Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen reminded the Visegrád countries today (28 March) that the solidarity they expect from the EU’s cohesion policy also applies to the refugee crisis.
The Finnish Commissioner, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, issued his warning at an event organised by the Council of European Municipalities and Region, dedicated to the future of cohesion policy.
Once the UK decided to leave, a new EU will be born which will be different from the current one, Katainen said.
The historic moment, following Brexit and the Rome Declaration, is “excellent” but is also a final chance to reform the EU and fulfil the expectations of its citizens.
“27 member states have indicated they want to be part of an integrated Europe, rather than being part of a dissolving Europe, or a more nationalistic Europe. But it’s not enough just to indicate “I want to participate.” Now we need a new direction. We need content and we need commitment,” the Commissioner said.
Katainen explained that this was the reason why the Commission published the White Paper with five scenarios for the future of the EU, which were not exhaustive.
“If you want to create new options, by all means”, he said.
Cohesion policy, which amounts to almost a third of the EU budget, is expected to be hugely impacted by the UK, a net contributor, leaving the EU, as well as by a major rethinking of the EU after Brexit.
Nobody knows the size of the next long-term EU budget (2020-2017), he said, adding that he would be “very surprised” if it would be larger than the present one.
“If you don’t want it, it’s OK,” Katainen stated in a deliberately provocative way, regarding cohesion policy, to an audience including many professionals in the field.
He used this trick to convey the message that cohesion policy needed real ownership because until now, its owners have been silent.
“Responsibility is in your hands, in your member states’ hands. Don’t outsource your responsibility to the European Commission,” Katainen insisted.
The future of cohesion policy is part of the future of Europe, he said, repeating that “without active ownership, there is no appetite to develop Europe, because ownership means commitment”.
The medicines that had been used in the past to help poorer regions no longer work in the same manner, Katainen said, arguing that there was a need to “open minds” and think about what would work better in the future.
Cohesion policy is about solidarity between countries, the vice-president stated. An answer is needed to the question, “How much do we value doing things together?”
EURACTIV asked Katainen to comment on calls from older EU members who say that the Visegrád countries (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary), which oppose the EU’s relocation policy, stop receiving cohesion funding.
In contrast, the EU’s poorest countries, Bulgaria and Romania accept the relocation of asylum seekers, even though Bulgaria, as a frontline country, bears the burden of refugees crossing its borders on a daily basis.
Katainen emphasised that member states need to address the issue of the refugees together.
“Solidarity doesn’t always mean to ask something from the others. It also means I am ready to contribute to the joint pot,” he said, adding that there was no difference if it was about cohesion funding or sharing the refugee burden.
“Solidarity is not a one-way street. It’s at least a two-way street. Otherwise, there is no solidarity,” he said.
“We all have heard the news from various member states where solidarity has been challenged because of recent events. I wouldn’t like to lose solidarity from our tool box or our value box because it means sometimes we must be ready to contribute, (and) also take responsibility in an unpleasant situation,” he said.