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José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Delivering on Europe 2020:
New opportunities for tomorrow's cohesion policy

5th Cohesion Forum

Brussels, 31 January 2011

Thank you Johannes,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Prime Minister Orbán

Prime Minister Tusk,

Prime Minister Kubilius

Distinguished guests,

President of the Committee of Regions

Members of the European Parliament,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

I am delighted to see so many of you gathered here at this opening session of the Fifth Cohesion Forum, and to share the platform with Victor Orbán and Donald Tusk, and also to have with me Johannes Hahn and László Andor, the Commissioners that have put so much of their energy in organising this event. I think this is a good illustration of both our common commitment to the defence of the fundamental policies of European integration and the close cooperation we will engage in during all this year.

This is a year in which we will have to take some very important decisions for the future of Europe in general and our cohesion policy in particular. So the responsibilities which the current and future presidents of the European Council, the European Parliament and the Commission will have to shoulder together will be heavier than ever. It will be a year of great responsibility for all of us – the Commission, the Parliament, the Council.

It is at times like these that we must remind ourselves of the essentials and the principles underlying the European Union raison d'être.

Solidarity is a fundamental principle of the European Union. Solidarity means directing certain investments towards the weaker amongst us and those who are bearing the brunt of the reforms.

The cohesion policy is a prime example of a solidarity policy, and one that is enshrined in the treaties. It helps to alleviate economic, social and territorial inequalities. But it also helps to spread growth and prosperity throughout the whole European Union. So it reduces imbalances and creates new opportunities.

For we should not forget that the cohesion policy is an investment policy and a vector of growth for all. Cohesion policy is not just for some. In fact cohesion policy is good for Europe as a whole.

The cohesion policy is and will remain a policy for everyone that benefits everyone.

It benefits all regions through both direct investment and the knock-on effects for businesses. It is a crucial complement to the internal market. It supports public and private investment in areas that are priorities for Europe, such as the environment and research and innovation.

The cohesion policy pursued between 2000 and 2006 boosted the EU’s overall GDP by 0.7% in 2009 (for the EU25 members). Over the same period it gave a return of €2.10 on each euro invested.

This cohesion policy between 2000 and 2006 also meant the creation of a million jobs by EU businesses. It accounted for 75% of European Social Fund resources allocated to active labour market policies. By way of illustration, that was support given to nearly 70,000 research jobs in Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Sweden, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

It means also more investment in research and innovation for SMEs supported by the European Regional Development Fund, or ERDF.

It is the training offered each year to ten million people - the young, the long term unemployed, the unskilled.

Thanks to the support provided through the ERDF and the Cohesion Fund there have been significant improvements in the quality of life and in services that range from better communications to increased access to wastewater treatment.

The cohesion policy is thus a policy we can be proud of, and continue to be proud of, in the future.

Of course, we can and should improve it. But let us try to imagine, just for a second, what the price of not having a cohesion policy would be.

The cohesion policy is not a policy of the past, it nurtures the future of the European Union. That is why we must renew it.

The Europe 2020 strategy approved unanimously by our Member States sets out our strategic guidelines for emerging from the crisis and laying the foundations for sustainable, job creating growth. Europe 2020 charts Europe’s course of action.

Following this course means fiscal consolidation, supporting economic recovery and boosting growth by investing in Europe’s future, by which I mean investing in intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The deep crisis we have endured and which we are just starting to emerge from should not be a wasted crisis.

It should offer an opportunity to make the bold and qualitative leap that is required towards greater European integration and a greater convergence of our policies.

It is not a question of giving more powers to ‘Brussels’ or ‘Strasbourg’ but of giving Europe the strength to successfully adapt to the new geo-economic world order.

But the European Union cannot be competitive if the regions are not competitive. The European Union cannot be stable if our regions are not stable.

Inequalities and divergences undermine our long term competitiveness and stability. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.

A cohesion policy combined with structural reforms and a stable macroeconomic framework is a crucial asset for the growth of Europe as a whole.

Such a cohesion policy will breathe new vitality into all our regions to the benefit of the whole European Union, by focusing on the Europe 2020 goals and on results.

If we manage to achieve our Europe 2020 goals, we will be able to increase the Union’s GDP by 4% and create 5.6 million new jobs.

But the Europe 2020 goals can never be fully achieved without a successful partnership between European, national, regional and local institutions. All agents of change in Europe must be involved in this effort. This is indeed a matter of multilevel governance and it is important to say it once and once again because it shows that Europe is not just about Brussels - Europe is at all levels of leadership and citizenship in our continent.

It is something that we can never repeat too often: the regions do have an essential role to play in the success of Europe 2020, for the creation of a stable and prosperous future for European citizens.

