Cohesion budget cuts would be a mistake

Redirecting spending to other policies is tantamount to stealing bricks from one construction site to build another house elsewhere

The next multi-annual budget of the EU, covering the period till 2027, as proposed by the European Commission, envisages cutting down the Cohesion Policy funds. The Commission also proposes an option for freezing spending if Member States do not observe the economic management rules. However, the common thread for me, as MEP negotiating the framework of Cohesion Policy for 2021-2027, is the preservation of the current rates of European investments in the regions.

I firmly support the position that redirecting Cohesion Policy spending to other policies is tantamount to stealing bricks from one construction site in order to build another house elsewhere. There should be no transfers from the Cohesion Policy fund to other instruments and programmes.

The most essential part of the report, which I and my German colleague wrote together, is related to the increase of the Cohesion Policy budget by €41.6bn to a total of €372.2bn. In this case, the spending will remain on the level of the current programming period, considering inflation rates. The second step was to propose stronger European support for infrastructure, environment and border areas. It means a larger budget for the Cohesion Fund (€46.3bn) and for trans-border cooperation (€11.2bn). In my opinion, the underdeveloped regions and settlements take a special place in the very concept of cohesion. That is why we proposed to ensure 85% European co-financing for underdeveloped regions, for the Cohesion Fund and the trans-border cooperation programmes (Interreg).

The negotiations on the Cohesion Policy budget are similar to the discussions of a family budget - it is about having different stands on budgeting different priorities. If the East, West, North and South are the four members of the EU family, it is only natural that their opinions are divergent. Yet, our ambition is to overcome all differences before 1 January 2021 when the Member States will start investing EU funds into their regions, cities and villages.

The European Commission proposed additional instruments for freezing funds in case of derogations. For instance, to peg meeting the requirements of the Commission and supremacy of law to payments from the EU budget. People, municipalities and the business community should not be put between a rock and a hard place. The flow of European investments to the regions and beneficiaries should not depend on political processes and sanctions procedures. People are not to blame for the conduct of politicians or the results that come from it. With a view to that, in our report we insist that the real payments to projects should not be stopped, this should apply solely to budget payments up to a certain amount and within limited time.

It is also important to simplify application procedures for using EU budget funds. EU funds should be easily accessible, something like ordering a cup of coffee. Much to our regret, so far nobody has discovered a vaccine against bureaucracy. But we can always give it a try. In our report we make several proposals along those lines. Some of them are aimed at fewer audits in situ, as well as providing a base for assessment of risk and size of the beneficiaries. We do not consider it normal when the audit burden on small companies is disproportionately big. Our further proposals are aimed at lowering the standards for formal reporting and the terms for storing documents. We have also proposed an increase of funding for technical assistance, which will guarantee that we will reach more potential beneficiaries and boost chances for their projects to be financed.

 Andrey Novakov, MEP from EPP/GERB, shared his opinion with BTA.

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