Echoing Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn, the European Parliament said the EU should take steps to ensure that regional policy is more results-oriented so that EU funds are spent more efficiently and effectively, with a clear focus on supporting sustainable economic growth, especially in urban areas.
Members of the European Parliament are determined to make sure that the EU budget earmarks enough money to maintain a "strong and well-financed EU regional policy" after current programmes have come to an end in 2013.
In a resolution adopted on 7 October, MEPs stressed that regional policy should promote job creation and support the 'Europe 2020' strategy, which was adopted by EU leaders in June. Member states have committed themselves to a series of targets on employment, education and energy use, with the aim of achieving "smart, sustainable and inclusive growth". The Parliament believes that EU regional policy is "indispensable" for the success of the 2020 strategy.
In an interview with EURACTIV, Commissioner Hahn said he wanted a more results-orientated policy, focused on fewer priorities but with greater flexibility in their implementation. These priorities will be better aligned with the 2020 strategy, allowing EU member states and regions to better integrate policies, he argued ahead of the launch of the fifth Cohesion Report, expected for early November.
The Parliament is also calling for "significant improvements in monitoring and evaluation systems" as well as "increased efficiency in administrative capacity and error reduction levels". For MEPs, data collection should include "the identification of objective and measurable indicators that are comparable across the EU".
MEPs are committed to keeping the objectives of EU regional policy the same as those agreed by the member states in 2006: convergence, competitiveness and employment, and cooperation. Most of the money should continue to go to the poorest regions, and "GDP must remain the main criterion" for deciding which regions receive EU funds, MEPs stressed.
Under the current framework, over 80% of cohesion policy funding is focused on those regions where the GDP per person is less than 75% of the EU average.
However, the Parliament does not want all the money to be spent only in the poorest regions, and would also like the EU to continue funding projects to support job creation and boost competitiveness in other areas. A majority of MEPs support the idea of "an EU-wide regional policy implemented throughout the entire territory of the Union and embracing all the European regions".
More attention should be paid to cities and urban areas in the next wave of EU regional policy programmes, according to the Parliament, which is calling for "a more focused approach to the urban dimension of cohesion policy". It notes that "cities play a dynamic role in regional economic development, giving a positive economic stimulus to the surrounding rural areas".
Moreover, the Parliament insists that there must be "sufficient flexibility" so that national authorities can adapt funding programmes, taking into account the specific needs of different regions. Special provision should continue to be made to help regions facing particular challenges – including border regions – and to support cooperation between regions in different countries.
The European Parliament's resolution on EU cohesion and regional policy after 2013 was drafted by Polish MEP Danuta Hübner, who chairs the Parliament's committee on regional development and was previously European commissioner in charge of regional policy. During her time at the Commission she adapted the policy to meet the needs of the 12 'new' member states which joined the EU in 2004 and 2007.
Speaking to EURACTIV this week, Hübner said the effectiveness of the future regional policy would depend on the amount of money that can be found in the framework of the EU budget.
"All practitioners know very well that you need a certain critical mass of funding if you want to have results, if you want to have a project that would really have an impact on growth, job creation and competitiveness in a region or in a city," she said.
"I hope that we will be wise enough to at least maintain if not increase the European budget so that we could use it more efficiently as a catalyst for investment in restructuring the European economy," the former commissioner added.