This article is part of our special report Industrial revival.
SPECIAL REPORT / The EU's new regional funds for 2014-2020 will see more money allocated to the regeneration of brownfield sites, helping old industrial areas generate new economic activity.
The European Parliament's regional committee adopted its position last week in a draft EU regulation that will govern how regional policy money will be allocated under the bloc's upcoming budget for 2014-2020.
The new draft budget rules, which still needs approval from the 27 EU member states, sees a 5% increase in funds allocated for “integrated actions for sustainable urban development”.
This heading includes the recovery of brownfield sites, meaning more EU funding will be made available to regenerate them.
At least 5% of the resources allocated nationally through the European Regional Development Fund – or ERDF, which is part of the cohesion funds and is aimed at helping regions develop – should be allotted for this purpose, according to the draft regulation.
The ERDF “may” also support innovative actions for sustainable urban development, subject to a ceiling of 0.2% of the total annual ERDF allocation. These could include studies and pilot projects to identify or test new solutions to issues relating to sustainable urban development, the new draft regulation says.
Data on the redevelopment of brownfields are patchy and hardly comparable, reflecting the lack of a common definition of the problem across Europe, according to the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency (EAA).
The regeneration of these sites falls under the urban development actions funded by ERDF funds.
Member states, during early negotiations with the former Danish presidency of the EU, supported this measure, which was initially proposed by the European Commission in June 2011.
The agreement between the European Commission, Council and Parliament on this point should protect the money from horse-trading in the negotiations over the future cohesion policy, which the three EU institutions are expected to conclude before the end of the year.
Fit for 2020 goals
The extra money allotted for the revival of brownfields is part of the Europe 2020 goals to support economic growth, create jobs and preserve the environment.
In its 2014-2020 budget proposals tabled last year, the European Commission asked for €336 billion to be injected into the bloc's regions over the next seven years.
Rejuvenating brownfield sites – which have been previously used for military, mining, industrial or commercial purposes and are now often beset by soil and water contamination – falls under the umbrella of 'green' and innovate solutions for economic growth. Empty brownfield sites, if rehabilitated, could create jobs for the nearby communities, improve the environment and promote innovation, the Commission believes.
However, it is not yet clear yet how much money will be allotted to the ERDF this year, making it uncertain how much will become available under the 5% increase. In fact, member states have not yet put any numbers on the table as the future EU budget is still being negotiated.
The Commission and Parliament have asked for the ERDF to receive at least the same amount as in the current budget (2007-2013). But member states that are net contributors to the EU budget have tried to slim down the overall figure.
The new draft cohesion policy regulation lays down precise rules on how regional money can be spent.
Under the draft, richer regions have to spend 80% of the ERDF funds on 10 investment priorities whilst poorer regions will have to spend 60% on the same priorities. This means that the amounts member states can use is somewhat regulated.
Additionally, richer regions have to spend at least 22% of the ERDF funds on projects supporting low-carbon technologies and solutions, whilst poorer regions have to spend only around 15% of the ERDF for the same purpose.
"These investment priorities are all supporting more or less the recovery of brownfield sites," said Markus Trilling of Friends of the Earth Europe and CEE Bankwatch. The environmental activist believes, however, that the amount of money allotted through the ERDF is insufficient.
It is "a drop in the ocean for how much is needed to get the regions on track," he said. "But at least we want to make sure they don't spend the money on gas pipelines."
The new EU funds regulation could start a new era for how money is spent on brownfield sites regeneration. But eventually, it will be up to member states to decide on how to allocate this 'thematic concentration' of money to specific projects.
Trilling said "95% will stay the same. It's not a new era, unless member states decide so. But now they have more of this option."
"The European Commission is now going in the right direction,” he said. “But member states have to map first how many sites are worth regenerating in their country and then start reserving EU money for this".