The European Union needs a cohesion policy more than ever before. It is the lifeblood of the European Union; without it the European Union would wither away. But we need to inject new life into the cohesion policy.

That was the purpose of the wide public consultation launched by the Commission on 9 November that culminates in today's forum and series of debates that I trust will be very fruitful.

Our aim in renewing the cohesion policy is to produce an approach that is consistent and innovative, caring and responsible, ambitious and realistic. It means supporting the major policy choices for the future of the European Union and maximising cost effectiveness.

This is why we have proposed a common strategic framework to translate the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy into investment priorities. It might include all funds: the Cohesion Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Fisheries Fund.

We have also proposed a kind of close partnership contract between the Commission, the Member States and the regions to better define development and investment priorities on the basis of the national reform programmes.

This contract partnership would endow the cohesion policy with a more strategic negotiating and monitoring process. It would specify ex ante the priorities, goals and reforms needed to secure a better return on investment.

It would determine the allocation of national and EU resources to programmes and priority areas and set out clear and measurable performance indicators.

This would have the advantage of enhancing value added by the European cohesion policy and increasing the efficiency of funds thanks to a better synergy between cohesion policy and national priorities for expenditure and reform. It is obvious that, in today's economic and financial situation in Europe, we need more than ever to have this approach in terms of cost-effectiveness and make the most of the possible synergies.

That said, I recognise fully that the implementation of such an ambitious policy will be complex and some issues would benefit from further discussion:

  • How can we strengthen cooperation between instruments and stakeholders?

  • How can we best link cohesion policy and the Europe 2020 strategy?

  • How can we be sure of targeting the right priorities and creating value-added?

  • How can we improve the impact of investment? What conditionalities and what incentive measures need to be introduced for a more effective cohesion policy?

  • How can we strike the delicate balance between predictability and flexibility and between simplification and greater fiscal discipline?

  • How can we give the European Social Fund a higher profile and a more predictable funding framework appropriate to an ambitious European employment strategy?

  • How can we best use the funds to ensure that urban areas really act as engines of growth and centres of innovation?

    These are in fact very complex issues, sometimes technically complex, sometimes, let's also be honest, complex from a political point of view, because it has to do with the leadership in the implementation process.

I know that you will be discussing these and other questions over the day, and we, in the Commission, are very interested in finding out what you have to say, to receive your input.

But allow me to stress once again the need to be both ambitious and realistic. It is crucial that you think in terms of the value added of the European dimension and the tangible, measurable impact on people’s everyday lives.

I think you all understand that we are going now to discuss the next multifinancial framework, probably in the most difficult conditions ever there was a discussion on financial perspectives. I've been in other occasions discussing the future of financing of Europe as President of the Commission and in my national capacity and I can tell you that this debate will take place in a very difficult situation. So more that ever we need to justify every kind decision in terms of value-added, in terms of cost-effectiveness, in terms of result-oriented policy. And we have to be able to link the cohesion policy, that I say is at the core of the European Union, is a basis in our Treaty, is a principle that I think is essential for our union, based on solidarity, but we have to link that cohesion policy with the overall goals of the European Union so that we can gather an increased support to the future of this cohesion policy.

This is why the cohesion policy must be part of a performance, results-based culture.

All financing must be properly targeted so that it makes an effective contribution to achieving the objectives of Europe 2020. There is also a need to go further in seeking new forms of investment financing. This is why this work is closely linked to that of revising the multiannual financial perspectives.

We cannot think of the future of cohesion policy without taking into account the effects of the current economic and budgetary crisis.

We must show that we are capable of both spending and financing our expenditure in a more intelligent way.

We have a responsibility to European citizens and to taxpayers, who are keeping a very close eye on how public money is spent. We must therefore ensure that they can see clear and tangible evidence of our political and budgetary choices in their daily lives. This is why it is very important more than ever the communication in the Regions. It is very important that we explain to our citizens that this money is not money for Brussels, it is money for the regions of Europe, it is money for the people that are unemployed, that are trying to get retraining so that they can go back to active life. So this is money that can also, in a win-win situation, be good for the poorest regions of Europe, but also help the more developed regions of Europe, creating more conditions for the deepening of the internal market, more opportunities for growth, to use better the synergies in Europe.

That is why I want to conclude by expressing my firm conviction that cohesion policy is, and will remain, at the heart of the European project. It is a policy of proximity at the heart of Europe.

A successful cohesion policy is the best possible illustration of the European Union’s mission to serve, protect and motivate its citizens. I know that together we will be able to modernise it successfully, so that it remains the leading instrument of effective and responsible European solidarity.

I am sure that the work that we are now opening will be a contribution to this very important idea – an idea that is based on economic cohesion, but it has also a deeper political and social meaning – the meaning of one of the most important words in our Union, the word solidarity.

I thank you for your attention.

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