Here is a summary of the priorities of Ireland's Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, as presented by Irish ministers to European Parliament committees. These presentations were all made in the week of 21-25 January, except for agriculture (31 January).
Centrally-managed EU funding from the "Connecting Europe Facility" (CEF) could boost investment in trans-European energy, telecoms and transport (TEN) networks and hence EU competitiveness, said the three CEF co-rapporteurs in Tuesday's joint debate in the Transport and Industry committees. But ring-fencing some EU cohesion fund money for the CEFwould undermine EU regional funding principles, objected other MEPs.
Regional Development Committee MEPs are set to start talks with member states on the EU's post-2013 cohesion policy, after Wednesday's votes on their mandates to negotiate the legislative package proposals. MEPs called for greater involvement of regions and local authorities in designing regional programmes and more flexibility for regions to set priorities. Regional policy funding should not depend on member states' budget discipline, they added.
Still-controversial issues to do with "better spending" of EU structural funds were debated by Regional Development Committee MEPs and Commissioner Johannes Hahn on Tuesday, in the run-up to the July vote that will mandate MEPs to negotiate the "cohesion" reform package.
Stalled regional development projects that crisis-hit countries need to kick-start their recovery, but to which banks will not lend because they lack liquidity or deem them too risky, could win fresh funding if public and private investors were to share the risk, under a proposal backed by the Regional Development Committee on Tuesday.
As co-legislator, Parliament will see that cohesion policy is not diverted from its primary aims as it is adapted to new economic and budgetary needs, said regional development and employment committee MEPs in debates Tuesday and Wednesday on cohesion policy reform proposals tabled by the Commission this autumn. MEPs want the reform negotiations completed by the end of 2012.
"We are undertaking a radical change in Greek society and institutions to create a more rational and more competitive development model", regional policy minister Michalis Chrysochoidis told the Regional Development Committee on Tuesday. Mr Chrysochoidis discussed with Regional Development Committee MEPs how best to improve the take-up of EU structural funds, cut bureaucracy and invest in growth and jobs, especially for young people.
The EU should pay up to 95% of regional development project costs in in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Latvia and Hungary so as to permit and accelerate investment in growth and jobs, said Regional Development Committee MEPs in a vote on Monday. Regions in countries experiencing macro-economic turmoil should benefit temporarily from better funding conditions to spur rapid recovery.
How can EU cohesion policy be made a sharper investment tool for building competitiveness and creating jobs, and yet at the same time be tailored to the specific needs of each region? Regional Development Committee MEPs and their national counterparts held a preliminary debate Wednesday with Commission and Council representatives on reform plans for 2014-2020.
To spur recovery in regions hardest hit by the crisis, the EU should pay up to 95% of regional development project costs in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Romania, Latvia and Hungary, said Regional Development Committee MEPs on Wednesday, backing Commission proposals to this end.