Future cohesion policy: The basis of EU’s competitiveness

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Romanian centre-right MEP Petru Constantin Luhan argues that cohesion funds, distributed on the basis of a region's lower GDP per head, should continue to be used to promote solidarity and competitiveness within the EU.

Romanian MEP Petru Constantin Luhan (European People's Party) is a member of the European Parliament's regional development committee.

"The debates on cohesion policy conducted over the last [few] years have again brought to the forefront a whole range of questions, comments and analyses on the role of member states or regions can play in the economic, social and territorial development of the Union.

Cohesion policy is solidarity policy

The reform undertaken in cohesion policy has also influenced political discourse that gradually came to assimilate concepts that had long been an object of study for leading researchers in the field. The 80s, for instance, saw the appearance of the fundamental elements that were later coagulated in the concept of multi-level governance, as well as the concept of solidarity as a fundamental dimension of cohesion policy.

There is no doubt that many of the issues in the current debates have been reopened due to the specific circumstances generated by the financial and economic crisis in the Union, and the way in which member states have chosen to react is particularly relevant.

While providing financial support for less developed regions has been one of the fundamental principles of cohesion policy, there is currently a fear that the new architecture will choose to reorient that support to the already prosperous regions, where innovation and research may generate performance.

The purpose would be to create the premises for increasing the European Union's global competitiveness, but this would also be done in recognition of the efforts made by old member states to overcome the crisis.

Europe as a whole must become more competitive

Without contradicting the arguments brought in favour of this approach, I still maintain that a competitive European Union can only be a European Union where all citizens have comparable living standards and unrestricted access to all types of infrastructure and services. Therefore, cohesion policy needs to continue providing support to the less-developed regions, which may also prevent developed regions from suffering indirect negative effects.

A poor region with poorly performing institutions that has to face challenges such as climate change, globalisation or demographic change may be compared to a vulnerable person with several delicate body parts that are the most exposed to disease.

I strongly believe that the future cohesion policy needs to finance investments in all types of infrastructure, as required by member states and regions, and according to their specific needs. This can contribute to stimulating the local economy and to putting local potential to work, while also creating the conditions for harnessing innovative measures at all levels.

On the other hand, while in the current programming period, regions only manage 30.5% of the total budget allocated to the cohesion policy, and the bulk of the funds is managed by central governments, things could be much improved in the future if regions were directly involved in the management of programmes financed from structural funds, while central authorities would only retain a co-ordination role.

Moreover, there is also a need to simplify the procedures for the use of structural and cohesion funds, and to make them more flexible, in order to allow authorities to respond to major challenges in due time and with appropriate resources. In that context, it is essential in my opinion that the main indicator for determining the areas eligible for EU financial support should be GDP.

I believe that cohesion policy needs to continue providing support for the achievement of economic, social, and territorial convergence, to help less-developed regions in their development process.

Such an architecture, based on the direct involvement of the regions, on GDP as the main indicator, as well as on continued support for convergence, may be a good basis for a balanced development that can ensure comparable living standards and can boost the European Union's performance."

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