Regional body ‘ignored by EU institutions’

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The European Commission and member states have made "no contact" with the Committee of the Regions (CoR) during key debates on the EU's future regional policy and the 2020 growth strategy for the coming decade – a big mistake, CoR member Michael Schneider told EURACTIV in an interview.

Schneider, president of the centre-right EPP Group in the CoR, claims there has been "no attempt" by EU bigwigs to actively involve the CoR, which represents local and regional authorities in Brussels.

Shunning the sub-national level in this manner will doom the 2020 growth strategy to the same failure as its predecessor, the Lisbon Agenda, said Schneider, who authored the CoR's opinion entitled 'Contribution of the cohesion policy to the Europe 2020 strategy'.

However, the cloud does have a silver lining: the Belgian EU Presidency in the second half of this year made a formal request to the CoR for a contribution on Europe 2020 and Cohesion Policy. "This brought us into play," said Schneider.

Like most regional players, the German local politician believes it is essential that regional policy maintain its current chunk of the EU budget in the post-2013 financial period, because it is an "essential policy for the future of Europe," which can contribute to the accomplishment of the Europe 2020 goals and become a "cornerstone" of the hoped-for European economic recovery.

He does not think that the regional policy budget will decrease "too much," because "with the crisis there is more need for it than ever, and some though not all member states have recognised that fact".

Nevertheless, Schneider believes the regional policy budget is in real danger because the 2020 strategy puts more emphasis on policies such as research and innovation, which could try to draw money from cohesion funds.

"I think [Regional Policy] Commissioner [Johannes] Hahn knows what we are talking about, but he's not the Commission – he's just one commissioner," Schneider noted anxiously. He also made a pointed reference to Commission President José Manuel Barroso's speech from earlier this week, arguing that Barroso "can't say that cohesion policy will remain along similar lines and not give it the same budget".

Concerning the key reform of simplifying access to EU regional funds, the German believes some progress has been made during the battle against the economic crisis, "but unfortunately this was not a breakthrough".

Schneider claims "a more fundamental approach is necessary," such as ensuring that European funds are enforced under the budget rules of EU member states.

A further necessary reform beyond 2013 is finding "ways and means to take regional characteristics into account" in the allocation of funding, he argued. "I would therefore propose that the use of leverage effects could be one way of measuring and analysing the results of cohesion policy."

"Through direct intervention on the ground, it should be possible to see the 'added value' of cohesion policies," he said.

To read the interview in full, please click here

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