Nikos Lampropoulos is editor of EURACTIV Greece
A week full of debates and events about European regions and cities is over. Once again –for the 15th subsequent year- more than 6,000 participants around Europe gathered in Brussels to take part in what used to be a loose get-together and is now a well (maybe too well) structured multilevel event with thematic priorities and goals.
This special tribe of participants, composed mainly of elected members of local and regional authorities, administrators and consultants, talked of resilient cities, change agents, smart regions, sustainability, cohesion, and convergence.
Although many argue that the European Week of Regions and Cities becomes more of a show than a hands-on exchange of experiences, the truth is that these four days are still a unique opportunity for networking but also for the intense exchange of ideas among the stakeholders and the EU institutions, especially ahead of a new long-term budget period.
Next May, the Commission will present its proposal for the next financial period, the post-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which will not be easy to agree upon at a time when unprecedented challenges face the EU.
Now that the lights of the EWRC are off, the mayors and governors are back to their countries, but the real fight for the Cohesion Policy has just started and the debate is already hot: reform of cohesion policy in view of the next programming period.
Under this title, different battles are ongoing: grants versus financial instruments, Brexit versus budget cuts, simplification of rules versus shortening of implementation deadlines, innovation and digitalization versus convergence and infrastructures, lagging behind regions versus advanced regions.
What is actually at stake: the size of the pot, the distribution of the funds, the decision-making process, the priorities and the terms of implementation.
Commissioner Corina Cretu presented the 7th Cohesion Report at the opening of the EWRC, and revealed some proposals for the post-2020 Cohesion Policy. The Report was perceived positively but also raised questions about the implementation.
CPMR, a lobby association representing over 150 regions, raised concerns about the focus of the policy, the distribution of the funds and the link with the European Semester.
During the Joint Meeting of the REGI Committee of the European Parliament and the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) in the Committee of the Regions (COR), despite their differences, the major political groups seem to converge on two conclusions: that cohesion policy is delivering results for the benefit of the citizens and that there is a need for faster procedures in deciding about the future.
Centre-right MEP Lambert Van Nistelrooij (EPP) underlined that time cannot be wasted and non-performing regions should either use or lose the allocated funds.
Centre-left Andrea Cozzolino, the chair of COTER, asked for reformed rules that will support less developed Regions to absorb the available funds. MEP Matthijs van Miltenburg supported the idea of strengthening cross-border investments also though the INTERREG programme.
Cattaneo pointed out that cohesion policy is under attack. And he noted that public investment is decreasing and becomes more centralised. Governor of Western Greece Apostolos Katsifaras focused on the need to regain the trust of the citizens.
Commissioner’s proposal is focusing on four pillars, which all stakeholders seem more or less to agree on: trust, performance, flexibility, simplification. But the interpretation of these pillars differs.
The post-2020 cohesion policy will for sure incorporate major changes compared to the current one.
The “camps” are gathering forces, ahead of the final battle ahead, to influence the focus of the policy but also the tools and the mechanisms – that sometimes are of equal importance of the goals – of implementation.
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The Inside Track
Catalexit postponed. Catalan Prime Minister Puigdemont has renounced the declaration of independence this week, while Madrid continues to hold the Sword of Damacles of suspending Catalonia’s autonomy over Catalonia.
Schäuble waves farewell. During his last Eurogroup meeting, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s colleagues took time to say goodbye. As one of Germany’s most known politicians, he steps down to become speaker of the German Bundestag.
French EU flag row continues. French President Macron declared he would sign an agreement officially recognising the EU flag and anthem at the EU summit next week, after the hard-left France Unbowed party demanded the flag be taken down in the French National Assembly.
The long arm of the law.Germany wants to tie cohesion funds to respect for the rule of law. Macron would like countries to respect a minimum tax rate before disbursing aid to regions. Is it really the time to change the criteria for accessing cohesion funds?
Polish EU ambassador out. Jaroslaw Starzyk was a diplomat appointed by the governing PiS party but his career ended after it was revealed that he worked for the former communist state security service, according to EURACTIV’s media partner Gazeta Wyborcza.
Hungary contra Ukraine. Budapest will ask the European Union to review its ties with Ukraine, after the country’s decision to scrap teaching subjects in languages of its ethnic minorities, including Hungarian, from the secondary school curriculum.
Austrian election finish. This weekend Austrians will go to the polls and elect a new parliament, after the coalition between the Social Democrats and the Conservatives broke up in May. The performance of the right-wing populist FPÖ party could prove decisive.
Czech election shake-up. Ahead of its own elections, Andrej Babiš, the Czech billionaire who is a leading candidate to become prime minister, admitted that he had been charged with fraud over EU subsidies received by one of his companies.
German coalition talks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) reached a deal on migrant policy with her conservative Bavarian allies, removing a major obstacle to pursuing talks on a coalition with other parties.
Enlargement fatigue. Citizens of the Balkan region are highly sceptical that their countries will be joining the EU anytime soon, despite shows of support for European integration, while a quarter do not believe their country will ever join the EU, the Balkan Barometer 2017 survey showed.
Franco-German EU-revival. During his visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair Emmanuel Macron pleaded his case for ambitious European reforms, appealing to Angela Merkel to join forces with him and enter the debate.
The Netherlands like Belgium. After a record 208 days, the Dutch found a coalition agreement between the right-wing liberal VVD, the Christian democratic CDA, the left-liberal D66 and the Christian Union.
Views are the author’s.