Commissioners promote more attractive cohesion policy

Corina Crețu and Ian Borg. Luxembourg, 25 April. [European Commission]

Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Crețu and Employment Commissioner Marianne Thyssen have submitted several proposals to make cohesion policy more visible and attractive.

Brexit means a smaller EU budget, as it is hardly imaginable that the next seven-year budget, for 2020-2017, will be bigger that the 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework. Almost a third of the current budget – €351.8 billion – has been set aside for cohesion policy for 2014-2020.

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Cohesion Policy, the European Union’s main investment policy tool, is soon to face a struggle for survival. One that could threaten the core values of solidarity and convergence of regional disparities on which the EU has been built up, write Nikos Lampropoulos and Francesco Molica.

As cuts will probably be made in the next budget, the advocates of preserving cohesion policy are making themselves heard. EU ministers gathered in Luxembourg yesterday (25 April) for a meeting dedicated to cohesion policy.

Ministers adopted conclusions which point out that these programmes helped create 1 million jobs by providing financial support to more than 120,000 start-ups and around 400,000 SMEs. They contributed to the construction of 4,900 km of new roads and the upgrade of 1,500 km of railway lines. They also connected 6 million people to new or improved drinking water networks and 7 million to new or upgraded wastewater treatment.

Ian Borg, the Maltese Parliamentary Secretary for EU funds, who presided over the council, called cohesion policy “a success story”, but said it lacked visibility.

“[Cohesion policy] helps create jobs, stimulate growth and makes the life of millions of European citizens easier. What EU cohesion policy lacks is visibility. That is why the Council agreed today on how we can demonstrate more clearly how cohesion policy has a direct positive impact on the lives of European citizens,” Borg stated.

Crețu, who comes from Romania, a net beneficiary of EU cohesion funds, wrote in her blog that the ministers discussed the Commission’s proposal to fully reimburse reconstruction work in European regions hit by natural disasters. Thus far, EU money from the Solidarity Fund is used the event of natural disasters, but the funds are limited and thresholds are set, both for major and regional disasters.

Crețu writes that she and Thyssen put the following proposals on the table, with the aim of making cohesion policy more visible:

  1. Launch of a broad coalition to raise the profile of cohesion policy. Such (a) coalition would be open to representatives of local and regional authorities, the private sector and other beneficiaries such as associations representing the health or education sectors.
  2. Organise a video competition on the achievements of Cohesion Policy since its creation in each EU Member State.
  3. Organise a ‘Did you know?’ campaign showing some (of the) most iconic projects completed with cohesion policy funding.
  4. Organise photo exhibitions showing “before – after Cohesion Policy” places in cities or regions.
  5. Organise national versions of the European Regiostars awards in every Member State.
  6. On the 60 years’ anniversary of the EU, showcase 60 projects funded through cohesion policy in each EU Member State.
  7. Organise debates on cohesion policy at regional or local level across Europe.

Ministers are reported to have also discussed the so-called Omnibus proposal which aims at making EU funds more easily accessible, especially to smaller beneficiaries.