"There cannot be smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe without local and regional authorities, and thus all EU funds must be deployed in a coordinated way, within a vision which must not consist in juxtaposing sectoral strategies". According to the President of the Committee of the Regions (CoR) Mercedes Bresso, this was the very reason that brought together representatives from the European regions and cities, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council who met to discuss how to make integrated territorial development successful. The occasion was the Forum on the Common Strategic Framework (CSF) 2014-2020 organised by the CoR which involved more than 300 participants from all EU institutions and from local and regional authorities offering an opportunity to exchange views on three main topics: multi-level governance of CSF funds post-2013; the Europe 2020 Strategy and the challenge of an integrated territorial approach; delivering results: ensuring coherent approaches.
The event took place just a few days after the adoption of CoR's crucial opinions of the new regulation on cohesion policy with all involved Commissioners – Johannes Hahn for regional policy, László Andor for employment and social affairs and Dacian Cioloş for agriculture – and relevant MEPs taking part in the debate and responding to the European regions and cities main proposals aimed at improving the effectiveness of the next programming phase.
President Bresso raised some of the European cities and regions concerns which related primarily to the need to balance the thematic concentration of resources and flexibility required to address local need; the adequate involvement of regions and cities in the framing of programmes; the firm opposition to macroeconomic conditionality; and the risk of compromising the impact of multiannual strategies through annual adjustments brought under the pretext of aligning them with the national reform programmes. Most of them were shared by European Parliament's REGI committee chair, Danuta Hübner, who underlined her perplexity at the use of earmarking and thresholds in the resources allocation, stressing that: "The current crisis has made sharper growing divergences among regions; therefore an adequate flexibility is needed." She also made clear the risk of a legal mess in the middle of the financial perspectives connected to macroeconomic conditionality.
Johannes Hahn reaffirmed the need to reform cohesion policy to make it more effective and to carefully monitor the progresses made with its support. He underlined that cohesion policy is and will play a central role in re-launching growth in the EU. However, to be able to argue for an adequate budget, "we need to deliver on our promises to make the policy more effective" said Hahn.
The Regional policy commissioner also underlined the importance of the introduction of a 'transition' category for regions with a GDP per capita between 75% and 90% of the EU average, following the opposition expressed at the last General Affairs Council by some Member States. Hahn added also that the recent "growth boom" in the attention of national governments must not become the "carte blanche" for non smart investments.
Referring to the concerns related to the role of local and regional authorities in shaping of strategies and programmes, Commissioner Andor stressed that, "the (European) Commission proposal for cohesion policy provides for a number of mechanisms to achieve the involvement of local and regional authorities, both in policy planning as well as in its implementation. We encourage integrated approaches to territorial development and community-led local strategies. However, the first reactions in the Council are not very encouraging." He therefore called for, "the active support of the CoR to help us make 'partnership' a true implementing principle of the cohesion policy everywhere in the EU."
Commissioner Dacian Cioloş also came to the defence of the European Commission's approach in setting priorities for the allocation of resources who made clear that the proposed six priorities for the agricultural policy reform allow for adequate margins available for Member States and regions to address specific local needs and signalled the introduction of thematic sub-programmes which represent a further factor of flexibility. On the hot issue of the involvement of regions and cities, Ciolos insisted on the limits of the Commission's mandate: "The European Commission cannot do everything, we cannot create conflict between Brussels and the national level about what needs to be done at the regional level."
All proceedings will be on line within a few days.