José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
President Barroso's remarks to the High level meeting of the "Friends of Cohesion" group
Friends of Cohesion Meeting - First plenary session with representatives of civil society, business organisations and trade unions./Brussels
13 November 2012
First I would like to thank you for having invited me to this third high level meeting of the 'Friends of Cohesion' group.
I very much appreciated our exchange of views at the previous meetings in Bucharest and Bratislava. You expressed your needs and concerns regarding the future budget for cohesion policy. And I explained the logic behind the Commission's efforts to modernise and simplify this crucial part of the financial framework. Ultimately we share the same goal that is a cohesion policy able to support even further the on-going efforts to promote investment, growth and job creation across the Union.
As you know I am certainly a "friend of cohesion", because cohesion policy greatly contributes to enhancing solidarity, raising competitiveness, supporting job creation and improving living standards all across Europe.
I am also a "friend of better spending" because European resources are scarce and our spending must be well-targeted and efficiently delivered to ensure effectiveness and value for money.
But above all I am a "friend of growth" because growth is key to get our economies back on track and stimulate job creation. If Europe is to emerge stronger from this crisis, we need more than ever to stimulate smart, inclusive growth.
Our new programmes have to be closely aligned with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy. And as I said at your last meeting I would like the "friends of cohesion" and the "friends of better spending" to unite in a grand coalition of the "friends of growth".
I would like all of them to acknowledge that given the tightness in most national budgets, as a consequence of the necessary consolidation efforts, the EU budget can and must provide a necessary impetus in kick-starting investment projects and helping to equip people with the necessary skills for the workplace.
At this stage of the negotiations, we hear a lot of talk about numbers, figures, amounts, comparisons between budgetary headings, comparisons of increases and reductions. While the numbers are of course crucial to the overall outcome, it is also essential to demonstrate the positive use that will be made of the available funding. When the Commission tabled its MFF proposals, we made a point of highlighting the EU added value of the expenditure that we were proposing. Unfortunately, this aspect has been overshadowed in the course of the negotiations, but we need to return to it in order to convince those who want to reduce or even eliminate chunks of the cohesion budget.
I am very grateful that representatives of the trade unions and the business organisations are with us today. Their voices have to be heard in the debate on the EU budget, not just by the "friends of cohesion" but by all Member States and by the European Parliament. I would like to ask you all to speak out in favour of the financial framework proposed by the Commission. Speak out to the governments and Prime Ministers who want to cut it by many billions of euros. Speak out in favour of a cohesion budget that will help develop all of our regions and our infrastructure, and give perspectives to the young people and the unemployed.
The people in this room today do not need to be convinced, but others do. And to convince them, we need to present evidence of the positive impact of the current funds and firm commitments that the future budget will be used efficiently and effectively in support of the best projects to bring about real, positive change.
Let's put an end to the damaging stories of waste, inefficiency and inappropriate use of funding. And let's hear more about the positive results that have already been produced and that will be delivered in the future. And all of you –governments, civil society, business organisations, trade unions - can contribute to making the case for a cohesion policy that has already achieved a lot and for a modernized cohesion policy that can deliver even more and better results in the future.
Indeed some people say that cohesion policy should be scaled back, redefined or focused on a much narrower range of beneficiaries. But this approach should be strongly refuted by showing that cohesion spending produces benefits not just for the Member States receiving the bulk of allocations, but for the single market as a whole; in terms of goods and services that are subsequently contracted in other Member States, including net contributors.
Unfortunately, we do not hear enough about this. This should be better and more often highlighted for the sake of a comprehensive and balanced view of how and where the cohesion budget is spent.
I know, for example, that one study on the benefits to the EU-15 Member States of the implementation of cohesion spending in the four Visegrad countries has shown considerable payback to EU-15 in terms of increased levels of exports, construction services and the provision of medium- and high-tech products.
Let's hear more about that so that the discussion can be based on hard facts and not fantasy.
Ladies and gentlemen, we live in challenging times. And more than ever the Commission is strongly committed to bring an ambitious response to such a challenge and to make sure that the next Multiannual Financial Framework will really be a tool for investment in growth and jobs.
Indeed we firmly believe that our proposal for the next EU budget strikes the right responsible balance in times of crisis, both in the overall amount and in the balance between policies.
That said, I recognise that compromises will be necessary on all sides and nobody will leave the discussions fully satisfied. This is the reality of any negotiation process.
And the reality is also that part of the deal will be based on reassurances that the 'friends of cohesion' have taken on board the principles of the better spending agenda. This means a tighter focus on results and concentration of funding on growth-generating projects; all ideas which are fully in line with the Commission's approach to the MFF.
The coming days in the run-up to the meeting of the European Council will not be easy. No need to remind you that the positions adopted by some Member States – even if it is a limited number - make it more difficult to reach an agreement. However, we need to ensure that an agreement is reached and that the European Parliament can approve the MFF by the end of the year.
None of us can afford to let negotiations drag on into next year. Failure to agree would send a damaging signal at a critical moment on our way to economic recovery.
You can be sure that the Commission will continue to work hard with all of you in taking the process forward in the interest of cohesion, of growth and of Europe.
I thank you for your attention.