Future Cohesion Policy
‘Territories’ to be at centre
By Isabelle Smets | Friday 02 October 2009
Discussions on the future of EU Cohesion Policy - €347 billion between 2007 and 2013 – have now been well and truly launched. A few days ago, on 2 October, the first meeting took place in Brussels of a high-level group in the European Commission to reflect on the policy’s future. Two key documents, which appeared almost simultaneously in April, serve as a basis for discussions on regional policy reform: one is by Danuta Hübner, the former commissioner in charge of regional policy and today chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development
(1), the other was drafted on behalf of the Commission by Fabrizio Barca, director-general at the Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance
In essence, both categorically reject any attempt to renationalise Cohesion Policy. Barca’s report, in particular, pays vibrant homage to the legitimacy of a policy, which he considers essential to pursing European goals. The policy, says the report, must serve two objectives: development of territories based on local/regional possibilities (it is necessary to tackle the “persistent under-use” of the endogenous resources of certain territories) and improvements in social welfare (combating social exclusion). Like Hübner, Barca suggests placing territories at the centre of EU strategy. This appears to have become something of a trend in the Commission, as further demonstrated by the recent strategy for the Baltic Sea. Both consider that EU intervention must be refocused on a few key objectives. This would reduce the range of measures that it is today possible to co-finance with the European Structural Funds. The Commission is convinced that it is necessary to strengthen the link between the Lisbon strategy and Structural Fund programmes and to further focus on the challenges of climate change.
Such an approach argues for a Cohesion Policy which continues to address all EU regions, both Barca and Hübner say. Pawel Samecki, who succeeded Hübner as commissioner, follows the same logic. Since both (or all three) defend the need to concentrate the greatest share of funds on less developed regions, where GDP per inhabitant would remain the reference indicator for prioritising funding, we are no longer talking about a ‘Sapir-style’ scenario. This was named after the Belgian economist André Sapir who, in 2003, drew up a highly controversial report for the Commission, which recommended a Cohesion Policy almost exclusively for regions in the new member states. For the Commission, a regional policy addressed to all is especially necessary since challenges, such as globalisation and climate change, affect the whole of the European Union – the EU15 as much as more recent members – at a time when national exchequers are stretched. There is no doubt, however, that some member states will call on the Sapir scenario in discussions on the new Cohesion Policy. The current Swedish EU Presidency is particularly sensitive to this possibility.
During her mandate, Hübner frequently insisted on the need to strengthen the Commission’s strategic role in defining the policy to be implemented. The same idea is taken up in the Barca report. This envisages a seamless process starting with a real political debate and leading to adoption of a European framework and signature of “strategic development contracts” between the Commission, member states and, possibly, regions. In the Barca scenario, regional and local authorities would be more widely involved than today, which the Commission is also said to support. These contracts would formally commit signatories to a strategy, results and follow-up reports.
A genuine assessment for monitoring the performance of programmes and results would also need to be established – something Barca considers is lacking today. In her reflection paper, Hübner talks of setting up a “culture of monitoring and evaluation”. During his visit to the Committee on Regional Development at the beginning of September, Commissioner Samecki also highlighted the need to concentrate further on results and performance. There are no taboos: that would perhaps necessitate setting up incentive and conditionality mechanisms for aid.
This reflection process is clearly in its infancy. Moreover, a new orientation paper by the Commission is expected by the end of the year. Major uncertainty also exists over a decisive factor: the budget. Apart from the overall size of EU expenditure, its very structure – which could radically change from 2014 – is of major importance. Whether or not the EU has its own resources, for example, will either strengthen or weaken the practice of redistributing finance between stronger and weaker member states, determining the extent of the cheques demanded by net contributors regardless of their level of development. The relative place of the Common Agricultural Policy will also be a factor, against the background of the eternal struggle that EU policies wage in their competing demands.
Future Cohesion Policy will see the setting up of genuine mechanisms to monitor programme performance (1) ‘Reflection paper on future Cohesion Policy’, published on the occasion of the informal ministerial meeting in Marianske Lazne in the Czech Republic(2) ‘An agenda for a reformed Cohesion Policy - A place-based approach to meeting European Union challenges and expectations’