Strengthening the link between cohesion funds and the European semester can only succeed if local and regional needs are made a priority
Local and regional leaders are calling for a structured involvement of local and regional authorities in the European Semester process, especially now that the Semester gives guidance to cohesion policy. The opinion on this issue drafted by Rob Jonkman (NL/ECR) was adopted unanimously at the April plenary session of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) in Brussels.
During the current programming period (2014-2020) the European Commission has started to tighten up the coordination between the European Semester and cohesion policy in order to improve the traditionally low uptake of the country specific recommendations (CSRs).
In the next period (2021-2027) the Commission wants to go a step further and make this coordination more binding, taking into account the CSRs when adopting partnership agreements and cohesion programmes. Aligning the tools provides an opportunity for a stronger territorial dimension in the European Semester but also risks the centralisation of cohesion policy, without a formalised role for local and regional authorities in the process.
In the words of CoR rapporteur Rob Jonkman (NL/ECR), member of the Executive Council of Opsterland: "Structural Funds must not be used as a carrot and stick approach to push reforms in the Member States. Quite the opposite. To deliver stability and growth to all citizens we need the European Semester to go local and to increase partnership between the EU, Members States and local and regional authorities. Connecting the European Semester with cohesion programmes is a chance to bring the semester closer to the EU's citizens and prioritise their needs by involving local and regional authorities. Giving them a formal role in the process, laid down in a code of conduct, will not only increase the effectiveness of the CSRs through better assessment and ownership on the level of implementation but will also strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the envisaged reforms."
Iskra Mihaylova (BG/ALDE), chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Regional Development, said: "The Commission and the Member States need to step up their cooperation and take further measures to attract private and public investment, public-private partnerships, with a view to maximising the added value of cohesion policy funds and their complementarity with other programmes and Union instruments."
In this context the CoR members reiterate their call for a code of conduct for the involvement of local and regional authorities in the European Semester. The Committee also repeats its joint request with the European Parliament for a successor to the Europe 2020 strategy as a clear policy framework for the European Semester and for investments using cohesion funding.
The European Semester is the main tool for economic and budgetary policy coordination between the EU and its Member States. It sets out general economic and social priorities for the following year, which serve Member States as a guideline for policy and reform to foster growth and prevent macro-economic imbalances. Having assessed the EU governments' plans, the Commission presents each country with a set of country specific recommendations (CSRs) which adapt priorities identified at EU level to the national level. The Europe 2020 strategy acts as a policy framework for these recommendations. As of 2019, guidance on investments to be funded by cohesion policy is provided by the Commission in the context of the European Semester.
Cohesion policy is the EU's main investment policy and aims to narrow the persistent social and economic disparities between and within Member States in Europe. It is delivered through three main funds: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Cohesion Fund. Together with the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), they make up the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds. Local and regional authorities are direct partners of the European Commission and the Member States and share the management of cohesion policy.
You can find pictures from the CoR plenary session for free use on our flickr gallery.
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