As the European Commission prepares to publish its ideas for the future of EU regional policy after 2013, the political debate on how much money will be available for the bloc's regional funds is already underway. EURACTIV France reports.
A few weeks before the publication of the Commission's 5th Report on Economic and Social Cohesion, three representatives presented their vision of EU regional policy beyond 2013 at a Paris conference on regional funds on 14 October.
Eagerly awaited in Brussels and the regions, the text – to be released on 10 November – should outline the future objectives of the policy.
Pascale Beauchamp from the Commission's Directorate-General (DG) for Employment admitted that ''the debate will be primarily financial".
"The decision will depend on our central bankers," added Michael Dewit from DG Agriculture.
On the budget issue, DG Regional Policy representative Peter Berkowitz was surprisingly frank. "We expect very tough negotiations given the national context in the member states," he stated. "France will have to make some very difficult choices," he added, identifying the Common Agricultural Policy and cohesion policy as the most important issues.
"It will be more about defending the status quo than about getting more money," warned Berkowitz.
In mid-2011, the EU will launch negotiations on the next long-term budget for the period 2014-2020. Budgetary allocations for the various policy areas will have to be approved by the European Parliament, as well as by the governments and national parliaments of the member states.
The representatives of the EU executive also said it was time to think about the direction of future regional policy. "We are still in a debate, in a consultation period," stated Berkowitz, who said discussions on funds for the richest EU regions – within the 'competitiveness' objective – had ''evolved''.
"Europe 2020 must be present in all territories," he went on. Anticipating a more efficient regional policy after 2013, the official wants an approach ''that focuses more on the objectives than the expenditures''.
The funds must also have a significant "leverage" effect, argued Beauchamp. "The European Social Fund only has a purpose if it stimulates projects that could not succeed if they were only supported by national funds," she said.
Another key issue is simplifying the often arduous procedure for access to regional funds. "We must become flexible and not treat all programmes in the same way," conceded Peter Berkowitz. He would like to see changes in the rules for calculating costs and managing the budgets of individual projects.
In line with measures taken by the Commission in response to the global financial crisis, some simplification is already happening. But some member states, such as France, are not fully implementing these measures. "Of course the Community procedures should be simplified. But so should national procedures," argued Berkowitz.
For Pascale Beauchamp from DG Employment, there must be simplification of the rules with regard to monitoring expenditure and the automatic retrieval of unspent funds. Currently, member states are not allowed to delay the spending of EU funds by longer than two years. Beauchamp suggests extending this period to three years.