The state of play of negotiations on the future cohesion policy beyond 2020 was the topic of discussion between members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Younous Omarjee, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on regional development (REGI) at the CoR Plenary on 8 October. Three opinions on cohesion policy led by EPP rapporteurs were adopted at the Plenary.

Both the CoR and the REGI committee are opposed to cuts to cohesion policy, which supports investments in Europe’s regions, cities and rural areas.

According to Omarjee, the EU is not just a project dominated by the economy, but solidarity lies at the heart of the project. “Regional policy should not be made subject to other objectives. All policies must serve the purpose of reducing the disparities between our regions, all policies should serve cohesion,” Omarjee said.

“The European Commission has put forward proposals for a cohesion policy for all regions, with a special focus on the least developed regions”, said Johannes Hahn (EPP/AT), outgoing Commissioner for Regional policy during the morning’s debate between REGI and CoR COTER members. Hahn urged regions and cities to use their political power to push their national governments to accelerate the negotiations in order to avoid delays in implementation of these key policies.

 Michael Schneider (EPP/DE), President of the EPP Group in the CoR, called on the negotiators to stick to their promise to reduce administrative burden in cohesion policy. Red tape hampers the effective use of structural funds on the ground and thus reduces the impact of the entire policy.

“Cooperation with the REGI Committee is important for defending a strong cohesion policy. The policy needs to remain regional and take into account the specificities of our regions”, said Ivan Žagar (EPP/SL).

“We need more Europe, not less Europe. As long as we have less developed regions in Europe, we need cohesion policy. It is a question of political priority“, said Emil Boc (EPP/RO).”

Better communication for cohesion policy to increase citizens’ trust in the EU

Adrian Teban (EPP/RO), CoR rapporteur on better communication for cohesion policy highlighted the increasing need to reach out to citizens in the programming and implementation of cohesion policy. Cohesion policy finances concrete and visible projects in Europe’s cities and regions, but only one third of Europeans have heard of EU co-financed projects in their area, and only half have heard of EU development funds.

“It is my conviction that a better visibility of cohesion policy will contribute to improving citizens’ perceptions of the EU and to regaining their confidence in our European Union”, Teban said.

His opinion provides a number of recommendations on how to improve communication on EU-funded projects in the upcoming programming period 2021-2017.

 “Better communication for cohesion policy is a shared responsibility following the principle of multilevel governance. Consequently, we, mayors and local governments, should play a fundamental role in implementing cohesion policy and in ensuring the visibility of the projects funded by this policy. The European institutions alone cannot be the only driving force behind this challenge”, Teban concluded.

Regional development strategies beyond 2020 for a sustainable Europe

 Cohesion policy brings added European value that we cannot underestimate, and it reflects onto other EU policies, such as the single market, reminded rapporteur Adam Struzik’s (EPP/PL).

Struzik’s opinion puts forward recommendations for the successful design of regional development strategies beyond 2020. Development strategies are core instruments for local and regional governance, bringing together individual sectoral policies in line with a place-based approach to economic, social and territorial development: “Strategic regional planning is the starting point for successful development“, Struzik believes.

The opinion recommends that cities and regions take Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into account as a guiding principle when developing regional or local development strategies, particularly in view of the fact that a strategy for a sustainable Europe by 2030 still needs to be developed. Cities and regions, as the decision-makers closest to their citizens, businesses and local communities, need to be able to adapt the SDGs to the specific characteristics of their area.

Making more use of territorial instruments in all EU regions

 Radim Sršeň (EPP/CZ), EPP-CoR rapporteur on the CoR’s contribution to the renewed Territorial Agenda, called for a much higher uptake of territorial instruments, such as community-led local development (CLLD) and integrated territorial investments (ITI) in the Member States, as well as for mandatory earmarking for these instruments across all funds in the post-2020 period.

“Strengthening the European Union’s Territorial Agenda and Community-led local development can play a crucial role in bringing Europe closer to citiziens and re-establishing missing legitimacy of the EU“, said Srsen. CLLD has proved itself a very successful tool of local development delivering European values by local means through strong engagement of citizens, using a bottom-up approach. Moreover, LEADER/CLLD is also a powerful tool for implementing the SDGs at local level.

Sršeň’s opinion asks the European Commission to provide simple models and guidelines and introduce best practices of how to implement integrated territorial instruments through a multi-fund approach for all types of territories and all regions in the Member States.

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