MEP Michael Theurer, the German liberals' spokesman on regional issues in the European Parliament, is demanding an urgent reworking of structural and cohesion funds. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Germany is the biggest contributor to the EU budget, while regional funds are traditionally spent on poorer countries (see 'Background'). But Theurer is advocating a "reinvention" of regional policy by adopting a more innovative approach which in his perspective would be in the common interest.
Theurer says he is a supporter of structural aid for regional macroeconomic development, but he wants to see a shift in emphasis for both structural and cohesion funds. The competitiveness and capacity for innovation of SMEs, as well as technology transfer from science to the economy, must take centre stage in future regional funding.
The German MEP is also insisting that better assessments of the impact of structural aid on the economy as a whole are needed. Structural aid is "a very intelligent instrument" as it touches on the origins of imbalances and fosters competitiveness, he argues.
However, SMEs only receive about 10-20% of all centrally administered research programmes, which is far too little, says Theurer. He argues that regional aid, when spent properly, is always aid for SMEs.
According to the German MEP, much more efficient usage of structural aid is possible and desirable in the period after 2013, which will be covered by the new multi-annual financial framework of the European Union.
Synergy with Commission?
The European Commission is also seeking to improve the efficiency of regional aid and sees regional policy as a unique tool for achieving the targets of the EU's 'Europe 2020' strategy in the regions.
Dirk Ahner, director-general of the EU's regional policy department, outlined his vision to EURACTIV Germany. He called for efforts to be streamlined around priority topics, and also wants to give out more loans than grants to allow funding to be recycled in so-called 'revolving funds'.
This would make maximum use of existing funds without demanding greater national contributions, he argued.
Discussions on the future EU budget are likely to be a cause of much controversy in the coming months. Poland, in particular, says that the best use of EU money is under structural funds.
"It will be difficult to explain to the Polish people that giving China money to tackle climate change is a better way to use EU money," a Polish official recently warned.