The legal basis of the proposal establishing the InvestEU Programme is Article 175 (3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which requires the consultation of the CoR.
Furthermore, the InvestEU Programme's ultimate objective: to boost the still too low investment levels within the EU, calls for an effective involvement of local and regional authorities in the design and implementation of the initiative. Indeed, it is well known that local and regional authorities are responsible for more than half of public investment in the EU, across crucial sectors as diverse as infrastructure, transport, education, healthcare, and many others. In addition to being investors themselves, LRAs take on a variety of other investment-related roles, acting as: planners, investment partners, regulators of private investment and business, providers of basic enabling infrastructure for other investment, as well as facilitators, leading or participating in efforts to attract new public or private investment in their area.
Meanwhile, cities and regions have seen their capacity to invest severely constrained in recent years. More than ten years after the beginning of the crisis the situation for LRAs' investment is still difficult: a 2017 CoR survey of LRAs – which is not meant to be statistically representative but rather to offer a useful snapshot of the views expressed by local and regional experts in the field – showed that:
Almost half of respondents reported that their level of investment in infrastructure was still below pre-crisis level;
83% of respondents said funding their infrastructure investment was a challenge;
More than half (56%) of respondents reported that the availability of skilled human resources is a challenge for their investments.
In that context, financial instruments are both a potential solution thanks to their leverage and impact, but also a considerable challenge due to their technical complexity and the necessary change of mind set in public administrations traditionally used to grant-based financing. This is the case in particular with EU-level initiatives, and simplification of the use of FIs is thus a long-standing demand of the CoR, which the centralisation and streamlining of different programmes within InvestEU has the potential to bring. The CoR has also previously highlighted that strengthening administrative capacity and institutional expertise of public authorities is a crucial factor in order to foster a broader and more effective use of financial instruments, and the proposed InvestEU Advisory Hub, with its potential regional and local presence, could play a significant role in this regard.
Additionally, the InvestEU Programme builds on the mechanisms developed and experience acquired with the Investment Plan for Europe and EFSI specifically. Local and regional authorities are crucial in order for EFSI to succeed and the CoR has taken an active role in the policy making process, adopting two opinions on the proposals for Regulation, as well as in the monitoring and evaluation. In 2017 for instance, the CoR thus commissioned a study on "The Role of Local and Regional Authorities in the Implementation of the EFSI: Opportunities and Challenges". Thanks to quantitative data and five in-depth case studies, the paper identified problems and challenges to a broader use of EFSI by LRAs, as well as success factors. Since it is the successor of EFSI for the next MFF, the CoR's analytical and political work in this field should continue with InvestEU.
The EP report and the opinion of the CoR are broadly in line in their support for the InvestEU Programme and desire to improve a number of points of the Commission's proposal on InvestEU. Crucially, the EP report amends the objectives of the Programme to explicitly mention cohesion, a major CoR demand. The governance structure of InvestEU is also largely reworked, with a significant role for the Committee of the Regions.
The main point of disagreement between the EP and CoR concerns the so-called "Member State compartment" which the EC proposal foresees. While the CoR rapporteur was in favour of this element of the proposal with relatively minor modifications, his draft opinion was amended in ECON (and confirmed in Plenary) to express opposition to these compartments and propose to delete them from the legislative proposal. This was also the position of the EP's REGI Committee in its opinion on the proposal.
In the EP, at committee level, more than 800 amendments were tabled to the draft report by co-rapporteurs José Manuel Fernandes (PT/EPP – BUDG) and Roberto Gualtieri (IT/S&D – ECON). A number of them were in line with key elements of the CoR position on the InvestEU proposal and were adopted by ECON & BUDG, including: the need to highlight economic, social and territorial cohesion as one of the objectives of the Programme or the need for advisory services to be free for public project promoters, etc. Some other amendments in line with CoR proposals were rejected at committee level, including one which would have stated that the InvestEU Fund "should guarantee a fair and balanced distribution of investment between the various EU Member States and regions."
On 20 March 2019 the EP and Council reached a preliminary interinstitutional agreement on the proposal which settles the outline and some key elements of the programme. From the CoR perspective, the crucial points are preserved (including, for instance, the significant role of the CoR in the governance structure).
Following this preliminary agreement, MEPs in the next legislature will continue talks with member states on issues left open, in the broader context of the MFF negotiations.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
welcomes the European Commission's ambition to further support investment in Europe, by building on the experience acquired with the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) and the Investment Plan more broadly, through its proposal establishing the InvestEU Programme;
demands that the economic, social and territorial cohesion of the Union be included among the objectives of the InvestEU Programme, in particular since the proposal's legal basis comprises the third paragraph of Article 175 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which focuses on cohesion; believes it is of the utmost importance that InvestEU be geographically balanced and that it be targeted as a matter of priority at regions suffering from a significant and persistent lack of investment and at particularly vulnerable and remote areas such as the outermost regions;
reaffirms its position that InvestEU should neither replace nor compete with existing EU social cohesion mechanisms;
defends the principle that the managing authorities of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) be able to pay up to 5% of those funds to the InvestEU programme on a voluntary basis and in accordance with the principles of a code of conduct for the partnership and multi-level governance to be set out in Article 6 of the framework regulation laying down common provisions for ESIF. This contribution has the potential to address country-specific or region-specific market failures and sub-optimal investment situations in a way that a centralised EU tool cannot;
calls on the co-legislators to keep the exemption for public implementing bodies from fees charged for services of the InvestEU Advisory Hub, as is the case for the existing EIAH under Article 14(4) of the EFSI Regulation, and which is crucial to help foster quality public investment, in particular among smaller public entities and those with less experience of financial instruments and complex projects.