The investment backed by EU cohesion policy 2014/2020 is improving the life of millions of citizens across Europe, focusing on those who are weaker.
But more should be done to ensure that the European Structural and Investment (ESI) funds over the next decade are more flexible and effective to counter the worrying trend of regional disparities widening while gaps decrease at national level.
The commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) met on 25 March in Romania at the key innovation hub of the city of Cluj. Local leaders from all across the EU discussed the impact of ESI funds inspired by the concrete achievements of the hosting city. With a €420m investment plan supported by EU cohesion policy the Romanian city of Cluj is progressing on strategic challenges such as urban sustainable mobility, green public transport, energy efficiency but also innovation, entrepreneurship and skill upgrade in fields like artificial intelligence, block-chain, biotech and agriculture.
“Cohesion policy is the most important achievement of the European Union and it is our duty as local leaders to promote its values because the future of Europe depends on them in all member States”, said the Mayor of Cluj-Napoca and member of the CoR, Emil Bloc. He added that, in order to successfully deliver current plans, “We need to focus more on the projects, to make the most out of the simplification efforts put in place by the Commission, and to avoid that national rules make the spending more complex.”
“Cohesion policy is not a bureaucratic or technical exercise, is about solidarity and quality of life for all citizens” said COTER chair Isabelle Boudineau, Vice-President of the Regional Council of Nouvelle Aquitaine in France. “The work done in here in Cluj, where EU funding is bringing sustainability, innovation and social inclusion, is crucial to show what is at stake in the negotiations for EU’s budget 2021-2027: Europe can be relaunched only from its regions and cities, reducing disparities and addressing the specific needs of local communities”.
“In our continent well-being is not fairly distributed. Convergence at national level has gone hand in hand with regional divergence. This is a challenge from a social and economic point of view,” said Regional and Urban Policy Commissioner, Corina Creţu, stressing that: “Cohesion Policy delivers local responses to global challenges like innovation, competitiveness, climate change, and transition to a digital and low carbon economy. We hope that Member states in negotiating the next EU budget understand that they can take decisions at global level. However regions and cities are best placed to address the needs of citizens and make those decisions work”.
During the debate COTER members underlined the impact of the cooperation between the CoR, the Commission and the European Parliament in shaping future cohesion policy, and expressed their concerns about the timing of the adoption of the new regulations. “We need to ensure that our regions and cities can begin working on the next programmes from the first day of the new period. To achieve this, we need the Commission proposals on Cohesion and budget to be adopted as soon as possible, already during the Romanian presidency of the Council of the EU”, stressed Commissioner Creţu during the debate.