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.