Regional policy’s contribution to the Europe 2020 Strategy and the future of EU cohesion policy were debated at the launch of the annual European Week of Regions and Cities Open days in Parliament on Monday. The four-day event, organised by the European Commission and the Committee of the Regions, brings together over 6,000 participants in 130 seminars in Brussels and over 260 events across Europe.
The opening session, which coincided with a meeting of Parliament's Regional Development Committee and a Committee of the Regions plenary session, brought together some 800 representatives from public institutions, businesses, universities and civil society to discuss this year's Open Days theme "Europe 2020: Competitiveness, co-operation and cohesion for all regions".
Regional policy – a partnership
"We are on the eve of launching the debate on the future Cohesion Policy, and for us, Members of the European Parliament, it is of utmost importance to confront our ideas and to hear your voice on the present and the future of this policy, said Parliament's Regional Development Committee Chairwoman Danuta Hübner.
"To achieve the ambitious 2020 goals on a European level – whether investing 3% of EU GDP in R&D or the 20/20/20 climate/energy objectives or the targets for employment, education, or poverty reduction – we need to translate them into regional goals,” said Regional Policy Commissioner Johannes Hahn. “This event, in bringing together key players from the public and private sectors, can help to translate these ambitions into practical measures,” he added.
Committee of the Regions President Mercedes Bresso underlined: "for its success, EU cohesion policy relies on some basic principles: We need to concentrate on selected priorities and develop an integrated view across all policy areas; we need all levels of government pulling in the same direction, we need to develop partnerships between public authorities and social partners, and we must respect the specific situation of each city and region."
The Commission will shortly present its initial thoughts on the EU budget review, and the debate on cohesion policy after 2013 will take place in the coming months.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "we must ensure that expenditure is more efficient, European added-value is increased, and implementation is simplified. Of course, we cannot ignore budget pressure. But I wish to make one thing clear: the basic principles of cohesion policy will not change. This policy is an expression of European solidarity, which is at the heart of our integration process."
"Economic, social and territorial cohesion will be a strong priority for the EU's Belgian Presidency", said Minister-President of the Walloon region Rudy Demotte, adding that when helping to shape the future policy, it will focus on a small number of priorities: innovation, knowledge society, development of skills, and a green and competitive economy.
Funding: better co-ordination and innovation needed
"A strong and well-financed EU regional policy is a sine qua non condition for achieving social, economic and territorial cohesion," said European Parliament Vice-President Rodi Kratsa-Tsagaropoulou, underlining that the future policy will need to embrace better co-ordination with national budgets, more flexibility to reflect regional differences, and more focus on cities.
Raising funding for research or innovation projects can be difficult due to complexity of the products and technologies, or reluctance of banks in putting a value on intangible investments, noted European Investment Bank President Philippe Maystadt, adding that the EIB, with its subsidiary the European Investment Fund, had therefore worked with the Commission to set up a range of instruments to help improve access to finance, and concluding that the EIB was committed to developing new funding mechanisms to meet new challenges.
Ms Hübner concluded that the debate had given a clear message of "broad support for a strong cohesion policy in the future", which includes all regions and focuses on innovation, research, and a green economy that generates jobs and helps European regions to become more competitive.