The European Union cannot tackle social, economic and territorial disparities through Cohesion Policy alone.
All EU initiatives and policies, like the post-COVID recovery plan NextGenerationEU, should fight against inequalities and promote cohesion, which must be a fundamental value of the European Union.
This is the main message of the opinion on the “Do no harm to cohesion” principle, that was adopted by unanimity on 24 May at the Plenary of the European Committee of the Regions.
Cohesion Policy is and should remain the main tool for a harmonious development of every European region.
However, all EU policies should tackle disparities among territories in accordance with the principle “Do no harm to cohesion”, introduced in 2022 by the European Commission’s 8th cohesion report. A principle that needs to become reality through a direct involvement of the Committee of the Regions, in line with the request by the European Parliament.
The President of the CoR, Vasco Alves Cordeiro said: “All places in Europe and all people, whether they are in small towns or in big cities, should benefit from a strong European Union.
“This can be guaranteed only through policies strengthening the cohesion of our territories. This is why pre-assessing all new Union policies’ footprint on cohesion is key to safeguard that no region is ever left behind. If we want to live in a European Union that offers attractive opportunities and equal chances in all territories, than the do-no-harm to cohesion motto must become a guiding principle for all policy makers.”
Last Tuesday President Cordeiro shared the CoR’s view on the future of Cohesion Policy beyond 2027 with the High-Level group of specialists set up by the European Commission.
The rapporteur Michiel Rijsherman (NL/Renew E), member of the Council of the Province of Flevoland, said: “Do no harm to cohesion should cover all European policies with spatial impact, including a requirement to respect the cohesion principles of partnership and multi-level governance.”
“Cohesion can be endangered by the fact that its funding has been used systematically to respond to recent crises or when national authorities don’t allocate maximum levels of funding to less developed and transition regions, hampering convergence process. Therefore, we call on the European Commission and Member States to optimise the use of Cohesion Policy funding in less developed and transition regions. The European Committee of the Regions will continue to refuse any attempt for centralisation of EU programmes nor will it allow disregarding the local and regional level in the future”.
The Committee considers that the most effective tool to put the “Do no harm to cohesion” principle into practice is a systematic ex-ante assessment of potential differentiated territorial impacts and effect on cohesion of all new EU policies with a territorial dimension.
Local and regional leaders underline that fighting disparities also means avoiding creating fertile soil for populism and extremism in the context of the upcoming European elections. Trade agreements, relaxed State aid rules or lack of synergies between EU funds are examples of European initiatives that could go against the levelling up process in every city and region.
Moreover, CoR members highlight that cohesion may also be endangered by the fact that Cohesion Policy resources have been used to systematically respond to recent crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although this may have contributed to preventing a further widening of disparities, regional and local leaders point out that the cohesion principles of strategic, evidence-based programming, partnership and multi-level governance should still be respected in any crisis-response instrument. Therefore, the Committee says it “refuses any attempts for centralisation of EU programmes and will not accept a further disregarding of the local and regional level in future EU programmes.”