Mercedes Bresso, the Committee of the Regions' new president, says current plans to divert EU regional funds towards realising the 'Europe 2020' strategy for growth and jobs are misguided. Instead, the EU must find new money for the strategy, she explained in an interview with EURACTIV France.
The Italian socialist, the first woman to head the Committee of the Regions (CoR), is in a somewhat unique political position. Having been elected as recently as February (EURACTIV 23/03/10), she could have a short-lived reign if she loses a political contest for leadership of the Piedmont region later this week (28-29 March).
Nevertheless, she has not shied away from diving into some of the big debates currently underway in Brussels.
Bresso believes the Lisbon Strategy failed in its goal of turning the EU into "the world's most dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010" partly because it did not engage with local authorities.
If 'Europe 2020' is to succeed where its predecessor failed, it must be rooted at local level, Bresso argued. Regions are ready to assume this responsibility, she contended, citing as an example a pledge by 1,200 European mayors to help with the EU's fight against climate change (EURACTIV 11/02/09).
However, the problem of financial resources is inescapable, she argued. "The debate must clarify this delicate subject," she said, explaining that no specific funds have been earmarked to achieve the strategy's objectives on employment, education or research.
The bottom line for the CoR is that while the future regional policy and 'Europe 2020' will often have converging goals, they are two entirely different animals and must not be overly intertwined.
"Supplementary funds must be made available for the Europe 2020 strategy," the Italian CoR president concluded.
Indicators are necessary
Assuming she keeps her Italian regional seat, Bresso will preside over the EU's regional institution at a time of great upheaval. The mammoth debate over the future of regional policy – the current funding programme runs until the end of 2013 – is now well and truly underway in Brussels and beyond.
For her part, Bresso believes one key reform required to make the new policy more efficient is the inclusion of clearly defined indicators and benchmarks. In particular, environmental indicators and "quality of life" social benchmarks linked to GDP should allow for "better evaluation of the impact and progress of EU regional funds".
The debate will only intensify in the coming months. The CoR has prepared a report on the future of regional policy and will debate this at length with new EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn during the month of April.
The question of how regional policy will be tied into the final 'Europe 2020' strategy is also of paramount importance. Some member states are lobbying for the 'renationalisation' of certain funds, something the CoR will fight tooth and nail, according to its new president.