The European Parliament argues that "a strong and well-financed EU regional policy" is necessary for achieving social, economic and territorial cohesion, which is one of the main objectives of the EU according to the Lisbon Treaty. MEPs have called for "the budget for the policy to be maintained after 2013 and for any attempt to renationalise it to be rejected".
The Parliament believes that the current framework of EU cohesion policy should be preserved, based on the three existing objectives: 'convergence', 'regional competitiveness and employment', and 'territorial cooperation'. Moreover, it insists that the European Social Fund should remain part of the cohesion policy framework.
MEPs have called on the Commission to ensure more effective monitoring and supervision of how the money from the structural funds is being allocated and spent in the various member states. They would like to see "a stronger role for the regional and local level," as well as a greater focus on meeting the specific needs of urban and suburban areas.
The Committee of the Regions (CoR) sees cohesion policy as being "interdependent" with the 'Europe 2020' strategy, but insists that it must remain a policy in its own right. The CoR is concerned that the Europe 2020 framework should not cause problems for regional and local authorities, for example by introducing new reporting obligations.
The advisory body supports the current Structural Funds framework, and would oppose any shift towards a more sector-specific approach.
The Assembly of European Regions (AER) insists that the level of support for the EU's poorest regions must be maintained in the next period. It sees the convergence objective as a "symbol of European solidarity" that must be protected from any cuts to the EU budget.
However, the AER deeply regrets what it describes as "the failure to include regions as full partners alongside the European Union and its member states". Moreover, the Assembly strongly objects to suggestions that payments to regions could be conditional on the implementation by national governments of structural reforms which are not related to cohesion policy.
The AER is calling for the streamlining of rules governing the granting and operation of funds, and changes to the procedures for the preparation of territorial cooperation projects.
The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) agrees with the Commission on the need for a strong cohesion policy for all EU regions, with a special focus on regions lagging behind. However, it wants the policy to be decentralised by strengthening the local dimension as a way to address the needs of both urban and rural areas and reinforce the links between them.
The CEMR is strongly opposed to proposals that payments should be conditional on member states' compliance with the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact. The Council insists that any conditions should be agreed in advance by all levels of government, and that local and regional levels must be included in any legally binding partnership contracts.
The Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR) also wants to maintain a cohesion policy that includes all the regions of the EU. It insists that regional governments must be fully involved in the governance mechanisms proposed in the 5th Cohesion Report, such as the partnership contracts that would set out the targets to be achieved.
CPMR agrees with the idea of a more focused and results-oriented approach towards the implementation of EU cohesion policy. However, it rejects the idea of linking payments from the structural funds and respect for the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact.
EUROCITIES - the network of major European cities - strongly supports proposals for a stronger focus on urban areas in the EU's cohesion policy, and would like to see a compulsory earmarking of funds for urban projects, without changing the overall architecture of the structural funds.
The network insists that the local and regional governments responsible for running Europe's cities are best able to manage the coordination and implementation of policies in urban areas. Therefore, member states should be obliged to work in partnership with cities, and involve them in deciding on priorities and developing the programmes to be co-financed by the structural funds.
EUROCITIES opposes the idea of linking structural fund payments to compliance with the Stability and Growth Pact, and it also has reservations about the proposal for a 'performance reserve'.
The REGLEG networkrepresents 73 regions with legislative powers, including all the regions of federal member states such as Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. REGLEG supports the idea of continuing with a cohesion policy that includes all the regions of the EU, and agrees that this policy should contribute to the goals of the EU 2020 Strategy.
REGLEG is in favour of simpler rules and greater autonomy for regional governments. "The cohesion policy is regional, so in regions with legislative powers the managing authority, the certifying authority and the control authority should be the responsibility of the regional government and devolved administrations in the respect of the principle of subsidiarity."
The Capital Cities and Regions and Cities for Cohesion networks submitted a joint response to the 5th Cohesion Report, supported by the regional governments of 10 national capitals and 6 other cities. The paper calls for "a mainstreamed urban approach into EU regional policy during the next programming period" and underlines that "the urban dimension should be a mandatory priority".
The 16 city regions argue: "Cities and urban areas that have critical mass and enough administrative capacity should be allowed to manage their own Structural Funds programmes, through global grants or other financial mechanisms adapted to local legal frameworks, procedures and culture."
An alliance of 7 French regions has submitted a joint contribution to the consultation on the 5th Cohesion Report. The participating regions all have a level of economic activity (GDP per person) between 75% and 90% of the average for the whole EU. They are demanding "the implementation of a simple, fair and effective system designed to take into account intermediate regions; a system that will include all European regions with a GDP per capita of between 75% and 90% of the EU average".
France supports suggestions to create a new category of 'transition' regions for those areas that are not poor enough to qualify as 'convergence regions', but which nevertheless have a GNP per head significantly below the EU average. The French government also supports linking EU cohesion policy to the 'Europe 2020' objectives and simplifying the administrative procedures linked to the structural funds (as reported by EURACTIV France).
Germany is strongly in favour of using EU money to set up loan schemes and so-called 'revolving funds', as these can help to maximise the impact of public investments and ensure that projects are designed and managed in a way that is financially sustainable over the long term. It is hoped that such schemes will be more efficient and more effective than simply giving money in the form of grants.
The Germans support the Commission's idea of focusing resources on a limited number of priorities, but they insist that regions must be allowed choose these priorities for themselves. They agree with the concept of 'transition' regions, and are keen to see the continuation of financial support to the regions in the eastern part of Germany.
They also want to simplify the application procedures and reduce the administrative burden on grant recipients and managing authorities.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia (also known as the 'Visegrad Four' or V4 countries) are known to be working together to coordinate their positions on the future cohesion policy of the EU (as reported by EURACTIV).
They agree with the Commission on the need to maintain the size of the budget for cohesion policy, and to focus most of the resources on the poorest countries (the so-called 'convergence' objective). They also want to see simpler rules and procedures.
The V4 countries are stressing the need for flexibility – so that each country can choose its own priorities for determining how to invest the money it receives from the EU. At the same time, they are sceptical about the idea of creating a 'performance reserve' and making bonus payments to the best-performing regions and member states. They are afraid that such an approach might encourage the idea that member states are competing against each other rather than working together.
The United Kingdom is known to be in favour of restricting the overall size of the EU budget, which would also have consequences for structural funds (as reported by EURACTIV).
NGOs and other stakeholders
The European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN)is calling for the future cohesion policy to be closely linked with the goals of the 'Europe 2020' strategy and especially the objectives of the EU Strategy for Social Protection and Social Inclusion. EAPN wants simpler rules and procedures so that small non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can more easily access money from the structural funds.
EAPN insists that member states must be obliged to include social inclusion and poverty reduction among the priority objectives for all of their operational programmes. Those programmes that have a particular focus on social inclusion should benefit from a higher co-funding rate, with up to 75% of the total budget being covered by the EU.