The cost and risk of non-cohesion as well as taking stock of the European Social Fund were the main points of discussion of local and regional leaders on 27 February in Brussels. During the commission meeting for territorial cohesion policy and the EU budget (COTER) of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) members adopted two opinions highlighting the need for a strong cohesion policy after 2020.
" The future of Europe and results of European elections in 2019 strongly depend on the future of Regional and Cohesion policy. If we wish to prevent raising populism and Euroscepticism we have to support economic and social development at the grass root level through tangible successful projects ", stated Petr Osvald (CZ/PES), chair of the COTER commission and Councillor of the city of Plzeň, opening the meeting.
The mission of cohesion policy is to ensure a level playing-field that enables all EU citizens, especially from less developed territories, to benefit from the advantages offered by the EU integration and the Single Market. The cost of non-cohesion would be serious as it is not only a key prerequisite of economic growth, but also a firm basis for the well-being of society at large, including citizens' trust and the EU's political legitimacy, says Mieczysław Struk (PL/EPP), President of the Pomeranian region, in his draft opinion " The cost and risk of non-cohesion: the strategic value of cohesion policy in pursuing the Treaty objectives and facing new challenges for European regions ".
" Cohesion policy is the most tangible expression of European solidarity, offering equal opportunities and a better quality of life to people in all EU regions. It is therefore an indispensable pillar of a Single Market linking diverse countries and regions with uneven levels of development. It is also the most accurately measured and best analysed EU policies making a significant contribution to positive economic, social and territorial change in the EU by supporting innovation, SMEs, a low-carbon economy, transport infrastructure, urban regeneration, rural diversification, education, employment, social infrastructure as well as social inclusion and much more ", said Mr Struk.
He further points out that cohesion policy has the potential to be the main engine for structural transformation in the EU. It brings together various sectoral policies providing tailor-made solutions based on opportunities and challenges of a given territory in cooperation with citizens, entrepreneurs and administrators on the ground.
" Empowering of regional and local actors is not only crucial for facilitating structural transformation but makes the European integration process more tangible for citizens. Nevertheless, the instruments should be improved in future, making them more simple and flexible to react to new challenges ", said Mr Struk.
The social dimension of cohesion policy reflected in the European Social Fund* (ESF) was the centre of attention for Catiuscia Marini (IT/PES), President of the Umbria Region and CoR rapporteur on the draft opinion on the " Mid-term review of the ESF preparing the post-2020 proposal ".
" The ESF is the only EU's instrument which directly benefits the public. Between 2007 and 2014 9.4 million European citizens gained employment and 8.7 million gained a qualification thanks to ESF support. Especially in the last years during the economic crises it proved to be sufficiently flexible in responding to challenges and supporting the most vulnerable and exposed groups like people with disabilities, women, young and low-skilled workers ", said Ms Marini.
In order to tackle present challenges like technological change and globalisation the ESF must remain a key element of regional cohesion policy jointly managed by the different levels of government. The rapporteur strongly rejects to link the ESF to a model of direct management by the European Commission or any kind of centralisation under the sole responsibility of Member States as " the key success factor in the delivery of the ESF is its bottom-up approach and the cooperation between European institutions, Member States, regional and local governments and the economic and social players, which makes it possible to better adapt interventions to the needs of beneficiaries ."
During the meeting other policy areas connected to cohesion policy were discussed namely " boosting growth and cohesion in EU border regions ", " implementation assessment of the Urban Agenda for the EU " and " delivering on low-emission mobility ". The CoR will adopt opinions on these emerging challenges throughout the year 2018.
Note to the editors:
*The European Social Fund (ESF) is the main EU instrument supporting employment policies. It promotes full employment, aims to improve work productivity and equal opportunities, promotes social inclusion and reduces the disparities in the employment rate between and within European region and cities.
To make the case for a stronger cohesion policy after 2020, the CoR, together with leading EU territorial associations, launched the #CohesionAlliance:
a grass-roots movement open to anyone who believes that EU cohesion policy must continue to be a pillar of the EU's future. Since its launch in October last year, the Alliance has continued to attract new signatories every day, including regional and local authorities, business associations, academia, trade unions and think tanks.
More information about the #CohesionAlliance initiatives, statements and position papers are available at http://cohesionalliance.eu .
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