Dutch mayor: Regional policy can help control immigration

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Increasing the efficiency of EU regional policy can help control excessive immigration to countries such as the Netherlands and prevent the rise of nationalistic anti-immigrant parties, Mayor of the Hague Jozias van Aartsen said in Brussels last week.

Van Aartsen, in his capacity as president of city lobby group Eurocities, was in Brussels last week (18 June) to meet EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

The Hague mayor hails from the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which secured a narrow one-seat victory in this month's Dutch elections, putting it in pole position to form a coalition government (EURACTIV 10/06/10).

Speaking to Brussels journalists, Van Aartsen explained that regional policy remains a key tool for the EU in equalising the wealth disparities which still exist in Europe, particularly between east and west. "If you under-develop parts of the EU, unequal immigration flows will continue," he said, adding that "cohesion policy is a measure to prevent excessive immigration to countries such as the Netherlands".

Popular frustration with the liberal immigration policy of successive Dutch governments is widely viewed as the driving force behind Wilders' rise (see 'Background').

Integrated policies are the solution

Van Aartsen also emphasised the importance of integrating regional policy into the EU's 'big picture' strategies, such as the 'Europe 2020' blueprint for sustainable economic growth for the 2010-2020 period.

He praised Commissioner Hahn's attitude in this regard, arguing that the Austrian "does seem to have a very integrated approach". However, he also noted that the question of migration was not raised during their Brussels meeting.

Paul Bevan, secretary-general of Eurocities, also highlighted the need for integrated policies, arguing that existing integrated strategies such as LEADER and URBAN have worked well.

Bevan said he was "very strongly" convinced that Hahn "sees things the same way".

Cities and regions not recognised in 2020 strategy

However, he added that Eurocities does not think the 2020 strategy places sufficient emphasis on the role to be played by regions and cities in achieving its stated goals.

The Eurocities secretary-general argued that while the Lisbon Treaty makes a specific reference to the key role of municipal and regional authorities, the 2020 strategy does not go as far.

"We've had to press very hard for local and regional authorities to be involved" in the drafting of precise 2020 targets to be achieved at national level, he said.

In its June 2010 policy paper on the future of EU cohesion policy, Eurocities argues that "the future policy should be rooted in policy and delivery frameworks that involve cities. It should include mandatory urban priorities: principal cities in a region should be involved in setting those and in determining the appropriate scales of intervention".

It goes on to contend that "cohesion policy should also explore the potential of functional areas to address the large number of issues and challenges that extend beyond administrative boundaries. Cities should have the opportunity to manage urban measures directly and receive delegated funding".

EU regional or cohesion policy was enshrined in the EU Treaties with the adoption of the Single European Act in 1986. It is built on the assumption that redistribution between richer and poorer regions in Europe is needed to balance out the effects of further economic integration.

With the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 27 members, the bulk of EU regional funds now go to Central and Eastern European countries.

Enlargement also led to a marked increase in east-to-west migration flows, with hundreds of thousands of workers moving to the 'old' EU-15 countries in search of work.

During the 2005 referendum campaign over the European Constitutional Treaty in France, the 'Polish plumber' figure embodied popular fears about Eastern workers causing wage havoc on the labour market.

Anti-immigration parties have increased their figures in a number of 'old' EU countries since enlargement, most recently with the success of Geert Wilders's anti-immigration Freedom Party in the Netherlands in June 2010 (EURACTIV 10/06/10).

Click here for the latest news on European Regional Policy from EURACTIV.

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