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.