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European Commission

Johannes HAHN

Commissioner for Regional Policy

The 2014-2020 programming period: challenges ahead

Conference on the new programming period/Athens

04 April 2013

Dear Prime Minister,

Dear Ministers,

Dear colleagues,

Ladies and Gentleman

Coming out of a crisis requires sacrifices, strong will and determination. You also need a good plan to ease the suffering and even more importantly, it requires a strategy for the future. Difficult times bring a lot of hardship but at the same time they hide an opportunity for change and making things better.

For the past few years the crisis is very much part of the daily lives of the people in Greece. They have experienced first-hand its adverse effects and are going through the painful process of adaptation. The reform and transformation of your country was never going to be easy. But the Greek people have shown that they are determined to persist and succeed to build a better future.

Unfortunately, until recently the so called “austerity” measures, made much of the headlines. Not much attention was given to the efforts of re-thinking, re-structuring and re-building the country.

However, I know very well that a lot of work has already been done in re-starting the Greek economy.

In the past few years, the European Commission has been working very closely with the Greek government to set-up support measures for the Greek economy. For example, in relation to Regional Policy we have put in place the necessary arrangements to allow the continuation of the implementation. As a result, key projects which contribute to competitiveness, generate growth and create jobs are being executed.

The design of the new programming period gives us the opportunity to continue these efforts in a more strategic framework. Now it’s the time to establish objectives for the next decade and set an action plan to achieve them.

Dear Prime Minister,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Regional Policy today is so much different than what it used to be back in 1989. It is so much more than simply a transfer funds to the poorer regions.

Adapting to the changing needs of a global competitive environment, Regional Policy has evolved over the years. Today it is the Union's main investment instrument, having a central role in fighting the crisis and guiding Europe and its regions on the path of sustainable growth.

This is confirmed by the course of the negotiations between the Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council. A strong consensus has emerged for the reform approach of our proposals. I am very satisfied that everybody recognizes Cohesion Policy as an investment for the regions. It is designed to deliver against the objectives of EUROPE 2020 strategy. In supporting growth and jobs it helps Europe and its regions to stay globally competitive.

Moreover, in the new period Regional Policy will be the biggest share of investment funds in a range of areas including innovation and support to enterprises.

The framework of the new Cohesion Policy provides a very good platform for a coordinated response to the crisis. And I would like to explain how.

One of the new elements we have introduced for the next period are the ex-ante conditionalities which have to be fulfilled before any funds are spend. They guarantee an efficient implementation and underpin structural reforms necessary for project delivery. One such conditionality is the adoption by the regions of a Research and Innovation Smart Specialisation Strategy.

Through this strategy, regions will be able to identify and focus their efforts on those sectors with the highest potential for growth. They will have to identify their distinctive characteristics and take advantage of their unique propositions in order to become more competitive.

Another novelty we have introduced is the principle of thematic concentration. This allows regions to concentrate the resources from the European Structural and Investment Funds on a number of a few carefully identified priorities that make a clear contribution to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

These are just two examples of how the new Cohesion Policy has been transformed. It has become an effective investment for the regions, contributing to their competitiveness and prosperity, fostering sustainable growth and jobs.

Dear Prime Minister,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Undoubtedly, the new Cohesion Policy can be a very useful tool for the transformation of your country. This was at the heart of our analysis and recommendations for the future, as presented in the Commission position paper.

The position paper identifies the most pressing challenges and makes a number of recommendations concerning the funding priorities for the new period.

For example it proposes to focus on creating a business friendly environment which is conducive to investments.

It also identifies access to finance and advanced business services as a key element.

It suggests strengthening the link of research and development with businesses in order to enhance innovation and entrepreneurship.

Alongside these funding priorities which are targeting entrepreneurship, the position paper also identifies key investments in sustainable infrastructure. These include multi-modal transport and the modernisation of energy networks, including for natural gas.

Our recommendations of course have a green credential as well. After all, the shift to an energy efficient, low-carbon economy is an overarching objective and the promotion of renewable energy resources in at the centre of it.

It is inevitable that we recommend that future funding priorities should promote modern waste management technologies in order to move away from landfilling. Last time I was in Greece in February this year I visited an illegal landfill in Tripoli. I do hope that landfilling will stop and that existing ones can be rehabilitated.

The position paper is of course the Commission’s ideas about the funding priorities for the future. It forms the basis of our negotiations and it provides a framework for our discussions. I am confident that the excellent co-operation we have had over the past few years will continue in this context as well.

It is important that we make the most of the next few months in order to agree the Partnership Agreement and adopt the operational programmes as quickly as possible. In this respect, I most welcome your commitment to submit the Partnership Agreement by June.

During the coming months you should follow an inclusive approach, involving all partners and stakeholders in the development of the policy. An effective co-ordination among the relevant ministries and regional authorities is of utmost importance. As you are developing your administrative structure for the new period it is important to avoid the mistakes of the past. The new set up must be simple and efficient which ensures ownership, accountability, simplicity and transparency.

This will enable us to start implementing projects and inject money into the real economy the soonest possible. Let us not forget that what we are talking about is investment in projects which contribute to Greece’s transformation. Projects that do make a difference to the lives of Greek people. Projects that generate growth and create employment.

Dear Prime Minister,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I look forward to the discussion today and I would like to take the opportunity to contribute to the debate by making some suggestions.

First of all I think that all regions should have a deep reflection in order to identify their comparative advantage and come up with a vision for their future.

Then they should build around it an innovative, evidence-based research and development strategy to support a more competitive outlook of their economy.

In February, I also had the opportunity to visit the Institute of Chemical Engineering Sciences in Patra. I was really impressed by the work undertaken there. The Institute runs some 35 research and development projects in some of the cutting-edge areas of Key Enabling Technologies. The work of the Institute offers an opportunity for the region to become a centre of research and development for future technologies. Specialising in these areas and promoting the commercialisation of the results could be the way forward for the region.

Another area in which the Greek regions could concentrate on, is quality tourism. Greece is an attractive tourist destination, with abundance of beautiful natural resources, rich cultural heritage, warm weather and hospitable people. Exploring and developing more synergies among culture and tourist business could also be a way forward. Investments in new technology such as the use of ICT in museums and archaeological sites could significantly improve the value-for-money of your touristic product. These could position your country as a high-quality, environmentally friendly tourist destination.

These are just some thoughts to stimulate the debate. I would like to conclude by repeating that Cohesion Policy is an investment for growth and jobs in your country and your regions. After-all, the contribution from Structural Funds in Greece accounts for more than 60% of your country’s investment programme. The European Commission is committed to making sure that Regional Policy is an integral part of “Greece reloaded”. I look forward to today’s discussion with great interest.

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