In a debate with EU Commissioner for regional policy, Johannes Hahn, at the plenary session on 30 May, CoR President Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso raised an alert over the structural funds 2014-2020: "With no agreement in sight and crucial issues of the regulation still to be discussed, the situation is getting more and more concerning. All EU institutions need to be aware of the consequences of further delays".
President Valcárcel reaffirmed the need to ensure that the second instalment of payments of the amending budget 2013 will be made available on time since the EU must respect its financial commitments and regions cannot lose resources invested on co-financed projects. Nonetheless, according to Mr Valcárcel: "Linking the second round of payments to the overcoming of major conflicts in the negotiation of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020, is an example of how EU institutions end up making crucial decisions at the last minute. It seems that we have not learned anything from the past. We were and we are in an exceptional situation, requiring exceptional decisions. This is, instead, EU business as usual".
The plenary provided the opportunity of discussing with Commissioner Hahn the outcome of a CoR survey on the involvement of local and regional authorities in the preparation of the partnership agreements for the implementation of the next programming phase. In most member states the process is well underway with a contribution from regions and cities. On this issue Commissioner Hahn said that: "The CoR survey shows we are on the right track and the new provisions and guidelines in the past months have contributed to make sure that an increasing number of member states actively involve regional and local partners". The Commissioner informed about his intention of monitoring, with an ad hoc report every two months, the real involvement of local and regional authorities in the negotiations.
The regional policy Commissioner also intervened on controversial topics such as macroeconomic conditionality, defending its contribution to improve "the image of regional policy" and its role of being a last resort in preventing the deployment of structural funds is compromised by an unsound macroeconomic policy. On this point, the CoR First Vice-President Mercedes Bresso argued that "What makes cohesion policy so relevant to EU regions is more the quality and stability of the investment plans than the quantity of available resources. For this reason macroeconomic conditionality would seriously harm its current role".
The need for a clear and stable framework to plan investment was also the key message of the President of the CoR's EPP Group, Michael Schneider (DE/EPP), who underlined that: "The current lack of information on the entity of available funding and on crucial aspects of the regulation, as well as the insufficient involvement in the partnership agreements process, make it very hard for regions to prepare operational programmes in parallel with the negotiation between the European Parliament and Council", as auspicated by Commissioner Hahn. According to the CoR rapporteur on the Common Strategic Framework, Catiuscia Marini (IT/PES): "In the absence of the final decisions on the MFF and general regulation, the discussion of partnership agreements and the involvement of local and regional authorities risk to be a mere bureaucratic exercise without any substantial impact on strategic decisions". How the partnership principle will be actually implemented among key issues raised by the chair of the CoR's Commission on Territorial Cohesion (COTER), Marek Woźniak (PL/EPP), who stressed that: "Regions and cities are not involved in the whole negotiation of partnership agreements, whose final phase regards just the Commission and the member states". This aspect was touched on also in the intervention of the President of the CoR ECR Group, Gordon Keymer (UK/ECR), who asked how the Commission can intervene to enforce the actual implementation of the partnership principle in the shaping of the next phase of structural funds.
On behalf of the CoR's European Alliance Group, Stanisław Szwabski (PL/EA) praised the effort put in place by the Commission on this front and, as CoR rapporteur on the European Code of Conduct on Partnerships, stressed that: "Almost all CoR proposals on the European Code of Conduct on Partnership have been taken on board by the executive". Finally, the danger of a "slowing pace " of the European institutions activities due to the upcoming EU elections was pointed out by the President of the CoR's ALDE Group, Bas Verkerk (NL/ALDE), who also warned against the risk of the EU becoming more and more unpopular because of ineffectiveness in delivering urgent decisions.
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