Barroso urges regions to get more involved

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European Commission President José Manuel Barroso yesterday (4 October) told regional and local leaders that they need to get more involved in the debate on the future of EU regional policy.

Barroso was scheduled to make a "live" appearance at the opening ceremony of the annual Open Days – a four-day "think-in" hosted by the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) – but had to cancel due to a meeting with new Australian Premier Julia Gillard.

Speaking instead via video message, Barroso told the regions that they would be key players, not only in making the new post-2013 regional policy a success, but also in ensuring that the future policy does its part to enable the success of the Commission's 2020 strategy for sustainable growth in the coming decade.

Raise your voices, Barroso tells regions

However, regions have to make their voices heard if they want to play their part, he added, telling the delegates that "you need to increase your role in this dialogue".

This point was echoed by former CoR President Michel Delebarre from France's Nord-Pas-de Calais Region. He warned the assembled representatives that they must work harder to make the case for greater local and regional involvement in the 'Europe 2020' strategy, not only in Brussels but also in the member states.

This was vital, he added, because while EU Regional Policy Commissioner Hahn understood the importance of cities and regions, many of his colleagues still needed to be convinced.

Regions will raise their voices if given a platform

While some were of the view that regions need to raise their voices, other delegates took a firmer line with the Commission and national leaders, arguing that, in fact, these needed to give regions a better platform to raise their voices from.

Michael Schneider, president of the centre-right European People's Party group in the CoR, told the opening session that the Lisbon Strategy – the EU's 10-year plan preceding Europe 2020 – had not reached its goals because the regions and cities weren’t sufficiently involved.

He warned that the EU must not make the same mistake with the implementation of the 2020 strategy.

Basic principles of cohesion policy to stay

Concerning the EU's future regional policy, Barroso said it will not be radically different from the existing one, telling delegates that the "basic principles" would remain in place.

Nonetheless, he hinted at certain changes that are likely to appear in the 5th Cohesion Report, which will appear in mid-November and will contain the broad brushstrokes of the EU executive's plans for the post-2013 regional policy.

The focus will be on making the spending of funds more efficient and increasing the "added value" of the EU therein, and also continuing the drive to simplify access to and distribution of regional money, he noted.

Echoing sentiments expressed in yesterday's interview with EURACTIV, EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn argued that the goals of the future policy needed to be clearly interlinked with those of "big picture" strategies such as Europe 2020.

Some currently argue that cohesion policy is "only loosely linked to EU priorities," he noted, adding that "we need to take this criticism very seriously" in redesigning the post-2013 policy.

Speaking on behalf of the Belgian EU Presidency, Wallonian Regional President Rudy Demotte argued that regional policy and the debate on its future was a big priority of his country's six-month term at the helm of the 27-member bloc.

He claimed that cohesion policy can be one of the main instruments of the 2020 strategy, adding that cohesion funds had a key "leverage role" to play in lifting the EU out of recession.

Belgium will push for the future policy to concentrate on a limited number of strategies, particularly innovation and new skills, he noted.

Flo Clucas, president of the liberal ALDE group in the CoR, noted that there had been much speculation regarding the content of the Commission's 5th Report on Economic and Social Cohesion, which is due to be adopted in November.

As a representative from the north-west of England, Clucas said she was especially concerned about what kind of support will be available after 2013 for regions which continue to face challenges of economic restructuring (including so-called 'phasing out' regions).

Arguing for the retention of a strong cohesion policy, Clucas said it is the "active face of the European Union in our cities and regions. Without it, Europe will become invisible".

The EU Open Days or 'European Week of Regions and Cities' is organised annually by the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions (CoR), and this year features 6,000 regional and local representatives taking part in a variety of events in Brussels between 4-7 October. This year's heading - 'Europe 2020: Competitiveness, co-operation and cohesion for all regions' – will, according to the Commission, provide a forum for exchanging ideas on the role of Europe's regions and cities in delivering the 'Europe 2020' strategy and the future of EU regional policy.

EURACTIV produces regular news stories on EU Regional Policy, in particular concerning how the debate on the post-2013 regional (or cohesion) policy is evolving and intensifying in Brussels and beyond.

  • 4-7 October 2010Open Days event in Brussels.
  • Nov 2010: Launch of 5th Cohesion Report.

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