(Photo: © European Union / E.Scagnetti)
In his state of the Union speech in September 2011, Commission President José Manuel Barroso called for a renewed European Union. The EU Member States committed themselves to the common 'Europe 2020' framework - an extensive and far-reaching strategy aiming to improve our economic competitiveness and stimulate job creation and growth. Our goal is to increase the impact of our interventions and strengthen Cohesion Policy as the main investment arm of this renewed Union, being the key to achieve the '2020' objectives.
Cohesion Policy is both, the most important and most comprehensive financial instrument of the Union to support investments in the real economy. And Cohesion Policy works: the creation of 1.4 million new jobs in the period 2000-2006 and a significant contribution to the increase in GDP present clear evidence. The current funding period 2007-2013 provides 105 billion Euro, one third of total budget, for investments in sustainable growth (double to the previous period) and 86 billion Euro, a quarter of total budget, for investment in innovation and research & development (triple to the previous period). The European funds set long-term and active growth and employment effects in times of austerity plans and restructuring public finances.
Europe is responding to the current economic crisis, and Cohesion Policy plays a very important role in finding ways to recovery. Our instruments are flexible and have adapted to changing needs and harsher financial conditions. We have adapted and accelerated existing programmes in EU countries that face specific economic difficulties, and launched regional policy initiatives in Italy (Action Plan), Portugal (Support Group) and Greece (Priority Projects). In 2009, 11 billion euro were released to programmes as additional advance payments, and during 2011, 32 billion euro in Cohesion funding were transferred from the EU budget to Member States and regions. Emergency action will be coupled with long-term policy changes, and in particular pro-active measures to stimulate growth and make it possible for businesses to create employment.
As Commissioner for Regional Policy, I am very pleased with the Cohesion Policy proposals for the next funding period 2014-2020. With the aim to strengthen the investment arm of the EU, we propose a new approach for better performance and delivery of cohesion policy. The economic crisis and current budgetary constraints have made it clear that cohesion policy must become even more selective and targeted. We need to focus on results through concentrating on priority themes, and through a system of conditionality and incentives.
We give the necessary responsibilities to the regions and Member States, so they can adapt the programs to their specific needs. Special funding is foreseen in cities, remote areas and for cross-border projects. Better monitoring systems, clear indicators and partnership agreements shall ensure good implementation. We also aim to simplify access to funding by bringing all five funds – cohesion, regional development, social, rural development and maritime and fisheries funds - under the umbrella of a single regulation; by extending the use of simplified costs, by laying down common eligibility rules; by introducing the notion of annual rolling closure; and by generally reducing the bureaucratic burden on applicants. Future programmes can be multi-funded and are therefore truly integrated; at the same time we also proposed clearer rules for the use of financial engineering instruments.
The debate about Cohesion Policy is at its peak in the Council and very soon in the European Parliament – we are at the heart of discussions which will have a great impact on our well-being in Europe. Cohesion Policy provides a secure and stable context for public investment in harsh times. If we recognise that Cohesion Policy is one of the keys that can unlock our economic transformation, we must strive to make every effort to increase its effectiveness now.