Commissioner for Regional Policy
Regional Policy as Essential Part of the 2020 Strategy
Informal Council of Ministers for Regional Policy
Zaragoza, 19 th February 2010
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure for me to address you today. We have reached a pivotal moment in the debate on the future Cohesion policy. 2010 will be a critical year for laying down the foundations of the future policy in the context of the Europe 2020 strategy and the budget review.
The debate will not be easy. The Commission will have to make difficult choices in the context of budgetary restrictions. At the same time, Cohesion policy is criticised for its level of errors and the slow rate of execution. Evaluation work provides a mixed picture of its impact on the ground.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, I want to be very clear upfront on where I stand on this debate.
First, I believe that Europe needs a development policy capable of supporting key investments in regions in line with the economic agenda of the Union.
Second, I believe that such support should be available to all regions of the Union. No one should be left on the sideline.
And third, I believe that such a policy can only work if based on a true dialogue between partners and on integration of policy measures.
This policy is Cohesion policy and I intend to present my proposal for the future before the end of the year together with the 5 th Cohesion report.
In this endeavour, I do not start from scratch. My aim is to continue the work handed down by my predecessors. I would like to thank both Danuta Hübner and Pawel Samecki for having launched an extensive process of reflection. In particular, their reflection and orientation papers launched many of the key ideas that will form the basis for my future proposals.
I also intend to work closely with the European Parliament and with the Committee of the Regions, which have already put on the table important ideas on the future policy.
Finally, I want to work with all of you. Already, the work with the High Level Group has given the Commission the opportunity to listen carefully to the views of member state experts on many important aspects of the future policy. This includes in-depth discussion on the Europe 2020 strategy and its implications for Cohesion policy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to take the opportunity today to share with you some of my ideas for the future Cohesion policy by addressing the questions outlined by the Spanish Presidency.
First of all , the Commission will soon adopt its proposal on Europe 2020, which will guide EU policy-making in the next 10 years. Cohesion policy must have a place at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy. We need to get on the train.
Cohesion policy has much to offer. It provides a framework for integrated, cross-sectoral approaches adapted to specific national, regional and local contexts.
Take for instance research and innovation. Alongside targeted initiatives for leading edge companies, Cohesion policy can provide investments in human capital, infrastructure, finance or networking which are essential framework conditions for innovation performance.
Similarly, creating a competitive, connected and greener economy requires integrated investments in high-speed internet, smart transport and energy infrastructures, measures to foster energy efficiency and renewable energies, green public procurement and well functioning administrations.
It is time to clearly demonstrate that Cohesion policy is a key instrument for delivering Europe 2020. But to do this, we need to focus cohesion support on a limited number of priorities in line with Europe 2020.
We don’t need a one-size-fits-all policy but we have to stay “focussed in diversity”. We must have tailor-made solutions for each and every region, with visible and tangible results for citizens. This will be an essential part of our new 2020 Strategy.
I am ready to explore with you a system which provides more flexibility to countries and regions to define the precise policy mix to reach those priorities, as suggested by experts in the High Level Group. We may for example re-think the current earmarking system and rather concentrate on the preparation of strategies which are coherent with Europe 2020 objectives and targets. These targets could then be translated into programmes and used as the basis for assessing progress and discussion in a high level political debate.
But let's be very clear. Flexibility must go hand in hand with a firm and measurable commitment to align Cohesion policy to the European agenda. Hesitation on this point is not an option. The alternative is 100% earmarking of financial resources through sectoral funds.
We need concentration, but we also need more coherence. We need to avoid further multiplication and fragmentation of community funding. I know you have already discussed the idea of a Single Strategic Framework at European level to provide orientations for all Community funds under shared management. I would like to hear from you whether this is an idea worth pursuing. Also I would like to hear your views on the setting up of a high level political debate on the outcomes of Cohesion policy. I believe Cohesion policy needs such a debate and I welcome the initiative of the Spanish presidency to prepare conclusions on the strategic report for the General Affairs Council in June. It is the precursor of such a high level political debate.
Secondly , Cohesion policy should cover all regions. No region has a guarantee of prosperity for eternity. This has also been highlighted in all stakeholder consultations and was emphasised by many participants in the High Level Group. The role of the policy, since its inception has been to ensure that Europe's project of economic integration is for everybody. This integration, driven by the Single Market can only work if all regions can contribute and all can benefit.
