The European Union cannot tackle social, economic and territorial disparities through Cohesion Policy alone. All EU initiatives and policies, like the post-COVID recovery plan NextGenerationEU, should fight against inequalities and promote cohesion, which must be a fundamental value of the European Union. This is the main message of the opinion on the "Do no harm to cohesion" principle, that was adopted by unanimity on 24 May at the Plenary of the European Committee of the Regions.
Cohesion Policy is and should remain the main tool for a harmonious development of every European region. However, all EU policies should tackle disparities among territories in accordance with the principle “Do no harm to cohesion”, introduced in 2022 by the European Commission’s 8th Cohesion Report. A principle that needs to become reality through a direct involvement of the Committee of the Regions, in line with the request made by the European Parliament.
The President of the CoR, Vasco Alves Cordeiro, said: "All places in Europe and all people, whether they are in small towns or in big cities, should benefit from a strong European Union. This can be guaranteed only through policies strengthening the cohesion of our territories. This is why pre-assessing all new Union policies' footprint on cohesion is key to safeguard that no region is ever left behind. If we want to live in a European Union that offers attractive opportunities and equal chances in all territories, than the do-no-harm to cohesion motto must become a guiding principle for all policy makers."
On Tuesday 23 May, President Cordeiro shared the CoR's view on the future of Cohesion Policy beyond 2027 with the High-Level group of specialists set up by the European Commission in January. The meeting can be reviewed here.
The rapporteur Michiel Rijsberman (NL/Renew E), member of the Council of the Province of Flevoland, said: “Do no harm to cohesion should cover all European policies with spatial impact, including a requirement to respect the cohesion principles of partnership and multi-level governance. Cohesion can be endangered by the fact that its funding has been used systematically to respond to recent crises or when national authorities don’t allocate maximum levels of funding to less developed and transition regions, hampering convergence process. Therefore, we call on the European Commission and Member States to optimise the use of Cohesion Policy funding in less developed and transition regions. The European Committee of the Regions will continue to refuse any attempt for centralisation of EU programmes nor will it allow disregarding the local and regional level in the future”.
The Committee considers that the most effective tool to put the “Do no harm to cohesion” principle into practice is a systematic ex-ante assessment of potential differentiated territorial impacts and effect on cohesion of all new EU policies with a territorial dimension.
Local and regional leaders underline that fighting disparities also means avoiding creating fertile soil for populism and extremism in the context of the upcoming European elections. Trade agreements, relaxed State aid rules or lack of synergies between EU funds are examples of European initiatives that could go against the levelling up process in every city and region.
Moreover, CoR members highlight that cohesion may also be endangered by the fact that Cohesion Policy resources have been used to systematically respond to recent crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this may have contributed to preventing a further widening of disparities, regional and local leaders point out that the cohesion principles of strategic, evidence-based programming, partnership and multi-level governance should still be respected in any crisis-response instrument. Therefore, the Committee refuses any attempts for centralisation of EU programmes and will not accept a further disregarding of the local and regional level in future EU programmes.
Local and regional leaders also reiterate their call on Member States and the European Commission to ensure that the Recovery and Resilience Facility (the €724 billion cornerstone of NextGenerationEU) and any successor of this instrument directly incorporates the Cohesion Policy approach based on strategic evidence-based programming, multilevel governance and partnership.
Tomorrow, the rapporteur Rijsberman will present the opinion to the members of the European Parliament's Committee on Regional Development. More information about the meeting can be found here. The webstreaming will be available here.
The CoR is working on the future of cohesion policy also through a second opinion, for which President Cordeiro and the chair of the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER), Emil Boc, have been appointed co-rapporteurs. A first discussion on the opinion will take place on 23 June during the external meeting of the COTER Commission in Sibiu, Romania. The work on the opinion will be finalised by the two co-rapporteurs in November 2023, when it is scheduled for adoption in the CoR Plenary, ahead of the publication of the 9th Cohesion Report by the European Commission.
In order to advocate cohesion as a fundamental value of the EU and plead for a strong Cohesion Policy beyond 2027, the CoR and the leading European associations of regions and cities founded the #CohesionAlliance. On 16 March, the Alliance kicked off the reflection process on the future of cohesion policy launching two new calls for contributions:
- a broad consultation to receive feedback on the future role and design of cohesion policy (deadline extended until 30 June);
- a call for Cohesion Local Stories to showcasing how cohesion policy has a unique role to support cities' and regions' development.
To stay up to date with all the activities of the #CohesionAlliance and the latest development on cohesion policy, you can sign up to receive the new #CohesionAlliance newsletter here.
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