France believes that a reduction in funding for the EU's regional policy is inevitable, euractiv.fr has learned. However, Central European member states are strongly opposed to any decreases.
At an informal meeting of European ministers responsible for regional development on 22 November in Liège, France caused a stir by predicting a "decline" in the future budget for regional policy.
During a discussion on future EU funding for local and regional authorities, French representatives mentioned a "planned reduction of the budget for cohesion policy," euractiv.fr learned from several sources.
In other words, France sees a decrease in funds for the policy as inevitable. This view must be seen in the context of the French position on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). France effectively wants the CAP budget to remain the same in the EU's next budgetary period, from 2014-2020.
The incident was the first time that a representative of a French state official has discussed budget issues in the field of regional policy. Interministerial delegate Dartout Pierre was attending on behalf of Bruno Le Maire, French minister for food, agriculture and fishing.
When an official stands in for a minister at such a meeting, it is customary for the representative to read from a document that has been approved by the government.
Paris: On a collision course with Central Europe?
Given the current pressures surrounding future EU spending, the European Commission and member states have been trying to differentiate between policy goals and budget negotiations. On 10 November in Brussels, Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn said he was ''not able to talk about fiscal policy'.'
However, the prime ministers of Poland and the Czech Republic have made clear that they will not accept any cuts to the amount of financial support given to Central and Eastern European countries within the framework of EU regional policy.
At a joint press conference in Warsaw last month, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Czech counterpart Petr Necas insisted that they would strongly oppose any cuts to the part of the EU budget that provides funding for Europe's poorest regions.
France will therefore face a fight to reduce the amount of funding allocated for regional policy. Meanwhile, Poland has warned that budget cuts are not on the agenda of the upcoming European Council summit on 16-17 December, during which the UK is expected to ask for a 25% reduction in the EU's spending beyond 2013.
On 10 November, the European Commission published its 5th Report on Economic and Social Cohesion, which included a number of proposals for reforming EU regional policy in the framework of the next budgetary period.
The Commission proposals link funding for regions to the achievement of the targets set out in the 'Europe 2020' strategy for jobs and growth. The amount of money available will depend on the outcome of the negotiations on the multi-annual financial framework for 2014-2020, which begin next year.