The Committee of the Regions is gaining support for its idea of forging "territorial pacts" to facilitate the implementation of the 'Europe 2020' strategy at regional and local level.
"Whenever possible, the territorial pacts should build on the Europe 2020 goals," said Hubert Szlaszewski, director of administrative policies at the European Commission.
He called for the needs of regions to be afforded higher visibility in national economic reform programmes, declaring: "The contracts should reflect the needs of the regions."
Szlaszewski was speaking at the Committee of the Region's 6th annual territorial dialogue, which took place on 22 February and focused on territorial pacts.
After agriculture, cohesion policy consumes the largest share of the EU's annual €130 billion budget. For the next seven-year budgetary period starting in 2013, the European Commission wants to refocus its financial engineering to foster greater involvement at local level.
The Commission's Szlaszewski underlined the importance of the regions within the 2020 strategy. "The Europe 2020 strategy will not be fully achieved without the regional pacts," he stressed.
Mercedes Bresso, president of the Committee of the Regions, highlighted the importance of a common strategic framework at the meeting.
The Commission's 2011 annual growth survey deplored a lack of ambition in the preliminary versions of the national reform programmes submitted by member states in November 2010. This should be changed with the new approach. By the end of April 2011, national governments will have to submit their updated programmes, showing how they will implement the Europe 2020 strategy at national level.
"Vivid debates and the involvement of various social, economic and territorial actors are necessary" to make the national reform programmes as successful as possible, Bresso stressed.
"We have a duty to act on all regional levels," Bresso said.
Model regions as pioneers
Lambert Van Nistelrooij, a Dutch MEP (European People's Party) and member of the European Parliament's regional development committee, sees the EU assembly as an important partner for the territorial pacts, because it now has full legislative powers on regional policy. "The instrument and the toolbox are there, let's see what progress we can make out of it," he said.
Vasco Errrani, president of the Region of Emilia-Romagna and a member of the 'Europe 2020' monitoring platform, called for controls to be strengthened over how regional funds are spent at national level. He advocated introducing a punishment for countries that do not meet set targets.
Markku Markkula, a Finnish member of the Committee of the Regions and its rapporteur on the 'Europe 2020' flagship initiative 'A Digital Agenda for Europe', outlined a new approach, proposing that some regions and cities should be pioneers in a specific area.
"Creating specific model regions would help the whole Europe to be a pioneer," Markkula said.
On 8 March Mercedes Bresso will discuss territorial pacts and the Europe 2020 strategy with representatives of EU member states.
"It is important to make use of the territorial pacts without repeating the failures of loose engagement regarding the preliminary versions of the national reform programmes," Bresso said.