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Member of the European Commission responsible for Regional
European Week of Regions and Cities - Closing Session in the European
Parliament (Special REGI meeting).
Mr Galeote, Mr Straub, President Maystadt, honourable members of European Parliament and the Committee of the Regions, ladies and gentlemen,
This week has been very busy and very positive for regional policy. For the second consecutive year the OPEN DAYS have been a common undertaking of our three institutions – European Parliament, Committee of Regions and the Commission. We have created together a learning environment, which, I am sure, will bring positive and tangible results in the near future. And for the first time we had such a strong presence of regional media which were represented by more then one hundred journalists. They are the ones who open our door to European citizens.
The main message which I take from this week is that it is difficult to find another Community policy which would be of so much interest to our citizens. This year we had 2,500 participants, while more than one hundred regions and cities from 26 countries organized 66 workshops focused on regional development and cooperation. And the interest is growing as the OPEN DAYS attract more and more people who not only participate in our events but also take what they find here back to their homes.
Those who came to Brussels this week listened to the success stories of their colleagues and contributed with their own knowledge and experience. On one and the same day they could learn how to set up a new financial scheme for start-up companies and teach others how to design a regional innovation strategy. This proves that the diversification of European regions is not only the reason for the very existence of regional policy but it is also one of the sources for the Union’s strength. In the past four days Brussels has been bustling with enthusiasm and energy. This makes OPEN DAYS very unique. I want to thank all those who contributed to this week.
As this session takes us to the closure of our week, let me recall now its main events and tell you briefly about those elements of our debates which I would like to take with me.
First, cities and regions reacted positively to Strategic Guidelines
On Monday I had a chance to discuss with the regions and cities the Strategic Guidelines for Cohesion Policy. I have to say that their reaction was very positive. Clearly, there are always those who think that Strategic Guidelines have too few priorities and there are those who opt for more focus and concentration. However, judging from the Monday debate and public consultations which concluded at the end of September (and for which we received over 200 contributions) I dare to say that we struck the right balance between those two approaches.
I heard many useful comments – on territorial dimension and the role of cities as engines of regional growth - which I intend to incorporate into the document. This overall agreement around our strategic approach to new cohesion policy matters strongly because it means that, pending the arrival of the financial and legal framework for the next programming period (2007-2013), the Guidelines already now can assist Member States, regions and cities in preparing their development strategies.
Let me also share with you some comments on the results of the seminar with Ministers responsible for regional development which I hosted on Tuesday. Member States strongly supported our two major new initiatives for cohesion policy, JASPERS AND JEREMIE.
JASPERS stands for Joint Assistance to Support Projects in the European Regions. It is a service provided by the Commission, the EIB and the EBRD to help with the preparation of major projects. The main aim is to ensure a steady supply of high-quality project proposals in order to make best use of the resources available for ‘Convergence’ regions. We will harness the technical and financial expertise of the EIB and the EBRD to ensure sound and timely project proposals that can be quickly approved by the Commission. The Banks’ involvement will also open programme managers’ eyes to complementary sources of funding, including bank loans and public-private partnerships, thereby leveraging additional resources in support of cohesion.
JEREMIE stands for Joint European Resources for Micro- to Medium Enterprises. It is a joint initiative of the Commission and the European Investment Fund (EIF) to tackle a key market failure that holds back economic development in some regions: the lack of risk capital for small and medium-sized enterprises. JEREMIE’s capital will consist of grants from the EU regional funds and loans from the EIF. Enterprises will apply for venture capital, loan guarantees, equity or other forms of financing through local financial intermediaries accredited by the EIF.
Our next step is to finalise the technical and legal aspects of these initiatives and, now with the support of Member States, to get them up and running by early 2006. This is part of my determination to ensure a smooth start to the new programmes, and to ensure that the reformed cohesion policy is fully in line with our agenda for growth and jobs. We will also present JASPERS and JEREMIE to over 500 representatives of the regions and International Financial Institutions at a conference on “Financing growth and cohesion in the enlarged EU”, in Brussels on 24 November 2005.
I would like to turn now to one more observation. These last few days have proved that we need more partnership and more decentralisation.
Both elements are closely linked and both are already built into the Commission’s approach to the cohesion policy for the period 2007-2013.
We proposed that the national strategic reference frameworks are drafted in close cooperation with partners, including sub-delegation of programme management to urban authorities. We leave more flexibility to the regions by simplifying project management or by letting them designate areas where our assistance under Objective 2 should be concentrated.
Decentralisation means greater involvement of the partners in all aspects of cohesion policy – and consequently greater responsibility. This is most obviously the case for financial matters, where sound management and strict controls are a necessary part of the policy and its effectiveness.
This process should continue in the future because the primary reason for more partnership and decentralisation in general is the increasing complexity of economic and social change. The world around us evolves very quickly and cohesion policy should be able to match this pace.
This need for a constant reform, for a new and creative approach cannot be addressed by the Commission alone in a top down manner. The best ideas and projects are found at the working level, by those practitioners and managers who are directly involved in the policy. Intrinsic knowledge is an asset which can only be mobilized when the regional, urban and local level is given greater responsibility for the key areas of cohesion policy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I do not have the ambition to give a complete summary of the Open Days. But I would like to mention two other important issues which were consistently raised at all the various venues of the Open Days.
Firstly, we all agree that the strategic approach to cohesion policy should be geared towards the creation of growth and jobs in Europe. Already today cohesion policy contributes very significantly to this agenda. This focus can still be reinforced and expanded and I am determined to contribute, together with you, to that overall objective.
Secondly, the absence of an agreement on the Financial Perspective. I recall speaking to you on the necessity of finding a compromise and moving ahead with legal regulations on many occasions. As time passes by, I can see more and more anxiety and confusion among our regions and cities. How to draw up credible development strategies without a decision on the available resources and the legal instruments underpinning the future programmes?
I know that you are the audience which understands this problem better then anybody else. So let me tell you just one thing – thanks to the input of many of you here, we have put on the table a modern policy targeting its resources on growth and jobs, contributing to the competitiveness of the Union and matching the expectations of our citizens. But if there is no agreement on financial perspective in this year much of this effort will be wasted.
But I do not like to end on this pessimistic note. As I told you in the beginning I was very pleased to see during these OPEN DAYS so much enthusiasm and energy from the participants. The difference with the mood of passivity and indifference that we sometimes come across in Europe is striking. This shows that Europe has a future, that it can communicate with its citizens, that people lay their hopes in the Union. It is our joint responsibility not to fail these expectations.