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MEMO/05/358

Brussels, 10 October 2005

European Week of Regions and Cities will bring together 2,500 national, regional and local actors of regional development

Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner, UK Deputy Prime Minister
John Prescott, Committee of the Regions President Peter Straub and European Investment Bank chief Philippe Maystadt will be the keynote speakers at events during this year’s Open Days - European Week of Regions and Cities, which takes place in Brussels from October 10-13 under the banner of “Working together for Regional Growth and Jobs”.

Organised by the Commission’s Directorate General for Regional Policy and the Committee of the Regions, together with the European Parliament and 106 regions and cities from 26 countries, the Open Days - European Week of Regions and Cities will include three flagship debates and 66 workshops focused on regional development and cooperation. The event – expected to attract 2,500 participants – will be a market place for new ideas, highlighting the importance of best practice and partnership between the European, national and regional level as the key to delivering the Lisbon Strategy objectives.

The programme of events will also feature contributions from European Parliament Regional Development Committee chairman Gerardo Galeote Quecedo, Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström and UK Minister for Industry and the Regions Alun Michael, as well as regional government ministers, city mayors, MEPs, officials representing local and regional administrations, national advisors, academics and other regional policy stakeholders.

The European Week of Regions and Cities is expected to send a strong message to the governments of Member States about the urgency of securing a deal on the future financing of the EU.
A joint press conference of Commissioner Danuta Hübner and Committee of the Regions President Peter Straub is scheduled on Tuesday 12 October 2005 at 13.00 in the Schuman Room – Berlaymont Building.

For more information : http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/opendays/

Contact Persons:

Wolfgang Petzold (EC): + 32 2 299 88 32 (Directorate General for Regional Policy)

Richard Freedman (EP):+ 32 2 284 14 48 (Press officer at the European Parliament)

Dennis Abbott (COR): + 32 2 282 20 99 (Press officer for Committee of the Regions)

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]


AGENDA OF MAIN SESSIONS


Opening Session

Strategic guidelines and the new perspective for regional policy 2007-2013

Date and time: Monday, 10 October 2005, 15:00-17:00

Venue: European Commission, Charlemagne building, Rue de la Loi 170, Brussels

Speakers:

  • Danuta Hübner, European Commissioner responsible for Regional Policy
  • Peter Straub, President of the Committee of the Regions
  • Alun Michael, UK Minister of State for Industry and the Regions
  • Gerardo Galeote Quecedo, Chairman of the European Parliament Regional Development Committee


Moderators:

  • Graham Meadows, Director General, European Commission Directorate General for Regional Policy
  • Gerhard Stahl, Secretary General of the Committee of the Regions


Debate with MEPs, CoR members and representatives of local and regional authorities


CoR Plenary Session

Regions and cities, key players of regional policy and the Lisbon Agenda

Date and time: Wednesday, 12 October 2005, 15:15-17:00

Venue: European Commission, Charlemagne building, Rue de la Loi 170, Brussels

Speakers:

  • Peter Straub, President of the Committee of the Regions
  • Danuta Hübner, European Commissioner responsible for Regional Policy
  • Gerardo Galeote Quecedo, Chairman of the European Parliament Regional Development Committee


Debate with CoR members

16:30-17:30 John Prescott, UK Deputy Prime Minister
Closing Session

Regional policy, an effective tool for delivering the Lisbon/Gothenburg goals

Date and time: Thursday, 13 October 2005, 15:00-17:30

Venue: Hemicycle, European Parliament, Rue Wiertz 60, Brussels

Speakers:

  • Gerardo Galeote Quecedo, Chairman of the European Parliament Regional Development Committee
  • Danuta Hübner, European Commissioner responsible for Regional Policy
  • Peter Straub, President of the Committee of the Regions
  • Philippe Maystadt, President of the European Investment Bank
  • Members of the European Parliament, members of the Regional Development Committee
  • Members of the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy (COTER) and Political Groups of the Committee of the Regions


