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Commissioner for Regional Policy
Competition, state aid and regional development
Closing Speech at Open Days 2012/Brussels
11 October 2012
Dear Joaquin, Dear Mark,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today we address an issue which is seen by many as highly technical and difficult to grasp…
There may be some truth in this, but we should all remember that our two policies, cohesion and competition, both stem from the will of our founding fathers to secure a peaceful, prosperous and united Europe. Both were set up to ease the access to the Single Market for all territories and all businesses. To this day, our overall objectives have been the same: to ensure that Europe develops as a whole and to guarantee that everyone can contribute to and benefit from growth, jobs and socio-economic development.
For decades now, we have been working hand-in-hand. Successive Commissioners have strived to make sure that both competition policy and regional policy pull in the same direction.
More recently Europe and the world have changed faster than ever before. We face serious challenges that we need to respond to effectively.
Regional policy still provides essential support to regions of Europe which need a push in terms of their infrastructure or business environment. But regional policy today is also about providing robust support to all regions to implement Europe 2020 and meet general targets we have all agreed to. Regional policy has evolved to become the main investment instrument of Europe 2020.
Competition policy too is responding to the current challenges. By tapping into the potential of the Single Market in full and ensuring a level playing field for all innovators and entrepreneurs, competition policy contributes to growth and jobs.
In the fields where our paths cross, for instance in infrastructure, SME support or human resource development, we must make sure we complement each other as much as possible, under the umbrella of Europe 2020.
Regional policy in the coming years will focus most of its resources on improving our business environment for a sustained and competitive growth in Europe. More funds than ever will be dedicated to research and innovation and to SME support. Our new proposed rules will make it compulsory for regions to do this and to do it more effectively than before, on the basis of Smart Specialisation Strategies to be adopted by all regions.
In this context, let me highlight the European drive to develop Key Enabling Technologies. These will be paramount in European competitiveness. Nanotechnology or advanced materials to name but two, will be the catalysts of our modernisation and of the renewal of our industrial base.
We must make investments in these technologies as efficient as possible.
This will be a focus from the point of view of cohesion policy and competition rules will be crucial. The objective is a coherent approach taking into account current reality in the world of research and innovation.
The Commission Communication on the Modernisation of the EU State aid rules insists on the revision of the General Block Exemption Regulation and its scope. This would undoubtedly make it easier for regions to implement effective smart specialisation strategies, using both regional development funding and facilities under state aid rules.
Another highly important issue is that of territoriality. Many regions come to see me in Brussels – and not only during Open Days - or during my travels across the Union expressing concerns about the territorial dimension of state aids.
Border regions in particular suffer from having very different state aid regimes on either side of the border. We should ask ourselves whether it is possible to have a system where border discrepancies are kept as low as possible. Border regions make up 30 % of the European Union population – and regional policy dedicates significant resources to cross-border cooperation. These resources can be compromised because border businesses face very different rules. I think here in particular of borders between old and new member states. Cross-border cooperation between Germany and the Czech Republic or between Austria and Slovakia for instance face difficult challenges in terms of the application of state aid rules.
In cohesion policy, we have a particularly close look at the situation of border regions. And therefore I have sympathy with the pleas coming from these regions that we should also make sure that multi-country schemes can be notified more easily to the Commission.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Europe is at a crossroad. We have now reached a point where we must cross the bridge towards increased competitiveness in the European Union.
Europe 2020 shows us the way. Regional Policy and Competition policy give us tools to make vital steps across the bridge. Both are essential. Both will help us boost growth.
But both need to complement each other wherever this is possible. Regional policy is reforming itself to help European regions face the challenges of a global and competitive world economy. Competition policy too is reforming itself. Together, let's make sure we reform in a coherent manner.
At all levels, European, national and regional, we must grasp the nettle – only by working together in reaching the Europe 2020 objectives shall Europe continue to be a prosperous and fair place to live.
Joaquin and I are committed to this. We work together to achieve this. I am confident that for the period 2014-2020 all will be in place for countries and regions to take full advantage of a more effective European approach towards sustainable growth.
This is essential for Europe, for its businesses and its citizens.
Thank you for your attention.