The cost and risks of non-cohesion and the EU’s long-term budget after 2020 were the main points of the discussions held in Brussels on 23 March by local and regional leaders with the co-rapporteur of the European Parliament on the EU's next long-term budget, Jan Olbrycht (PL/EPP). In the course of the plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), the members adopted an opinion drawn up by Mieczysław Struk (PL/EPP), President of the Pomorskie region, stressing the need for a strong cohesion policy.
"Cohesion policy is the most tangible expression of European solidarity, offering equal opportunities and a better quality of life to people in all EU regions", argued Mieczysław Struk in his draft opinion on The cost and risk of non-cohesion: The strategic value of cohesion policy for pursuing the Treaty objectives and facing new challenges for European regions . For the CoR members, cohesion policy is, and should remain, the EU's main investment policy, available to all EU regions. It is a policy for evening out and making use of development opportunities geared to improving the quality of life of people across the EU. It is the best expression of European solidarity and it directly implements the key objectives of the Treaty.
"A weak cohesion policy can mean a dark future for Europe, this is why a decision on the future budget means a decision on the future of the EU. If after 2020 cohesion policy is marginalised and eroded, we will soon be faced with very specific risks. One of these is the widening of divisions and development disparities between EU countries and regions, which in practice could result not only in the disintegration of the single market but also in a loss of public trust in the EU and an increase in nationalism. We do not want that kind of Europe", the rapporteur added.
The future EU budget must take into account the strategic role of cohesion policy, the local leaders agreed.
Mr Olbrycht said that the European Parliament agreed on the strategic need to maintain cohesion policy, voicing dissatisfaction with a commitment, made on 22 March by EU Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger, that the European Commission would try to limit "cuts to between 5% and 10%". He said that "money should be found" to maintain "cohesion policy at its current level".
He continued: "We cannot abandon our ambitious agenda for the EU after Brexit. The Parliament is calling for support after 2020 for two long-term European policies — the common agricultural policy and cohesion policy - and the maintenance of spending in the future budget at least at current levels. Cohesion policy should support the development of all European regions by means of three funds: the ERDF, the ESF and the Cohesion Fund. The Parliament believes that some future programmes of major importance for the economy, competitiveness and young people should be strengthened. We want to see an increased budget for the next generation of programmes: Horizon 2020, COSME, YEI, Erasmus+ and LIFE+. The Parliament recognises the need to provide EU financial support for new challenges in the area of security and defence and for dealing with the migration crisis. In this connection, we call for the next MFF to be set at a level of 1.3% of EU-27 GNI. If the Member States prefer a lower level, they must decide which joint EU activities they wish to reduce. "It's not only about money, it's about the future of Europe."
The President of the Wielkopolska region, Marek Woźniak (PL/EPP), rapporteur for the CoR opinion on the future of EU finances, stressed that "the EU budget must support our common political objectives and concentrate on achieving results and greater European added value. So let us be bold and shape the next budget following the subsidiarity principle and place-based policies so it may answer the needs of people living in municipalities, cities and regions. The European Committee of the Regions speaks with one voice together with the European Parliament when calling for the future budget to be set at a level of no less than 1.3% of EU GNI. We need resources from various sources, the abolition of all rebates and the introduction of new own resources as well as increased contributions from the Member States. We also want a budget that support a Europe closer to its citizens, in particular via the two political assemblies having democratically elected members: European Parliament and European Committee of the Regions.
To make the case for a stronger cohesion policy after 2020, the CoR, together with leading EU territorial associations, launched the #CohesionAlliance , a grass-roots movement open to anyone who believes that EU cohesion policy must continue to be a pillar of the EU's future. Since its launch in October last year, the Alliance has continued to attract new signatories every day, including regional and local authorities, business associations, academia, trade unions and think tanks.
Further information on the initiatives, declarations and negotiating position of the #CohesionAlliance can be found at: http://cohesionalliance.eu .
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