Debate with MEPs, CoR members and representatives of local and regional authorities

Questions and Answers

1. What is the “European Week of Regions and Cities” about?

This year’s European Week of Regions and Cities is about “Working together for Regional Growth and Jobs”. Bringing together some 2,500 national, regional and local experts in regional development – twice as many as in 2004 – the event will serve to exchange views and experiences concerning regional development and Structural Funds management. One year before the new generation of Structural Funds’ programmes is launched for the period 2007-2013, the European Week of Regions and Cities 2005 will be a market place for ideas and programming of future operational programmes.

2. Who are the participants in this event?

The audience of the European week of Regions and Cities represents a mix of regional and local political leaders (regional presidents and ministers; mayors) and experts in regional development. Of the expected 3,000 participants 70% will come from national, regional and local administrations involved in the implementation of EU Structural Funds and instruments, while the remainder will present European institutions and organisations, private companies and universities. As regards their origin, 29% will come from Belgium –most of them work in European or regional institutions -, 9% from Italy, 8% from Poland, and between 6% and 4% from the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Roughly one third of the participants come from the ten new Member States.

Among the 380 speakers in the workshops, 30 are regional ministers, mayors or parliamentarians. In the opening session alone will be present more that 130 members of parliament, presidents of regions and mayors from all over Europe.

3. How were the partner regions selected?

The selection procedure required that at least three regions or cities – one of which should come from a new Member State - work together on at least two workshops during the “European Week of Regions and Cities”. The latter needed to be relevant for a common programme structure which was set up in view of the next programming period of the Structural Funds 2007-2013.

4. Why this event now?

For the period 2007-2013, a new financial framework and new rules on how to spend the Structural Funds and instruments are in the making. In July 2004, the Commission has proposed a reformed regional policy, which puts more emphasis on addressing the poor regions in the new and the old Member States and on spending the funds on competitiveness factors as called for by the re-launched growth and jobs agenda. In the delivery system of the Structural Funds, the regions play a crucial role, because they have to design multi-annual programmes for the planned investments. This European Week of Regions and Cities has been planned for them and together with them in order to prepare early enough for the new system and to exchange views with others on how to achieve best results.

5. What is the state of play concerning the budget debate and the allocation for cohesion instruments?

Following the failed agreement of Heads of State and Government on the Financial Perspectives for the 2007-2013 period, the subject is currently dealt with by the UK Presidency. For the cohesion instruments, the adoption of the budget under the British Presidency is of utmost importance. The late agreement in March 1999 in Berlin led to severe problems for the structural funds. The regulations governing the funds could not be adopted until June 1999. Only then could national and regional authorities begin to draw up their operational programmes for the use of the funds, which were mostly adopted during 2000 and 2001. This meant extremely low spending on vital regional projects during the first two years, with some funds remaining unspent.

Although the Commission will do all it can to shorten time gaps between the compromise on financial perspective, the adoption of new legal regulations and the agreement on programming documents for 2007-2013 period, delays are bound to occur if the new financial framework is not adopted this year. Indeed, this time it will be worse. This time we have ten new Member States with less experience in managing funds but which stand to receive larger amounts in relation to their GDP.

6. What is the objective of regional policy?

The foundation of the EU regional policy is enshrined in article 158 of the Treaty, which states that “the Community shall aim at reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions or islands, including rural areas”.

Regional policy is one of the main instruments that the Union has at its disposal to promote the creation of jobs and economic growth. EU-funded programmes help in different ways:

  • First of all, they target resources on productivity-enhancing investments in both human and physical capital. As a result, many regions supported by the Funds have achieved faster growth.

  • Secondly, European programmes are managed in a partnership at different levels of government: Community, national, regional, local and urban. In this way, the programmes lead to a greater sense of ‘ownership’ of economic objectives, and hence to more successful outcomes.

