Local and regional authorities met with EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger on Tuesday (25 September) to express their concern that the funding for Cohesion is likely to be reduced in the next long-term EU budget due to Brexit and new priorities.
“The resources at regional and local level have been very important to ease the effects of the crisis and therefore it is important to maintain them,” the president of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), Stefano Bonaccini, told EURACTIV.com after meeting Oettinger.
According to Commission sources, Oettinger highlighted the importance of cohesion policy in the future “to reduce the differences between the levels of development of different member states.” However, the Commissioner also warned that “moderate cuts are inevitable” because of Brexit.
However, the budget gap in traditional policies – Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion – is not only due to the UK leaving the Union but is also the result of the introduction of new priorities, such as migration, security and climate change.
Local and regional authorities said they also wanted to be engaged in dealing with these new priorities.
“When it comes to climate change, the UN admits that in order to implement the necessary measures, the national government can only do one-third of them, two-thirds are for the local and regional authorities,” Bonaccini explained.
“We don’t want money for the sake of it but the adequate resources for policy priorities so that we can deliver,” the CEMR president insisted.
“We know that there are some local authorities that have not spent effectively the available resources but this cannot justify taking them away from those who need it and spend them,” Bonaccini said.
The CEMR will now table a document agreed among all members of the organisation to specify its demands to the Commissioner.
Oettinger expressed his willingness to maintain the dialogue with local and regional authorities along with the negotiation on the budget, which is expected to be harsh, Bonaccini said.
Commissioner Oettinger called on local and regional authorities to fight against populism and speak about the advantages of EU integration, Commission sources told EURACTIV.
However, “if the local and regional authorities perceive that there might be a lack of resources to solve problems, this can make the gap between Europe and local authorities and citizens even bigger,” Bonaccini warned.
“Oettinger said he was willing to welcome our concerns and he has been indeed a Commissioner committed to keeping the Cohesion Policy untouched,” Bonaccini said, adding that “we now hope that this can be translated in concrete actions.”
Member states responsible for cuts
When it comes to the negotiation on the next long-term EU budget, the Commissioner underlined that “the ball is now in the court of the European Parliament and of the member states in the Council”.
Last week, Oettinger addressed the plenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee, whose members also assessed the expected cuts at between 7 and 10% for regional funds.
The Commissioner recalled that his proposal aims to be ambitious but also realistic, given the lack of willingness of some member states to increase their national contribution and compensate for the UK leaving the Union and to invest in the new priorities.
Those who want a more driven budget will have to lobby member states for it, Oettinger warned. “You have to lobby for something more ambitious in the budget. That would help me very very much,” he said.