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.
"Parliament stands ready, as full co-legislator on regional policy, to make this policy a real investment plan for Europe. Not only to bring growth and employment, but also much needed structural change and competitiveness”, said Regional Development Committee Chair Danuta Hübner (EPP, PL).
Constanze Krehl (S&D, DE), co-rapporteur for the overarching Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), said "After months of extensive discussions, I am pleased by the wide support for the new category of 'transition' regions, including the safety net for some of them, and the committee's strong 'no', to macroeconomic conditionalities within cohesion policy."
Lambert Van Nistelrooij (EPP, NL), co-rapporteur on the same regulation, added “Today’s vote stresses the role of regional players. The regulation will stimulate growth and participation in financial instruments such as EIB loans and guarantees in the less developed regions, by promoting investment in the knowledge economy. This in turn should create a ‘stairway to excellence'.”
The committee did not vote Wednesday on CPR articles relating to the financial regulations, but will do so in the autumn.
Greater involvement of regions and local authorities
MEPs backed plans to use "partnership contracts" to determine how structural funding is used within member states. Regional and local authorities must be involved in setting up these contracts from the earliest possible stage, in line with the multi-level governance approach, they said.
Common rules for implementing partnerships should be set out in a European code of conduct, they added..
More flexibility within an integrated approach
MEPs agreed in principle to plans to ring-fence funding for the Europe 2020 strategy's thematic areas, but asked for more flexibility to set the programmes' objectives. Multi-fund programmes should also be supported, in order to ensure an integrated approach, they added.
No to macroeconomic conditionality and performance reserve
MEPs deleted from the regulation the Commission's controversial macroeconomic conditionality proposal, under which payments to regions could be suspended, which would penalise them for the lack of budgetary discipline of their member state. They also voted against a performance reserve of 5% of funds, fearing that this could lower the overall ambition of project goals.
Higher co-financing rates to spur recovery
The committee voted to raise co-financing rates for the new category of "transition" regions (75% EU contribution, compared to 60% proposed by the Commission) and a uniform maximum co-financing rate for less-developed regions of 85% (the Commission had proposed differing rates according to regions' per capita GDP).
European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
"We agreed to send a clear signal to future ERDF beneficiaries on what it will be potentially possible to finance after 2013, by agreeing on the list of eligible investment priorities", said ERDF rapporteur Jan Olbrycht (EPP, PL).
MEPs also agreed on a new concept of the "urban dimension" of cohesion policy and said that regions should be enabled to choose one extra objective from the Europe 2020 list in the Commission proposal.
"The Cohesion Fund part of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) funding will only benefit cohesion member states," said rapporteur on the Cohesion Fund regulation Victor Boştinaru (S&D, RO), adding that the CEF's needs would have to be reconciled with cohesion spending principles.
MEPs agreed that the Cohesion Fund could contribute to the CEF, but said that co-financing rates applicable to the fund must be respected.
European territorial cooperation goal (ETC)
"I am delighted that an overwhelming majority of colleagues recognised the importance of European territorial cooperation, by agreeing to the proposal to earmark 7% of the entire funds' budget for it", said rapporteur on the ETC regulation Riikka Manner (ALDE, FI).
The ETC should help to link up excellence research centres and emerging institutions, especially in less developed regions, MEPs added.
European grouping of territorial cooperation (EGTC)
“Increasing funds for cross-border cooperation and strengthening the EGTC will contribute decisively to boosting territorial cooperation across EU internal borders and beyond“, said rapporteur on the EGTC regulation Joachim Zeller (EPP, DE).
Parliament's negotiators will talk to the Council and the Commission over the summer, starting with a technical meeting on Thursday 12 July. The Regional Development Committee should adopt the rest of its negotiating mandate in the autumn and put the whole package to a final vote once the negotiations are over.
In the chair: Danuta Hübner (EPP, PL)
The legislative package includes an overarching regulation (replacing the five existing ones) setting out common rules for the ERDF, the ESF, the Cohesion fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. It also includes specific regulations for the ERDF, the ESF, the Cohesion Fund, the ETC, the EGTC, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) and the EU Programme for Social Change and Innovation (PSCI).
The Regional Development Committee is the lead committee on the Common Provisions Regulation and the ERDF, Cohesion Fund, the ETC and EGTC regulations. The Employment and Social Affairs Committee has the lead on the ESF, the EGF and the PSCI.