  • Finally, European programmes promote the establishment of networks, exchange of information between regions and thus to dissemination of best practice.

7. What proportion of the EU budget does regional policy currently account for, how is it distributed between Member States and how are projects selected?

The total annual budget of the Structural Funds and instruments currently accounts for EUR 37 billion, which represents one third of the EU budget total for EU25. About 80% of the overall allocation is earmarked for the least developed regions and Member States. For the distribution of funds between Member States and regions, the Commission uses socio-economic indicators such as national and regional GDP, unemployment figures as well as inhabitants. This approach leads to a differentiated support based on the relative need of regions.

8. How much money does the European Commission want to see ring-fenced for regional policy in the next  EU budget and how was this figure calculated?

The Commission suggested an overall allocation for the next budgetary period of EUR 336.1 billion. This proposal is supported by the Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament. The calculation mainly stems from the number of regions and their inhabitants which fall under the threshold for regions in most need with a GDP per head below 75% of the EU average. While the least-developed regions and Member States are the top priority (79% of the total allocation is earmarked for them), the Commission’s proposal have a broader vision, recognising the needs of regions elsewhere in the Union to reinforce their competitiveness and to adapt to change (17% of the total allocation is foreseen for them). Finally, the Commission has set aside 4% for cross border and transnational cooperation as well as networking and exchange of experience between regions.

9. Who identified the priorities for future regional policy? Who was consulted?

The European Commission has consulted Member States, regions, cities, social partner organisations, NGOs and the other EU institutions since 2001. Several reports, conferences and seminars were held to develop the priorities of EU regional policy for the next period. Several hundred contributions and positions papers were sent by the actors concerned and many contributions of these were taken into account when the Commission finally tabled its budgetary and legal proposals in 2004. Since then, these proposals are discussed in the Council and in the European Parliament who have to agree upon them before the breakdown per region can be decided.

In addition, the Commission adopted on 5 July 2005 the draft Community Strategic Guidelines which set out the priorities for EU regional policy in the period 2007-2013, in line with the European agenda for growth and jobs. The draft will be adopted in final form once the relevant legislative texts have been agreed by the European Parliament and the Council. The Commission invited all interested parties, including the European regional and local authorities and their associations, to submit their observations on these draft Guidelines by the end of September 2005.

10 Who will gain and who will lose out under the new regional policy budgetary proposals?

The Commission’s proposal allows all of the member States and all of the regions to act as partners for growth that is sustainable, and for greater competitiveness. Efforts in the future must be concentrated on helping the poorest parts of the Union to catch up, especially in the new member States. The faster the poorer EU regions are able to catch up and the faster we realise competitiveness and innovation for all EU regions, the better for the EU economy as a whole.

But the Commission also proposes that the serious difficulties facing other parts of Union should be addressed, for example, those that result from economic change or permanent natural handicaps. Only by mobilising the talents and resources of all its regions and citizens can Europe succeed. All regions will be winners under the reformed EU regional policy.

11. How does the EU ensure that regional funds are spent properly?

Several mechanisms are in place to ensure that the funds are spent efficiently. First, all programmes to be co-financed by the Structural Funds will be carefully planned at national and regional level and will be negotiated with the Commission. Second, the national and regional authorities have to set up transparent and sound management systems to ensure the selection of best projects on the ground. Third, the impact of projects and programmes is evaluated by the Member States, the regions and the European Commission. And fourth, all levels involved in the implementation of programmes must set up control mechanisms to ensure that irregularities or fraud are detected and misuse of the funds is limited to the minimum possible. The Commission can carry out audits to ensure conformity of national control systems with EU requirements.

12. Can you provide some recent examples of successful regional policy projects?

Access to projects and project descriptions for all EU regions in several languages are available on the website of the Regional Policy Directorate-General of the European Commission:

http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/index_en.htm.

National and regional websites of the implementing authorities – accessible through this website as well - offer more examples and material. Most of this information is available on paper, too.


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