The objective of the opinion is to present the CoR's position on the legislative proposal for a new Common Provisions Regulation for the years 2021-2027, based on the previous work of the CoR on the future of Cohesion Policy post-2020 and on the various related dossiers, and to come forward with respective recommendations for legislative amendments,
The CoR opinion put forward 78 recommendations for legislative amendments in total. Following an analysis of the draft EP report by the COTER secretariat, which found out that the content of the draft EP report - despite the early and intensive contacts between the respective CoR political group secretariats and the assistants of the two EP co-rapporteurs - significantly differed from the draft CoR opinion, the political groups of the two CoR co-rapporteurs and the COTER secretariat took strong action on promoting the CoR position among key members of the REGI committee, in particular with regard to the 15 most critical legislative amendments.
These concerted efforts resulted in 240 out of 2200 amendments tabled in REGI that had the same or a similar wording as the CoR position. Consequently, the EP report adopted on 22 January 2019 in REGI took 35 CoR recommendations at least partially on board, including a number of key issues for the CoR. These were also confirmed at the vote in Plenary session, which also deleted the rules on macroeconomic conditionalities, thereby favourably changing a part of the CPR covered by three additional CoR amendments that hadn't been taken on board in the earlier REGI report. In many cases the EP text followed the exact wording of the CoR recommendations or rephrased them only slightly, so that the impact of the CoR opinion can be clearly validated.
In general, there is a large convergence between the CoR opinion on the Common Provisions Regulation and the EP position at first reading. The EP resolution is in particular in line with the CoR opinion on the reintroduction of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development into the Common Provisions Regulation, the emphasis on the principles of partnership and multilevel governance, including the clarification that the preparation and implementation of the programmes should take place at the appropriate territorial level, the financial allocation for the whole 2021-2027 period, and the maintenance of the n+3 rule. The EP also introduced a provision on a safety net, which implies that this would also apply to the regional level, which was a key request of the CoR opinion. Concerning the co-financing rates for the different categories of regions, the EP resolution is fully in line with the CoR opinion, with the exception of the co-financing rate for transition regions, where the EP requested a slightly lower increase than the CoR opinion (65% instead of 70%, compared to 55% in the initial EC proposal). On some key elements, the EP position is less ambitious than the CoR opinion (e.g. on the annual pre-financing rates), however, on other elements it goes beyond the requests of the CoR (e.g. on the possibility of transfers of resources to other Funds).
Concerning the position of the Council, the picture is less positive. The Council's partial negotiating mandates suggested in particular to significantly weaken the provisions of Articles 6, 7 and 9, which cover the elaboration of the Partnership Agreements for the Funds. Here the Council took the view that not all Member States should be obliged to draw up a Partnership Agreement, in particular those with only a small Cohesion Policy budget and/or a low number of programmes, whilst the Parliament calls for mandatory Partnership Agreements for all Member States, which is also the position of the European Committee of the Regions on that matter. The Council also suggested a weaker approach on integrated territorial development (Article 22), leaving it to the discretion of the Member State to use this instrument or not.
A comparison between the 52 CoR recommendations for legislative amendments that concern those provisions of the CPR covered by the Council's partial mandates shows that the impact of the CoR opinion on the Council position was limited: Only 10 recommendations for legislative amendments have been taken at least partially on board. In 8 other cases, the Council took a different approach, where the result could also be considered in line with the CoR position or at least as an improvement in comparison to the initial Commission proposal. 34 recommendations for legislative amendments have not been taken on board.
The first three informal trilogue meetings between the European Parliament and the Council took place on 19 and 26 February and 6 March 2019 on the programming and strategic planning provisions of the Common Provisions Regulation (block 1). However, due to the quite divergent positions of the two co-legislators, a common understanding between the co-legislators could not be reached at that point. The trilogue meetings were restarted on 3 October 2019, focussing on blocks 1, 2 and 5, which are the most relevant for programming and a rapid start of implementation. On 10 December 2019, a provisional common understanding on these three blocks could be reached at trilogue level.
The provisional common understanding between the European Parliament and the Council on blocks 1,2 and 5 reached at trilogue level in December 2019 maintained the partnership principle and a mandatory elaboration of partnership agreements in all Member States, which was one of the key concerns of the CoR. The CoR recommendation to include an integrated approach to address the demographic challenges and/ or specific needs of regions and areas in the Partnership Agreements, where appropriate, was also taken on board.
The European Council adopted on 21 July 2020 its Conclusions on the Recovery Plan and the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027, which also contain the position of the Member States on the parts of the CPR that were discussed in the separate “negotiating box”. A comparison with the CoR opinion on the matter shows that the position of the Member States is in line with the CoR position on maintaining the n+3 rule and keeping a co-financing rate of 85% for the less developed regions, the outermost regions, and the Cohesion Fund, whilst the CoR proposal of a 70% co-financing rate for transition regions has only been partially taken on board (70% for transition regions that were classified as less developed regions in the 2014-2020 period and 60% for the other transition regions, which is however still higher than the initial Commission proposal of 55%). Concerning the co-financing rates for the more developed regions, Member States agreed with the initial Commission proposal of 40% (CoR recommendation: 50%). Member States are also in favour of a higher co-financing rate for Interreg programmes of 80% insted of 70% as proposed by the European Commission, which is slightly less than the CoR recommendation of 85%. On the other hand, Member States are in favour of macro-economic conditionalities, including the possibility for the suspension of commitments and payments for cohesion policy programmes in case of a Member State failing to take effective action in the context of the economic governance process, which was strongly opposed by the CoR. Moreover, Member States did not take on board the CoR recommendation for a general safety net at regional level, although the European Council agreed on a minimum level of support for those transition regions that had been classified as less developed regions in the programming period 2014-2020, as well as on minimum total allocations of the Member States for those transition regions that had been already transition regions in 2014-2020. The recommendation of the CoR to increase the annual pre-financing for the Funds from 0.5% to 2% was also not taken on board, however, the European Council suggested to increase the pre-financing for the European territorial cooperation goal (Interreg) to 1% for 2021 and 2022 and to 3% for 2023-2026, which could be considered positive.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- endorses the key objectives that the Commission pursues with the new Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), in particular to modernise cohesion policy by making it simpler, more flexible and more effective, and to substantially reduce unnecessary administrative burdens for beneficiaries and managing authorities;
- underlines the importance of the principles of partnership and multi-level governance and calls for the inclusion of the existing Code of Conduct as an Annex to the draft Regulation; calls for the full implementation of the Code of Conduct to ensure that the involvement of local and regional authorities amounts to full partnership;
- considers that taking the EAFRD out of the CPR risks undermining the integrated approach of the Structural and Investment Funds in rural areas and calls therefore for the EAFRD to be reintroduced into the CPR;
- points out that reintroducing the "n+2" rule would cause the overlap of the closure of the current programming period with the first n+2 target of the new one, which imposes a heavy administrative burden on the implementation of programmes. In this respect, calls for maintaining the current "n+3" rule;
- asks to maintain the current level of co-financing rates at 85% for the less developed regions, the outermost regions, as well as for the Cohesion Fund and the ETC goal, at 70% for the transition regions, and at 50% for the more developed regions;
- considers that the safety net provided by the Commission at national level does not prevent disproportionate cuts in individual assisted areas, which would not be justified by cohesion policy. Suggests therefore a similar safety net at regional level;
- reiterates the firm opposition of the CoR to the negative idea of macro-economic conditionality.