Local leaders must be given the freedom to create tailor-made solutions for making the 'Europe 2020' growth strategy work, but must likewise take more responsibility for doing so, Lodewijk Asscher, acting Mayor of Amsterdam, told EURACTIV in an interview.
Asscher believes that the EU has gone about framing Europe 2020 in the right way, starting with overall objectives and flagship initiatives.
When it comes to doing the actual work on the ground, he believes that regional funds must be geared to mirror the 2020 goals.
EU funds have the most impact when they are applied in synergy with national and regional funding policies, he said, therefore local governments should be able to choose which of the 2020 goals should be their main focus.
This will best be achieved using stricter earmarking methodologies to allow for a more tailor-made approach by cities and regions, Asscher said.
However, making the strategy work is a two-way street, he argued, urging local policymakers to be "more aware of their position and take more notice of the EU 2020 goals which fit their local priorities".
Regions should not be the central stakeholders of Europe 2020, but rather "an important executive partner," he said.
He praised EU Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn for vocally favouring giving countries, regions and cities more flexibility to define the precise "policy mix" they need to reach those priorities.
Regional funds work, says mayor
Amsterdam has a good track record in engaging proactively with regional policy, and the city took early steps to ensure it had the right structure in place to help applicants for EU funds. In the 2000-2006 regional funding period, Amsterdam started by building a strong programme management structure, which provided hands-on and service-oriented guidance to new applicants.
EU Regional Funds have made a "serious contribution to the economic and social development of Amsterdam," the acting mayor said, noting in particular that the availability of EU funding often becomes the spur for other partners to participate in projects. In Amsterdam this has been particularly beneficial as on average, three euros invested from local or private sources are invested for every euro of EU money spent.
In addition, he noted that some innovative projects which started with European funding have developed more quickly compared to projects without EU funding.
However, Asscher said that more improvements are possible, notably the simplification of funding procedures: finding a better balance between risks and audit and control, applying simplified cost models more quickly and more easily, and easing the administrative burden of Article 55, which governs the treatment of revenue-generating EU-funded projects.
He also stressed the need for more Multi Level Governance (MLG), and highlighted how Dutch cities have taken matters into their own hands, building up strong cooperation between three governance levels. Four regions and four cities (named the 'G4' cooperation) work closely together in this programme, which is led by one city (Rotterdam).
"We expect promising results both in quality of projects and impact," with the emergence of "innovative approaches in programme management," the acting mayor concluded.