EU funds refocused on competitiveness and social cohesion

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Member-state governments are re-focusing the EU’s cohesion policy to boost workers’ qualifications, education and employability, the Commission said at the conclusion of negotiations on funds allocated for the 2007-2013 period.

In a Communication published at the close of negotiations, the Commission concluded that “discussions with member states, regions, partners and local actors demonstrated that the policy had acted as a catalyst for change”. “The added value of the negotiation process goes well beyond the financial resources,” the EU executive added.

Addressing journalists in Brussels yesterday (14 May), Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner said EU countries had taken a completely different approach to cohesion policy by putting competitveness and cohesion objectives on the same track. The statement echoes earlier ones by Hübner in Parliament last February, where she called for a re-orientation of cohesion policy to bring it in line with the EU’s so-called Lisbon Strategy for growth and jobs.

Hübner said that 65% of cohesion funds were now being used to directly foster the Lisbon objectives. In more developed regions where basic needs such as transport infrastructure are covered, as much as 82% of funds are allocated to Lisbon-related objectives, she said. Cohesion policy contributes directly to the Lisbon objective of 3% of EU GDP to be spent on Research and Development by 2010 by directly allocating €86 billion to those kind of activities, she added.

Almost as much, namely €76 billion, is allocated to the European Social Fund (ESF), which aims to create jobs and make the European workforce and companies better equipped to face new challenges – also part of the Lisbon targets. 

The Communication states that “as a result of the negotiation process, the quality of the programmes has improved substantially, and their content has become more closely aligned with major Community priorities”.

It also says that the extensive negotiating period had “provided a platform for designing effective regional or sectoral strategies to enhance growth, generate more and better jobs and improve financial and delivery mechanisms achieving a long-term impact and a more effective use of public funds”.

The EU's cohesion programmes aim to reduce disparities between countries in terms of living standards and opportunities. They also promote economic, social and territorial cohesion against the backdrop of a globalising economy.

Since they are fairly long-term investments, cohesion funds are agreed for seven-year periods. For the period 2007-2013, European sectoral and regional cohesion policy programmes support investments of around €347 billion, which makes them the second largest item in the Community budget after agriculture. Most of this funding is concentrated on regions with less than 75% of the EU-wide average GDP (so-called Convergence Regions). 35% of the EU's population lives in those regions.

Of 455 programmes for that period, 94% are now in place, following intense negotiations between national and regional authorities on the one hand and the Commission on the other.

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