MEPs: European funds for poorer member states must not diminish

“The European Structural Funds create jobs and help solve problems such as climate change. They promote growth and sustainable development,” said German SPD lawmaker Kerstin Westphal (S&D). [The Parliament Magazine]

Negotiations are beginning on the future of the European budget, which also includes funds financing cohesion policy. Meeting in Strasbourg, MEPs agreed they should not be reduced. Aktuálně reports.

While in the south-west part of Bohemia unemployment is around 3%, in Eastern Slovakia it is 13%, and in the autonomous community of Extremadura in Spain, it is more than 27%.

Differences between the individual regions of the EU member states can not only be seen in unemployment, but also in GDP, the health of the population and digital maturity. The cohesion policy focuses on wiping out these differences, which are particularly apparent when comparing east with west and north with south.

Its main instruments are five different funds which together make up the European Structural and Investment Funds – known simply as “EU funds.” How they function is set until the end of the current 2014-2020 budget period, but preparations for the next phase have already begun in the EU.

With the planned departure of the United Kingdom, which in 2015, for example, contributed more than €18 billion to the European budget, and the debate on the future of the EU, the question has been raised as to whether the cohesion policy should be maintained in its current form.

Some net contributors to the European budget are pushing for money to be moved from this area to other priorities – for example, to deal with the migration crisis or for centrally managed research and development support.

However, on Monday (20 June), MEPs objected to a weakening of the cohesion policy, also known as the regional policy. They approved a resolution according to which it is not possible to reduce its share of the European budget. On the contrary, it could possibly be increased.

Without any bureaucracy

In a resolution passed by 350 votes to 149 (171 MEPs abstained) legislators declared that the  cohesion policy has been instrumental in mitigating the effects of the recent economic crisis and austerity measures in the EU.

“The European Structural Funds create jobs and help solve problems such as climate change. They promote growth and sustainable development,” said German SPD lawmaker Kerstin Westphal (S&D), who is the rapporteur on the non-binding resolution.

Regional differences and social inequalities remain significant and so the cohesion policy should continue, MEPs add in the resolution.

Nevertheless, they believe changes need to be made to it in the future. For example, they are calling for the administration of the whole system to be simplified at all levels.

“We want a modern and non-bureaucratic cohesion policy which provides funding where it is needed, in all regions, and which is easy for people to understand,” said Westphal.

Priorities must be clear

The debate on the future of the cohesion policy should be stepped up at the end of June when Corina Creţu, the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, and Günther Oettinger, Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, are to present scenarios according to which the setting of the European budget could be changed in the future.

Commissioners promote more attractive cohesion policy

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

The Commission is preparing these scenarios as part of the debate on the future direction of the EU as a whole, which is dominating events in Brussels this year.

Various options of how the budget will look are in play. The current seven-year budget period could be reduced, individual budget chapters could be more straightforward and there could also be a reduction in the allocation to the cohesion policy.

The Czech Republic, for which the cohesion policy is among its main priorities associated with the EU, will also have to be active in negotiations.

In the current 2014-2020 period almost €24 billion is earmarked for the Czech Republic as part of the cohesion policy. For example, Ministry for Regional Development documents state that in 2015, Czech GDP was 7% higher thanks to the cohesion policy.

These amounts are generally expected to decrease in the future. The Czech economy is growing and the level of support for more advanced regions is, in principle, lower. Due to Brexit – and the departure of one of the richest countries in the EU – the Czech Republic will also statistically become artificially “richer” by 5 or 6 percentage points, said Petr Zahradník, an economist from Česká spořitelna’s analytical team during a debate on this subject organised by EurActiv Czech Republic.

So according to experts, it will be particularly important for the Czech Republic to make clear what it will need European money for and then push these priorities forward in negotiations.

Czech Regions VP: Cohesion policy must serve citizens

Czech and Slovak national delegations to the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) recently presented a joint opinion on the future of cohesion policy after 2020, in which they set out seven common principles and priorities for the next programming period.

Cohesion policy benefits everyone

The other countries in the Visegrád Group (i.e. Poland, Slovakia and Hungary) and other Central and Eastern European countries also benefit from the cohesion policy.

“The cohesion policy is a basic investment policy of the EU that promotes growth and creates jobs, and should therefore remain one of the key pillars of the European budget after 2020,” the V4, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Slovenia, wrote in a joint document in March 2017.

However, the richer member states which contribute more to the budget than they take from it should not look disapprovingly on the cohesion policy.

“Supported projects in net beneficiary countries also have interesting effects for countries that give more money to the EU budget because often foreign companies, including those from the more advanced countries, are involved in carrying out the projects,” explained the Czech Deputy Minister for Regional Development, Olga Letáčková, during the EurActiv debate.

Bringing the level of individual European economies closer together also helps the single market to function. Experts agree it is one of the few European policies that has easily measurable results and contributes to improving strategic management and building the quality of public administration.