Article 174 TFEU, envisages that the Union shall promote its economic, social and territorial cohesion, thereby paying particular attention to rural areas, areas affected by industrial transition, and regions which suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps such as the northernmost regions with very low population density and island, cross-border and mountain regions.
The main political objective of this opinion would be to outline the main features of these territories, their assets as well as their challenges and to suggest policy options to ensure a better application of cohesion policy that caters for the specific development needs of these territories, thus achieving balanced development and a fair recovery across the EU regions.
The opinion would assess synergies with ongoing and upcoming initiatives aimed at accelerating green and digital transition, addressing demographic challenges and providing for a long term vision for on rural and remote areas.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- insists that, though EU Cohesion Policy has a key role to play in enforcing Art. 174 TFEU, this mandate is binding on all other EU policies (in particular the European Green Deal and the Digital Agenda), which must not undermine the goal of territorial cohesion between these territories;
- proposes that each Member State provide basic public services in Art. 174 areas, in line with the European Social Pillar and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The provisions of the Protocol on services of general interest should be taken into account in particular in this regard, for example the broad discretion of national, regional and local authorities in organising services, the promotion of universal access, and so on. The provision of effective and sustainable cross border public services should be systematically explored;
- calls for post-2027 Cohesion Policy to include specific EU-level regional targeting and earmarking for regions with areas mentioned in Art. 174, with a minimum aid threshold in Partnership Agreements. Potentially, this should also comprise other policies in the EU budget that have a territorial dimension, including any successor to Next Generation EU;
- considers that not only must the Just Transition Fund interventions be properly embedded within Cohesion Policy smart specialisation strategies, but that, more importantly, reinvigorating Europe's declining industrial areas must go beyond cohesion to become a central part of the Recovery and Resilience Facility and its successor programmes; these programmes should be also embedded in cohesion policy or at least implemented in better synergy with cohesion policy;
- strongly welcomes the European Parliament's proposal asking the European Commission to draw up an "EU Strategy for Islands" with an action plan to encourage growth and innovation in a sustainable way, protecting the environment and people living on islands, as well as an "Islands Pact" to involve all actors via a multilevel, cross-sectoral approach;
- considers that mountain regions need a placed-based approach within the Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas, taking into account their specific features and needs.