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[Check Against Delivery]
Commissioner for Regional Policy
EU Regional Policy 2014-2020, in the wake of EP elections
COSAC Conference (Chairs, European Affairs Committees in 28 national Parliaments/ AFCO European Parliament)
Rome, 18 July 2014
The recent elections for the European Parliament were the opportunity for people to challenge and pose questions about what the EU does for them. Likewise, in national elections across Europe we see the tendency for people to increasingly become more demanding about policy-making. And this is justifiably so.
Regional Policy is the area with the most examples of how the EU is reaching out to ordinary citizens. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Italian Presidency for organising such a meeting with you today. Your role as Parliamentarians in bridging the gap with our citizens is crucial. And your engagement in the implementation of Regional Policy in your countries and regions is also of paramount importance.
We will be able to re-establish the link with the citizen by re-building our competitiveness. By making productive investments that create jobs while improving the quality of life of our people.
And I believe that regions hold the key to our future prosperity. After all, they are the most appropriate level to assess the needs and strengths of an area. With their local knowledge, regions are able to build a proper, tailor-made strategy for growth and competitiveness.
Encouraging regions to come-up with such strategies is at the heart of the new Regional Policy which aims to provide regions with the tools to address their competitiveness challenges.
Regional Policy has already shown its significance during the crisis when investments from national resources declined, limiting availability of funding across all areas of investment.
Without EU Regional Policy, investments in the Member States most affected by the crisis would have collapsed by an additional 50%. In fact, EU regional funding now represents more than 60% of their investment budget.
The impact of the new Regional Policy is now set to be even more decisive in the future.
The reform that was adopted for the 2014-2020 programming period enables Regional Policy, more than even before, to become a more efficient and effective investment policy for our regions.
I would like to take this opportunity to explain to you how.
To begin with, Regional Policy has become very much strategic. At policy level it is aligned with the Europe 2020 strategy. At the implementation level the introduction of ex-ante conditionalities means that projects will follow strategy, and not the other way around.
Conditionalities have been introduced to ensure that the right environment exists before spending any funds in specific fields. For example in order to finance investments in research and development you need to have in place a smart specialisation strategy. Or for transport you cannot invest any funds unless you have an integrated transport plan.
These conditionalities are there to guarantee the strategic approach but also to make sure that the funds flow in a sound environment where there impact will be optimal.
In this context the Smart Specialisation Strategies are very important. It is an inclusive and bottom-up journey for the regions through which they will identify their strengths and accordingly built on them their growth strategy for the future.
It is an innovation-driven, place-based, entrepreneurial process in which all key players in the economy should participate. They know where the business needs are and how to boost the region's competitive advantages.
Making a proper assessment of every region's assets and weaknesses and designing a consistent growth strategy are critical to the success of Regional Policy investments.
Another new element of the reform is the introduction of the principle of thematic concentration. This means that support provided by Regional Policy is made more efficient by concentrating on key growth-enhancing areas.
The idea is to focus investments on areas linked to Europe 2020 objectives where the impact will be more decisive in the achievement of a better and more competitive growth.
According to the principle of thematic concentration, the bulk of the available resources will be allocated to areas such as research and innovation, ICT, low carbon economy, as well as SME support.
Of course the reform would not make much sense if we do not have a clear focus on achieving concrete and measurable objectives.
Focussing on results means two things.
The first is that it encourages transparency. Targets and indicators will be set to really assess their achievement and to make it possible to hold accountable the relevant authorities.
The second is that we have a performance framework assessing and rewarding the programmes which are fulfilling their objectives.
Europe has many challenges ahead, but I believe the new Regional Policy is now better equipped to help European regions become more competitive and prosperous.
It can provide real, meaningful investments to help regions turn challenges into opportunities for growth.
Regional Policy an investment for regions to tackle the challenges ahead. Turning challenges into opportunities
In addressing these challenges, Europe shall not give up its values. It should build on its own competitiveness model instead.
Our European values can inspire our future. High social standard, respect of the individual, freedom and entrepreneurial spirit are all strengths to build upon, and not constraints to abide by.
I really believe that every challenge hides an opportunity.
Take for example Europe's dependency on raw materials and energy. These are a critical source of concern these days for political and economic reasons. In 2012, Europe would have had a positive trade balance of 317 billion Euros if it was not for energy and raw material imports.
Instead, because of this dependency, our trade balance for 2012 was negative by 105 billion Euros.
Our challenge here is to reduce our dependency and innovation can help us to turn this into an opportunity for growth. In this direction, investment in key enabling technologies could provide us with solutions to reduce this dependency. The same can be said for investments for lower energy consumption and increased energy efficiency.
New material and new technologies in these fields, not only can they help us reduce our dependency from imports but they can even be at the heart of our economic activity and increase our competitiveness for the years to come.
It is by no coincidence that the new Regional Policy encourages the low carbon economy and the area of Key Enabling Technologies.
Such innovations can increase our competitiveness and generate growth for years to come.
We have to understand that we cannot continue with business as usual. We have to become smarter to be able to be more competitive.
Regional Policy not only provides the investment in monetary terms but it also provides the right framework for the Member States and regions to think strategically and concentrate their efforts in those areas where it really matters.
It is through this process that we will be able to have a policy which is fit-for-purpose, delivering a better quality of life for our citizens. The new Regional Policy is designed not only to lead Europe out of the crisis and into the path of growth but also to re-establish the link with our fellow Europeans.
As we are now finalising the Partnership Agreements and the Operational programmes for the new period, I urge you to take this message back to your countries and regions.
Thank you very much for your attention.