The German Presidency organised a High level Conference on Cohesion in Halle/Saale on September 29/30 which deals with a number of questions relating the current context and challenges of regional development particularly in the Covid 19 and the role of the ESI funds to address them.
In the centre of the debate at the Conference and also in view of the preparation of the future ESIF programmes answers to the following questions are essential:
• What are the main challenges for the innovative, carbon neutral and smart economic change in a post covid era?
• What strategies and strategic approaches can help for addressing these challenges in the short and long term?
• What role can Cohesion policy in conjunction with regional and national instruments play for a proactive support of structural change in a post-COVID era?
• What added-value can interregional co-cooperation provide for this process?
• How can the short-term measures currently foreseen with REACT EU be combined with the long- term objectives of cohesion policy for the next programming period?
In this opinion, the CoR took on board the recommendations from the High-level video conference on ‘The implementation and strategic orientation of the future instruments of EU cohesion policy’ that took place on 29 September, which rapporteur Michiel Rijsberman (NL/RE), Regional Minister of the Province of Flevoland, attended on behalf of the President of the CoR.
The CoR stresses that the temporary nature of the proposed reinforcements of cohesion policy as a reaction to the ongoing pandemic should not undermine cohesion policy as a system of shared management. This should be taken into account while considering the integration of regional smart specialisation strategies that contribute to a green, digital and resilient Europe as an enabling condition for effective recovery investment plans. Furthermore, the statement of Chancellor Angela Merkel at the last CoR Plenary Session in support of a strong cohesion policy was highly appreciated.
The CoR welcomes the German Presidency priority for a stronger and more innovative Europe and its assertion that the EU Structural Funds are instrumental in reducing the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and in stimulating economic recovery. The CoR also hopes that a discussion in the General Affairs Council on cohesion policy presents a renewed opportunity furthering the debate on the topic. This can form the basis for a political dialogue between all levels of government on the synergies of the different COVID-19 measures with cohesion policy instruments as part of the Trio Programme of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
– underlines that cohesion policy is the EU’s largest funding mechanism for investment in all regions with an increased emphasis on innovation as a driver of growth. Its implementation encourages more efficient spending of public funds through improved administrative and institutional capacity;
– strongly recommends that the temporary nature of some of the proposed reinforcements of cohesion policy as a reaction to the ongoing pandemic should not undermine cohesion policy as a system of shared management based on agreed principles. Flexibility is needed in times of crisis, but too much flexibility can threaten the existence of cohesion policy in the longer term;
– calls on the Commission to ensure that recent measures to increase flexibility and to further simplify cohesion policy at EU level do not lead to centralisation and gold-plating and an added administrative burden at national level, brought about by risk avoidance and a risk-regulation reflex by Member States;
– agrees with the Presidency that a competitive European industrial sector and vibrant small and medium-sized enterprises are essential for mastering the digital and environmental transformation;
– asks the Commission to consider the integration of regional smart specialisation strategies that contribute to a green, digital and resilient Europe as an enabling condition for effective (national) recovery investment plans;
– asks the Commission to further promote regional ecosystems and clusters in the framework of Interregional Innovation Investments. The combination of technological, industrial and social infrastructure in different regions according to their strengths and skills helps to generate critical mass and economies of scale and thus has the potential to increase the efficiency of research and innovation systems;
– proposes initiating an ongoing political dialogue between all levels of government on the synergies of the different COVID-19 measures with cohesion policy instruments as part of the Trio Programme of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia.