337 Regions, cities, municipalities and interregional organisations demand a strong renewed EU Regional Policy after 2020.
Regions send a highly visible and strong signal to the leaders of Europe on the future of Cohesion policy. Under the leadership of Lower Austria (At) and the Assembly of European Regions, 337 political representatives of regions from 22 member states (71,5% % of EU population) and 5 interregional organisations signed a common declaration to demand the continuation of a EU Cohesion Policy for all regions after 2020. AER President Dr Hande Özsan Bozatli and Vice-President Treasurer Mr Magnus Berntsson represented AER member regions in this high level event.
The book of signatures
The initiative is about making a clear and united commitment for the prolongation of EU Regional Policy after the end of the current financial period with a common declaration entitled “A strong renewed Regional Policy for all regions post 2020” in the run-up to the decisions of the Council and the Parliament about the financial perspectives 2020ff. The signatures were gathered at the highest political level as a sign of the high importance for the regions. The book of signatures was handed over to representatives of EU institutions as a mandate of regions and local authorities in a Europe of the regions, notably to the President of the Committee of the Regions Markku Markkula, the EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Creţu, Ambassador Peter Javorcik, Permanent Representative, on behalf of the Slovakian EU-Presidency as well as the Chair of the Committee of Regional Development of the European Parliament Iskra Mihaylova.
Lower Austrian Governor Erwin Pröll noted that: “It is a particular honour, but especially also a clear sign that so many regions, authorities and additionally interregional organisations have joined this Lower Austrian initiative as equal partners. The signatures and the travelling of the so many regional political representatives from all member states to Brussels is the visible proof for the extraordinary importance of EU Regional Policy for all regions. Considered in a democratic Europe, both of these elements are binding on both EU legislators, the Council and Parliament in their future decisions on the multiannual financial framework 2020ff. In return, we regions are disposed to contribute actively to a better efficiency of EU Regional Policy in the interests of European added-value in the formulation of the legislation on EU Regional Policy. – BUT: the EU Regional Policy for all regions must remain as a central policy area in a Europe of the regions!”
High level conference
At the conference entitled “The contribution of EU Regional Policy to manage future challenges”, 300 regional representatives from the European member states, including approximately 25 regional presidents and 9 regional vice-presidents gathered to make their voices heard. Through the different speeches, regional representatives deplored the current situation where the Commission seems to be handling Cohesion policy without considering regional and local authorities. But they also gave a complete picture of the deep need for a cohesion policy after 2020; from the high beneficiaries of cohesion funds (Romania) to the smaller beneficiaries (Denmark) all agreed and illustrated that cohesion policy has a direct impact on citizens. In times when investment is regarded as the way forward for Europe, it seems obvious that Cohesion policy, the main investment tool for regions, needs to be maintained. Moving away from Cohesion policy would result in more centralisation and danger of alienating our citizens. Dr Hande Özsan Bozatli, AER President added “it is a shame that despite all benefits from Cohesion policy, so many political parties thrive through europe-bashing. We must all better communicate on Cohesion policy as it remains the most valuable and visible impacts on the every day life of our fellow citizens”.
In her address at the ceremony, Commissioner Creţu thanked the stakeholders for their support and stated “after the fall of the iron wall, a barrier to freedom and development, we must avoid the rise of a wall of poverty; we need a strong cohesion policy for all regions”. Ms Mihaylova concluded the ceremony by saying “the book of signatures is heavy, but not just heavy with signatures; it carries the weight of responsibility and trust, for which I thank all of you and which will remind me of the stakes at hand”.
President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula, thanked Lower Austria for the initiative noting that, “By attracting support from 188 regions representing nearly three-quarters of the entire EU population, this Declaration sends a clear message: cohesion policy must continue to lie at the heart of European Union and benefit all regions. A better Europe also means being open and committed to change which is why we need to positively reform cohesion policy after 2020. The CoR will continue to work tirelessly to ensure it is strengthened, made simpler and continues to be Europe’s innovation and investment tool in the next EU budget”
Background information on Cohesion policy
EU Regional Policy (technical term: EU Cohesion Policy) was created in 1986 with the Single European Act to contribute with concrete projects in the regions to the strengthening of economic, social and territorial cohesion. In the current financial period 2014-2020 it amounts to 351,8 billion €, 1/3 of EU budget. Besides the European overall added-value these financial means are used in the regions, cities and municipalities for coherence, structural changes, climate change, energy transition, creation of jobs, stimulation of innovation, economic growth and in the less-developed areas especially for improving infrastructure. Roughly 70% of the funds bring benefits to the citizens and enterprises in the less-developed regions and 25% in the transition and more-developed regions. Additionally, about 3% are used for the co-financing of projects for cross-border cooperation and there is still additional funding for the youth employment initiative as well as for the overseas territories and those with particularly low population density. A survey has shown that 70% of the population who is informed about EU Regional Policy sees this policy area as a central EU policy area.
The basis for the projects in the regions are the decisions about the EU multi-annual financial framework, on which discussions have already begun and which will be more concrete at the end of 2017 and planned to be completed in 2018. These decisions are taken by heads of government in the European Council and by the European Parliament. The regions are not entitled to take part in the decision. They can only contribute through their institution, the Committee of the Regions. The Regional Policy as an own EU policy area could be compromised. The influence of regions could indirectly decrease in the longer term. Europe would also be driven from afar in regional and local political decisions.