The opinion should enable the CoR to assume a proactive role in the preparation of the next Cohesion Policy cycle and to express its point of view on the future Cohesion policy beyond 2020, in order to influence the preparatory documents of the European Commission at an early stage.
The own-initiative opinion was adopted by the European Committee of the Regions at its plenary session on 11 May 2017, in order to channel the concerns of European cities and regions into the interinstitutional debate on the future of cohesion policy beyond 2020.
The immediate impact of this early work of the CoR was also due to the very good cooperation with the European Parliament's REGI committee and the EP rapporteur on "Building blocks for a post-2020 EU cohesion policy", Ms Kerstin Westphal (DE/S&D). Consequently, the EP resolution on the matter took a similar position on many key aspects as the CoR, in particular on the importance and the added value of cohesion policy, the validity of the current structure with its three categories of regions, the need to strengthen the partnership principle, the need for greater flexibility without impacting on the strategic orientation and planning certainty of multi-annual programmes for regional and local authorities, the rejection of macro-economic conditionalities, the need for simplification, as well as the need to increase the visibility of cohesion policy, among others.
Based on the early positioning of the CoR it was also possible for it to launch together with the main European territorial associations (AER, AEBR, CALRE, CEMR, CPMR, and EUROCITIES) the #CohesionAlliance during the European Week of Cities and Regions 2017. This strategic alliance has the objective of sending a clear message to institutional decision-makers on the importance of securing a strong cohesion policy for all regions beyond 2020. The aim is in particular to influence the European Commission's proposal for the Multiannual Financial Framework post 2020 and the subsequent inter-institutional negotiations.
From its launch in October 2017 until the hand-over of the results to Commissioners Oettinger and Cretu on 22 March 2018, more than 350 organisations and more than 4000 individual supporters joined the #CohesionAlliance. The political and communication efforts of the CoR and the #CohesionAlliance partners significantly contributed towards raising the attention of media, including leading national newspapers in a number of Member States, and decision makers on the future of cohesion policy and helped to kick off a public debate and push key players to take and explicit their position on this crucial topic. An intense and coordinated work on social media has prepared, mirrored, amplified and reinforced these efforts. This work of the #CohesionAlliance has without doubt contributed to a much more positive climate with regard to Cohesion policy in the political debate and helped to fend off the detrimental proposals that had been put on the table with the various scenarios in the White Paper on the future of Europe.
With the presentation of the legislative proposals for the new cohesion policy post-2020 by the European Commission on 29 May 2018, the long-standing work of the CoR on the future of cohesion policy beyond 2020, which started with a study and reflection project on the matter back in 2015, reached a first culminating point. Thanks to the continuous political and communication efforts of the CoR promoting the political recommendations of its landmark opinion on "The future of cohesion policy beyond 2020" and its opinions related to the simplification of cohesion policy, the Commission's proposals took on board a number of key concerns of the CoR:
• Cohesion policy will remain available for all regions in Europe, which was one of the main concerns of the CoR;
• the three categories of regions (less developed regions, transition regions, developed regions) will be maintained;
• a reinforced European Social Fund Plus, mostly managed under shared management, will remain part of Cohesion policy and will be governed by the set of rules outlined in the Common Provisions Regulation;
• there are credible steps for simplification, more differentiation and more flexibility;
• the people-to-people and small-scale project funds for cross-border cooperation have been recognised as of added value and with the important role in building up trust between citizens and institutions by overcoming border obstacles and integrating border areas and their citizens;
• the principle of multi-level governance has also been maintained in the Common Provisions Regulation.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- points out that the policy for strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion is one of the most important and comprehensive EU policies, making a significant contribution in terms of solidarity to strengthening the EU as a whole and considerably strengthens the European added value that is tangible for each EU citizen;
- is of the opinion that the basic structure of cohesion policy with its three categories (most developed regions, transition regions and less developed regions) is tried and tested and should therefore be retained;
- calls for cohesion policy to become more flexible in the next funding period, without impacting on the strategic focus and planning certainty of multi-annual programmes for regional and local authorities. It is also important that cohesion policy has adequate funding at its disposal, which means that the percentage share of the budget allocated to cohesion policy in the next MFF should remain the same;
- considers it essential to guarantee the functioning of multi-level governance and the bottom-up approach through shared management and in full compliance with the subsidiarity principle;
- considers that a comprehensive review of the requirements for ESIF management and control systems is urgently needed;
- calls for substantially increasing the visibility of cohesion policy measures through appropriate communication actions, as they are one of the indisputable advantages of EU integration for people at local level.