In a report sent to the European Commission, the French government makes a "priority" of "decreasing the portion of the budget dedicated to cohesion policy". EURACTIV France reports.
According to the official French report, cuts in the regional policy budget are a consequence of "the observed convergence between European regions and states" as well as "the latest enlargement" of the EU.
The report confirms previous statements by French officials, including Agriculture Minister Bruno Lemaire. In an interview with euractiv.fr, the minister said regions no longer required structural funds "once they have reached the average level [of wealth] of other European regions".
However, the French position appears to contradict a proposal in the Commission's fifth report on cohesion policy which would create a new, intermediate category for fund beneficiaries. These "intermediate" regions would have a GDP per capita equal to 75 to 90% of the European average. Many regions would then still be able to receive cohesion funds as they become wealthier.
Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn has stated that he wishes to maintain the budget for cohesion, saying that "to keep the current level of funding will be the objective, but first we have to have the overall budget".
The issue is a divisive one among French government authorities and politicians. The representatives of seven French regions travelled to Brussels earlier this month to support the Commission's proposal for an intermediate beneficiary category.
The French Socialist delegation to the European Parliament also condemned in strong terms what they called the "burial of cohesion policy" by the French government.
Estelle Grellier, a socialist member of the Parliament's budget committee, said: "Instead of imposing austerity by all available means, the French government would be better served […] by defending genuinely ambitious projects, like that of new own resources for the European Union."
Catherine Trautmann, president of the French Socialist delegation, said that "to claim to be able to do more with less is dishonest and demagogical. In the face of the consequences of the crisis, we need more Europe".
In the report, France also comes out in favour of allowing more flexibility in the use of structural funds by EU countries. The text asserts that although the Commission can define a list of priorities, the member states and regions must have room for manoeuvre.
In particular, the report says that member states and regions must be able to choose "the most appropriate priorities adapted to their particular context".