union Address in the European Parliament comes ahead of the 2019 European elections and in the context of the ongoing debate about the future of the European Union at 27. EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER

European regions and cities were left wondering about the noticeable absence of Cohesion policy in Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union speech in the European Parliament on Wednesday (12 September). They were particularly irked by his failure to highlight the positive role of regions in handling migration.

In his last address to the current Parliament, Juncker highlighted Europe’s current challenges, referring to security, migration, terrorism, climate change, Africa and Brexit. He failed, though, to mention Cohesion’s contribution to growth and development or and the challenges the policy faces beyond 2020.

“We welcome several aspects of President Juncker’s State of the Union address, particularly his call for European solidarity, rejection of ‘exaggerated’ nationalism, and support for balanced migration reform,” Eleni Marianou, Secretary General of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR), told EURACTIV.

“However, we regret that President Juncker has not used his final speech to recognise the need for a reinvigorated, ambitious Europe, which places social, economic and territorial cohesion at the heart of the European project.”

“He presents the ‘Juncker Plan’ as the key to improved investment in Europe, but does not mention the key role that structural funds and Cohesion policy have played in boosting economic growth across Europe’s territories over the past 30 years,” Marianou said.

Regions’ contribution not included

In his speech, Juncker referred to the need for a more solid European social structure and the avoidance of half-measures, linking it to the need for a timely adoption of solutions before the European elections in May 2019. However, no mention was made of the debate on regional policy and the 10% cuts foreseen for Cohesion in the next long-term budget.

“Despite his call for an agreement on the EU budget after 2020 before the next European elections, the word “cohesion” does not appear in his speech,” said Enrico Rossi, President of Tuscany, and added:

“As [Social Democrat] President Bullmann said, to relaunch the European project, it is time to talk to the working class and propose reinforced European measures on health, unemployment, housing. Cohesion policy could help us contribute even more to address these challenges and prove that populist parties’ messages are wrong.”

Anna Lisa Boni, Secretary General of EUROCITIES, told EURACTIV their main concern was “how to make better use of cohesion policy to bring the European project closer to the citizens.”

“To achieve this, it must be able to deliver faster and better solutions to the problems people face. We acknowledge and fully support the Commission’s efforts to simplify the rules. At the same time, we need to make sure that the funds can be used more effectively to respond to local challenges.”

No connection with migration

Referring to the EU’s commitment to tackle migration and apply an effective strategy based on shared responsibility, Juncker failed to recognise the regions’ impact and their contribution to the management of the refugee crisis.

Failing to present the real picture for regions and maritime areas in relation to migration, Juncker only addressed it as a pan-European issue, without stating its impact on the regions, which bear most of the arising issues.

“President Juncker was absolutely right to focus on the global dimension of the great challenges of our time: migration, climate change and digitalisation. However, we regret that, once again, the role of towns and regions, who are fundamental allies to address these issues, was not mentioned,” Stefano Bonaccini, President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), highlighted to EURACTIV.

“None of those challenges will be overcome without their support. It is crucial not to lose sight of this, especially concerning migration: towns and regions are too often left alone to host and integrate migrants on a day-to-day basis. Their access to EU funding on migration and integration must come into place,” he said.

Marianou echoed his comments:

“We are concerned that President Juncker does not mention the importance of regions in tackling issues related to migration and asylum when they have shown their willingness to welcome migrants in need of humanitarian assistance, as demonstrated with the Aquarius humanitarian ship,” added Marianou.

 

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