Last week European Commissioner Corina Cretu published an article on the need for Europe to build on territorial cohesion: “Cohesion Policy alone won’t heal Europe, but Europe won’t heal without Cohesion Policy”. This idea which is very dear to AER, is particularly relevant in the current geopolitical context and is the foundation of the new AER political priority: A Strong Europe.
Commissioner Cretu identifies climate change, populism and ineffective communication as major challenges for Europe and reasserts the need for a policy, which is close to citizens’ needs and visible to citizens.
And indeed Cohesion Policy is key to turning speeches into actions: This is why AER members gathered last September to demand a strong renewed EU Regional Policy after 2020. 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.
Action for climate change, Corina Cretu says, needs to be concrete and go beyond discussions and declarations, “2017 will be about implementing, taking measures to defeat climate change in the long run! The clock is ticking, we cannot afford to give time time anymore.”
Echoing the work which AER has been carrying out in 2016, in particular on the occasion of the “Communication and Actions in times of crisis” in Timis, the Commissioner underlines how important communication is to counter populist slogans “Institutions, including traditional media, have been slow to react to the technological and societal revolution that has engulfed the world”. This makes it necessary to use different communication channels, improve direct contact with citizens, but more importantly to provide meaningful content.
Europe is good news
“Europe is good news, however it is not always perceived as such. The conclusion is therefore that we are failing to share the good news with Europeans” the Commissioner states. AER members fully share this perspective as they stated in the AER Vienna Declaration Status quo is not an option for the European regions:
In order to better promote the European project and to make it clearer to the citizens, communication should be made on the level where it belongs, therefore the implementation of the principle of subsidiarity is key. Decision-makers should explain how the political process takes place before it becomes a concrete decision, thus enforcing the idea that Europe is also a political project endorsed by political leaders. Peace and democracy are Europe’s greatest achievements and should not be taken for granted; all actors are responsible to take responsibility and to exchange with citizens. We need to involve young people in the visions and values of Europe. There is a need for stronger leadership to endorse the European project and to promote its ideas and touch the citizens’ emotions. The EU regional policy remains one of the important tools to promote the concrete outcomes of European cooperation.
A solid, efficient regional policy for all
In her article Commissioner Cretu promises to secure “a solid, efficient regional policy for all in the post 2020 financial period, by simplifying access to EU funds, by making it more flexible and thus readier to react to unforeseeable events”. AER welcomes this statement and reassesses the need for an EU Regional Policy for all to remain a central policy area.
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. As Dr Hande Özsan Bozatli, AER President said “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 impact on the everyday life of our fellow citizens”.