Cohesion policy has no charity label; it must be a catalyst policy. We now need more than ever to unlock the potential of every region to contribute to our society and economy. In the end, regional investments mean European progress.
I believe that we must continue to concentrate resources on the poorest regions. However, we need also to ensure that the budget for cohesion policy is balanced, fair, and sufficient to conduct a meaningful policy.
I am convinced for example that we need a fairer transition mechanism which ensures similar treatment of regions in similar situations. Such a system should also allow regions to organise their programmes effectively avoiding the abrupt reduction of resources in the final years of the programming.
I am aware that some still doubts the relevance of interventions of the policy in the richest areas of the Union. "The physical poverty of the underprivileged regions is matched only by the mounting environmental poverty of the areas of concentration. The pressure on housing, the miseries of commuting on overloaded roads or overcrowded trains, the pollution of air and waters – all these developments mean that the environmental case for closing the geographical gap is as powerful one for those who live in the so-called prosperous areas of the Community, as it is for those in the poorer regions" . These words were written 37 years ago by one of the founders of regional policy (Commissioner Thomson) and are as valid today.
In this context, we may want to consider whether the current mechanism for allocating resources outside the poorest regions could be better targeted to reflect the problems these regions are facing: environmental congestion, but also social inclusion, migration, and industrial decline.
Third , we need to better integrate territorial cohesion into the policy. Cohesion policy must become the key instrument through which the EU addresses territorial problems at local, regional and transnational levels.
One crucial aspect in this context is a better focus on green and socially inclusive growth in urban areas. We know that urban metropolitan areas are drivers of economic growth. However, we also know that cities are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions – and that they are places where social problems are concentrated. Negative spirals of social polarisation, economic decline and environmental degradation in certain parts our cities can indeed become so severe that they become obstacles to a continuation of growth in wealth. I am convinced that this complex mix of challenges calls for integrated solutions.
A cohesive urban policy is critical for a healthy and wealthy Europe, focusing for instance on investment in transport and energy. Cities are important, as 80 percent of our population lives in cities.
As the experience shows, Cohesion policy provides a suitable framework for addressing urban questions. Our policy should therefore be a motor for integrated local economic development and social inclusion in cities and urban areas.
Both the ERDF and the ESF have a key role to play in this. Empowering people calls for investments that target both individuals and the barriers they encounter to employment and integration, such as education, skills, health, housing, social inclusion. We need to capitalise on achievements of integrated development initiatives, such as the URBAN Community Initiative to ensure that cities and local authorities can play their part in achieving the objectives of Europe 2020. It will be vital to re-start an active dialogue with cities as well as regional and national stakeholders to clearly define the role and the contributions of cities to this.
Moreover, territorial cohesion means addressing problems beyond administrative boundaries. Over the next few months, I intend to carry out a serious and detailed debate on the future of territorial cooperation, starting with the next meeting of the High Level Group.
We should make better use of territorial cooperation as a tool to foster cross-border and transnational integration. We should put in place overall EU strategy to provide a framework for territorial cooperation activities and reinforce our investment in macro-regional strategies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
To sum up, I would like to see our discussion and our work over the next few months to focus on the ways:
How to deliver a “focussed in diversity” policy to concentrate resources on few priorities and targets, while providing regions and countries with the margins needed to adjust programmes to specific needs. We need a tailor made policy which brings tangible results for citizens. This will be an essential part of our 2020 Strategy.
How to develop a catalyst policy. We now need more than ever to unlock the potential of every region to contribute to our society and economy. We need to consolidate the current objectives of Cohesion policy, confirming the financial priority for the poorest regions, developing a fairer transition system, and strengthening interventions in the more developed areas; and
How to make operational the notion of territorial cohesion. We need to develop an inclusive urban policy for a healthy and wealthy Europe, focusing for instance on investment in transport and energy saving in cities. We also need to develop a new concept for territorial cooperation based on the macro-regional approach.
I will return to questions of making delivery simpler and more effective in my intervention this afternoon. But I look forward with great interest to hearing your ideas on these important questions.
Let us all work together to make regional policy the instrument to promote structural change in regions and to prepare regional economies to exit stronger from the economic crisis, so that regional investments lead to European progress.