All EU regions should be able to benefit from EU cohesion (regional policy) funding, argued Policy Challenges Committee MEPs at a debate Thursday with regional and social policy Commissioners Johannes Hahn and László Andor, on the EU’s long-term budget after 2013. Both Commissioners said that their respective budgets should remain at least as large as they are now, but they acknowledged that spending could be better co-ordinated.
“The majority opinion in this committee is clearly that we should keep the financing at least at the same level as in this multiannual financial framework. It is also necessary that the cohesion policy covers all regions (…). Even richer countries, like Sweden and Finland, have regions with great needs”, said rapporteur Salvador Garriga Polledo (EPP, ES), commenting on the initial discussion with Mr Hahn.
Whilst some MEPs stressed the need to maintain or even increase the cohesion budget, given its important role in enhancing competitiveness, several also pointed out that there is currently growing pressure, mainly from Member States but also within some political groups in the Parliament, to make substantial cuts in the EU budget.
Cohesion policy as a means to implement the EU2020 strategy
As regards the link between EU cohesion policy and the EU2020 economic reform strategy, Mr Hahn agreed with MEPs that the EU could not delay implementing the strategy until the next budget framework takes effect. He added that for the next budgetary period, he was planning a mid-term review at which the Commission would allocate additional funds to regions or projects performing above expectations with regard to the EU2020 objectives.
Involvement of Roma and unemployed youth
Several MEPs criticized the failure of the European Social Fund (ESF), to reach Roma citizens. Mr Andor suggested that this could be partly remedied by simplifying the application procedure and putting more effort into explaining how the fund works to marginalised groups like Roma and immigrants. However, additional regional strategies would be needed, he added.
Other MEPs underlined the need to change the way the fund works, since, they said, it has not been able to help enough young people stuck in long-term unemployment.
Better co-ordination of funds, including the globalisation adjustment fund
Several MEPs called for better co-ordination to avoid overlaps, for instance between the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF), and other funds. Mr Andor said his first choice would be to keep the EGF as a separate fund after 2013, but he admitted that improved co-ordination was needed and said he was open to other possible solutions.
Other questions touched upon the structure of the future cohesion budget, how to help the poorest regions better, boosting innovation outside research centres, the role of cohesion funds in urban regions and the high number of errors revealed by Court of Auditors reports on cohesion spending.
The meeting provided input for the committee’s report on the next long-term budget framework, which is to be adopted in June, just before the Commission’s official proposal.