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Europe needs a stronger, modern and simplified cohesion policy to fight growing inequalities  

​​Local leaders warn against the risk of losing available resources and call for fast-tracking the Just Transition Fund.

With a set of opinions adopted at its plenary session, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) recalled the paramount role of cohesion policy in reducing disparities between EU regions while helping the Union to achieve a just transition, reducing the dependence from fossil fuels and becoming more energy independent. The ongoing war against Ukraine and the energy crisis accentuated even more the need for a strong cohesion in Europe, while the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that the urgent actions at the EU, national, regional and local level are needed to ensure digital cohesion between territories.

Cohesion policy has successfully demonstrated its flexibility and effectiveness in showing support in unforeseen crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing war against Ukraine. However, it is essential to keep cohesion policy as the main EU investment tool aiming at fighting inequalities in Europe and a growing digital divide through stable and predictable multi-annual investment plans. This long-term strategic role of cohesion policy should be preserved, so that it can contribute to more solidarity in the EU. To this end, the CoR also supports the full implementation of the principle "do not harm cohesion", which is in line with the concept of "cohesion as a fundamental value" defended by the Committee, and calls on the European Commission to work closely with the CoR in defining it. These were the messages delivered by local and regional leaders during the October plenary session of the CoR, which took place during the 20th edition of the European Week of Regions and Cities .

CoR members highlighted the unique approach of cohesion policy, based on an analysis of territorial needs established at regional and local level which follows a fully participatory and democratic process, contrary to the national recovery plans supported by the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), which were largely designed without the involvement of the regions, as highlighted by the CoR EU Annual Report on the State of the Regions and Cities, published on 11 October. Moreover, local and regional leaders warned against the risk of overlaps or crowding out in the absence of a real mechanism to coordinate between and link the RRF and cohesion policy.

In addition, the CoR calls on the EU institutions to ensure a full digital cohesion in Europe in order to fight inequalities between territories. The Committee warns that the growing digital divide could increase social and territorial inequalities because it has an impact on services provided at local level, such as the access to e-Health services and educational resources, or prevent many citizens accessing to fundamental services, i.e. the use of cashless payments or of the electronic vote. Moreover, an increased digital cohesion would be a tool for reversing demographic decline in inland, rural and mountainous areas.

The success of a just environmental transition for all regions in Europe will also be crucial to avoid increasing inequalities between communities. The offensive war launched by Russia in February 2022 has made the just transition more difficult and yet more urgent, thus the € 19,3 billion Just Transition Fund (JTF) programme planning should be stepped up in order to mobilise funding in a timely manner. The financing of the RRF was made available within the space of one year, local leaders pointed out, while the European Commission and the Member States have been working on the JTF for almost three years. If the JTF programme is not up and running in 2022, there is a risk of losing the full year allocation of 25% of the available funds.

Nathalie Sarrabezolles (FR/PES), rapporteur on the 8th Cohesion Report, stated: "Today, more than ever, we need cohesion policy, probably to alleviate the effects of the crises we are going through, but above all to reduce inequalities within our continent. Indeed, the Cohesion Report shows that some regions are lagging behind in development. Let's call on the solutions of the future to restart the convergence process in Europe."

Gaetano Armao (IT/EPP), rapporteur on digital cohesion, said: “Digital cohesion must be introduced as an important additional dimension of the traditional concept of economic, social and territorial cohesion into the EU Treaty. This is key since citizens empowered with connectivity and digital skills can offer significant value to their communities. The digital gap, is not recognised formally as a threat to the EU’s cohesion. A public debate on how to close the innovation and digital gap is necessary and should be focused on achieving a clear understanding of the "Digital Cohesion" concept, which calls for the recognition of the essential role that technology plays in our life, and requires the integration of the Cohesion objectives (set out in the EU Treaty) in the digital rights, principles and policies of the Union."

Sari Rautio (FI/EPP), rapporteur of the opinion on the "Just and sustainable transition in the context of the coal and energy intensive regions", said: "The war in Europe has made the just transition more urgent. I think in the crucial transition to a low-carbon society, has to put in focus the different needs of citizens, by creating new jobs and skills. The energy sector, industries, the manufacturing sector and SMEs are struggling, that is why it is important to support industry's ambitions to become carbon-neutral. The JTF can play a role in achieving this goal. The search for the most effective means will only succeed when regions and cities are genuinely involved in all stages of planning and implementation. And at the same time – we must get the machine working!"


The 8th Cohesion Report was published on 9 February by the European Commission. It shows both positive and negative trends in EU regions, cities and rural areas: less developed regions have been catching up, but that many transition regions have been stuck in a development trap. Furthermore, the growing innovation divide will make it harder for both types of region to catch up. The European Parliament adopted its position on the 8th Cohesion report few weeks ago.

As part of the European Green Deal, the Just Transition Mechanism (JTM) was set up to help regions most affected by the transition towards a climate-neutral economy. It includes the Just Transition Fund (JTF), which will invest around €19 billion in the 2021-2027 period in these territories. JTF allocation for member states can be consulted here.

Together with the leading European associations of cities and regions, the CoR is a founding partner of the #CohesionAlliance, to affirm cohesion as a fundamental value of the European Union and a key objective for all its policies and investment. More information here.


Matteo Miglietta

Tel. +32 (0) 470 89 53 82​​

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