Following an initiative by all five of its political groups, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has raised serious concerns about a recent European Commission's proposal to change rules governing EU regional funds for 2014-2020 which would divert resources from the EU's cohesion policy to support structural reforms in the Member States. This is first time in the past five years the CoR – the EU's assembly for local and regional governments - has considered using its right to bring a case before the EU Court of Justice when it believes a proposed EU law does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity.
Under the post-2020 EU budget, the European Commission intends to propose a new reform delivery tool to support Member States in implementing national structural reforms. These could include labour market, tax, the development of capital markets and public administration reforms. The Commission is proposing to test this new tool from 2018 to 2020, offering national governments the opportunity to use the so-called performance reserve available from current EU cohesion funds to support structural reforms, instead of using them for specific regional projects.
In its resolution adopted on 1 February, the CoR rejects the European Commission's argument that the proposal complies with the subsidiarity principle since the objective of cohesion policy, implemented by EU regional funds, is not to support Member States structural reform but to reduce economic and social disparities between EU regions.
Speaking during the CoR plenary session, the President of the European Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, said, "At a time when citizens rightly demand a Europe that is more present and more effective in their daily lives, a Europe that increases territorial and social cohesion, we cannot accept this basic EU principle to be undermined by an attempt to re-nationalise cohesion policy "
The Committee views the proposal as disregarding cooperation between all levels of government which is compulsory in implementing EU cohesion funds.
The CoR will now recommend to the European Council and European Parliament to reject the proposal but if it is formally agreed, the CoR would then use its legal rights to challenge the legislative proposal before the EU's Court of Justice.
Since the Maastricht Treaty in 1994, the European Committee of the Regions has been recognised by the EU institutions as the "guardian" of the subsidiarity principle , a prerogative it shares with national parliaments. Subsidiarity is one of the key pillars of the European Union's legal and political architecture whereby action should only be taken at EU level when it is more effective than EU countries acting alone at national, regional or local level. In 2009, the Lisbon Treaty formalised the Committee's role as the defender of this principle, giving the Committee the right to bring a case before the European Court of Justice if it believes the principle has not been upheld. To ensure subsidiary is respected when enacting EU law, the CoR set up the Subsidiarity Monitoring Network , which includes a large number of EU's regional and national parliaments.
The CoR is also currently participating in the work of the recently established Task Force on Subsidiarity, Proportionality and "Doing Less More Efficiently" chaired by the European Commission First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans. The Task Force is responsible for making recommendations on how to better apply the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality in the work of the EU, identifying policy areas where work could be devolved or returned to Member States, and finding ways to better involve regional and local authorities in EU policy making and delivery.
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