Cohesion policy beyond 2020: simpler to use, closer to your needs
It is worth 374 billion euros, it is Europe's main source of investment and its aim is to reduce economic, social and territorial disparities Europe: it is the new cohesion policy for the 2021-2027 financial period as announced by the Commission on 29 May. Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Crețu's opinion
Though its achievements have been confirmed by countless studies and reports (such as creating over one million jobs across Europe through the last economic and financial crisis, to name but one), the world has changed and so had cohesion policy to.
I believe that now was the moment to increase co-financing rates for EU funded projects. For one thing, simply to go back to pre-crisis existing levels, and for another, higher national co-financing rates mean more ownership of the project for beneficiaries of our funds. But with reduced resources, we needed a stronger "value for money" dimension. I believe we have succeeded by focussing on fewer priorities: structural reforms and investments in Europe's poorer countries on one hand, and sustainable urban development, integration of migrants, science and research in richer countries.
Tomorrow's cohesion policy also needed to be easier to use for beneficiaries. We therefore propose less red tape, simpler ways to claim payments, but also a single "rulebook" for seven EU funds, which should make beneficiaries' lives "seven times" easier... We also felt those programmes that function well could do with simplified audit procedures than those that are more problematic.
I am also pleased that we have made cohesion policy's rudder easier to turn when new developments occur. Indeed, at the start of the current seven year period (2014-2020) nobody expected migration and security to feature as one of the top priorities today; however our regions and cities are first in line on those issues but find it difficult to adjust the use of EU funds to new priorities. Therefore we propose that five years into the next financial period, we assess whether today's priorities are still valid or need to be adjusted.
Of course, we have pushed for stronger links with the European Semester; we could not envisage investing €374bn across Europe "in a vacuum", with the risk of conflicting priorities between cohesion policy funds and structural reforms recommendations.
Tomorrow's cohesion policy will also strengthen its urban dimension. Again, this makes total sense, especially as over 80% of Europeans are likely to be living in urban areas by 2050. In future, local authorities, in Hungary and elsewhere, will have more say on how to best use cohesion policy funding in their city, commune or region, and a minimum €13.5 billion from the European Regional Development Fund will help implement local development strategies agreed with local partners.
In short, with reduced financial resources, we are proposing a cohesion policy that looks after each of its regions, regardless of how different their needs are, and therefore leaves nobody behind. A cohesion policy that is simpler to use, simpler to adjust to new developments, focussed on key priorities and tailored to its beneficiaries' needs, all this whilst making sure taxpayers' money is spent soundly... I am confident that the European legislator (Member States and European Parliament) will side with us for a strong, cohesive Europe.
By Corina Crețu, Commissioner for Regional Policy
Front page photo by Emmanuel Dunand / AFP