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Commissioner for Regional Policy
Regions and local authorities are our primary partners
Meeting with representatives of regional offices based in Brussels
16 January 2014
Two years of difficult negotiations are over. This is only the end of the beginning. The real test is now. We need to translate the main ideas of the new policy into practice so citizens can feel the benefits of these investments. You – as the representative of the regions – have a central role to play here.
In the end, the Parliament and the Council have accepted the main pillars of the Commission's proposal.
First, they have confirmed that countries and regions must make choices. Resources are scarce, need to maximise each euro, no room for spreading resources thinly onto many different projects.
You are best placed to decide what your main competitive problems are; you must develop the most appropriate strategy for your region; you should identify the territories where investment is most needed.
But the new paradigm requires also that you focus resources on few areas; that projects follow strategies, not the other way around; that isolated projects are no longer financed; that duplications and wastes are avoided.
Second, Council and Parliament have agreed that it is necessary to spell out very clearly at the beginning what we want to achieve with the money available. It is a matter of accountability, transparency and good use of public monies.
We will be vigilant that objectives and targets are credible and are accompanied by solid indicators to measure progress. Take this work seriously.
It is not only about the functioning of your programmes, it is about the story that we together will be able to tell on the impact of this policy in few year time.
Third, they have confirmed that certain conditions need to be fulfilled before starting spending money. The fulfilment of ex-ante conditionality is another crucial element of the new policy. Here also, we will be very serious on drawing the necessary consequences if these conditions are not respected.
What lies ahead of us?
First, the legislative process is not complete. We still have to adopt the secondary legislation (so called implementing and delegated acts) to detail some important aspects of the new system.
Few days ago we have adopted the first delegated act on the new Code of Conduct on Partnership. This is a very important element of the new policy. For the first time, the Commission provides guidance on how to implement the partnership principle.
We have made clear that the dialogue between levels of government (multi-level governance) is essential to ensure that strategies and programmes do reflect needs and characteristics of territories and investment have maximum impact.
We have made clear that regional and local authorities are our primary partners and will play a central role in designing, implementing, and monitoring investment.
We have made clear that these partners, you, must be consulted and MS have to report in their Partnership Agreement on how they have organised that dialogue and how they have taken into account comments received. We will look very closely at it.
But more delegated and implementing acts are forthcoming, whether on the allocation of the performance reserve, on the exchange of electronic data, or on irregularities. We are doing our outmost to have all the key pieces in place before the Easter break.
Second, programming needs to accelerate. I would like to ensure that all the Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes are adopted before the end of my mandate.
For this to happen, you and your MS should accelerate the drafting of strategies and programmes. Some important and useful work has been done last year with the informal dialogue on the PA. But now it is time to formalise and conclude that work. For this we need to receive soon, well prepared, solid documents.
Let me be very clear. We will not trade quality for speed. Do not make the mistake of delaying preparation in the hope that under pressure the Commission will adopt incomplete or generic documents. It will not happen. On the contrary, the first movers will define the direction and there will not be discounts for the slowest.
To conclude, I count on you and your administrations to keep pressure on the capitals to ensure that Partnership Agreements are transmitted to the Commission as soon as possible.
I urge you not to lose time and work in parallel on the new programmes. Do not underestimate the time needed to prepare good documents and do not underestimate the time needed to discuss with the Commission. We will not agree on everything, but if the strategy is robust I can guarantee an open and constructive attitude on the Commission's side with a view to conclude rapidly the negotiations.
I finally count on you to ensure that the main ideas of the reform are fully incorporated in your programmes. Business as usual is really not an option, not only for legal reasons, but most important for political reasons. Cohesion policy has probably a last opportunity to demonstrate that it can really make a difference and transform the economic and social landscape in Europe. We have provided you with the tools; it is up to you now to use them in the most effective way.