Cutting red tape in cohesion policy
MEPs called for strengthened action post-2020, so that inequalities between the regions are reduced
Maria Koleva, Strasbourg
17 June, 2017
The European Parliament pushed a new direction to the debate on the Cohesion Policy’s future after 2020, by adopting two resolutions during their session in Strasbourg. Up to now the EU money for cohesion has enabled the poorer regions to reduce to some extent their economic and social disparities with the well-off EU members. The aftershocks of the UK’s decision to leave the Union will also press for change in this area.
Keeping grants as the basis of the cohesion policy financing, whilst the use of loans, equity or guarantees “should be used with caution”, warned MEPs in a resolution aimed at improving the cohesion policy after 2020. In the report drafted by German S&D MEP Kerstin Westphal that was adopted by 350 votes to 149, with 171 abstentions, the lawmakers specified that although the existing cohesion policy has mitigated the impact of the recent economic crisis and that of the austerity measures, regional disparities and social inequalities remain large. The report calls for strengthened action in the post-2020 cohesion policy to reduce these inequalities and prevent the development of new disparities in the different type of regions. Among their proposals, they put particular stress on the need of adequate budget, synergies between funds, simplification and visibility. According to the MEPs, cohesion policy is the investment tool par excellence for all European regions to create growth and jobs, and to tackle existing and new challenges.
We need to make sure that this continues after 2020, with an adequate budget, simpler rules, less bureaucracy and with stakeholders involved earlier and better, rapporteur Kerstin Westphal stated. The EU structural funds create jobs and help deal with problems like climate change, she added noting that they are a driving force for growth and sustainable development. In her words, the Parliament sends out a clear signal about how important retaining cohesion policy is and asserted that “we want a modern, non-bureaucratic cohesion policy, one which provides funding where necessary, for all regions, designed for people and simpler.”
Lawmakers affirmed that the European Fund for Strategic Investments “should not undermine the strategic coherence, territorial concentration and long-term perspective of cohesion policy programming” and pointed out the need for harmonisation between cohesion policy and competition policy, precisely when it comes to state aid rules. They proposed as well the overall management system at all governance levels to be simplified.
Commenting on the resolution, Bulgarian ALDE MEP and REGI committee chair, Iskra Mihaylova, emphasised on the need for stronger links of the Cohesion policy with the European Semester and EU economic governance process to ensure the right framework for ESI Funds’ investment. Her ALDE group is adamant that the macroeconomic conditionality lays out the rules for suspending the European Structural and Investment Funds when Member States fall under the excessive deficit procedure and fail to take corrective action. The ALDE group objected to the vote and pointed out the importance of both the macroeconomic conditionality, and the strong links with the European Semester and the Stability and Growth Pact rules, which are the basis for a sound investment policy in Member States.
As one of the Eurobarometer surveys, the newest carried out on this particular topic shows, just one-third of EU citizens are aware of the positive impact of EU investments in the regions where they live. Boosting the visibility of the EU cohesion policy is the aim of the other resolution that MEPs supported. It accents on the “increase in Euroscepticism and in anti-European populist propaganda that distorts information on Union policies.” For this purpose, MEPs suggest the access to information to be improved by creating a communication strategy for digital and social media and highlighting the benefits, such as promoting innovation and creating jobs and growth that cohesion policy brings to the real economy. The rapporteur on the file, Romanian EPP MEP Daniel Buda, opined that a better coordination among public authorities, social and economic partners and civil society is needed in order to better communicate the goals of the EU and increase the interest of citizens in the European projects.
In the meantime, the EPP Group announced the launch of a new fundamental debate about how the EU communicates its successes. This is particularly important in the case of regional policy of which many citizens are not aware in their regions and cities, Dutch EPP MEP Lambert van Nistelrooij said.