The EU's new strategy for growth and jobs will not succeed unless it maintains structural funds and gives regions real responsibility, outgoing Committee of the Regions (CoR) President Luc Van den Brande told EURACTIV in an interview.
Van den Brande, a Belgian centre-right politician who yesterday (10 February) finished his mandate as CoR president, believes that structural funds are a showcase for what the EU does best, and should be maintained at their current budget levels.
However, they must be reformed to be more flexible, eschewing a "one-size-fits-all" approach, and more importantly they must be intimately linked to the overall EU 2020 strategy, which will determine the EU's growth and employment blueprint for the coming decade.
Including the regions is key, he claimed, arguing that "our research has shown that countries which followed the Lisbon Strategy objectives from a central plan without input from their regions are faring worse than those which consulted regional and urban communities".
Regions must step up
However, the regions must also take responsibility for becoming more assertive, he added. It's a question of attitude, he said, pointing out that some regions didn't adequately take on these responsibilities during the Lisbon Strategy.
"To achieve credibility with the decision-making powers in Europe, the regions have to first and foremost work on their own credibility. So I'm appealing for more 'auto-responsibility' from regions and urban communities," the outgoing president said.
He is convinced that the time is ripe for these changes to happen. "My feeling is that there's an acknowledgement, at both regional and EU level, that the new EU 2020 strategy will only work if all levels of governance are involved," he noted.
Spain and Belgium to lead the way
Van den Brande is particularly enthused about current EU presidency holder Spain, and its successor, Belgium, which will take over on 1 July 2010. These countries have strong regional devolution and will push for stronger regional involvement in EU policy. "We have real expectations" for these presidencies, he said.
"To make these changes happen, we need to stop viewing the regions as middlemen or subcontractors, and see them as actual contractors," he concluded.