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Wednesday, 9 September 2015 - Strasbourg
Investment for jobs and growth: promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion in the EU

European Parliament resolution of 9 September 2015 on ‘Investment for jobs and growth: promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion in the Union’ (2014/2245(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission’s sixth report on economic, social and territorial cohesion entitled ‘Investment for jobs and growth: promoting development and good governance in EU regions and cities’ of 23 July 2014 (hereinafter ‘the Sixth Cohesion Report’),

–  having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and in particular Articles 4, 162, 174 to 178 and 349 thereof,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 (hereinafter ‘the Common Provisions Regulation’)(1),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1301/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the European Regional Development Fund and on specific provisions concerning the Investment for growth and jobs goal and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006(2),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1304/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the European Social Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1081/2006(3),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1299/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on specific provisions for the support from the European Regional Development Fund to the European territorial cooperation goal(4),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1302/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 amending Regulation (EC) No 1082/2006 on a European grouping of territorial cooperation (EGTC) as regards the clarification, simplification and improvement of the establishment and functioning of such groupings(5),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1300/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the Cohesion Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1084/2006(6),

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 1311/2013 of 2 December 2013 laying down the multiannual financial framework for the years 2014-2020(7),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union and repealing Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002(8),

–  having regard to the ‘Territorial Agenda of the European Union 2020: Towards an Inclusive, Smart and Sustainable Europe of Diverse Regions’, agreed on at the Informal Ministerial Meeting of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning and Territorial Development meeting in Gödöllő, Hungary, on 19 May 2011,

–  having regard to the Commission’s eighth progress report on economic, social and territorial cohesion entitled ‘The urban and regional dimension of the crisis’ of 26 June 2013,

–  having regard to its resolution of 14 January 2014 on smart specialisation: networking excellence for a sound Cohesion Policy(9),

–  having regard to its resolution of 14 January 2014 on EU Member States preparedness to an effective and timely start of the new Cohesion Policy Programming period(10),

–  having regard to its resolution of 26 February 2014 on the European Commission’s 7th and 8th progress reports on the EU Cohesion Policy and the Strategic Report 2013 on programme implementation 2007-2013(11),

–  having regard to its resolution of 26 February 2014 on optimising the potential of outermost regions by creating synergies between the Structural Funds and other European Union programmes(12),

–  having regard to its resolution of 27 November 2014 on delays in the start-up of Cohesion Policy for 2014-2020(13),

–  having regard to the communication from the Commission of 19 October 2011 entitled ‘A framework for the next generation of innovative financial instruments – the EU equity and debt platforms’ (COM(2011)0662),

–  having regard to the communication from the Commission of 26 November 2014 entitled ‘An Investment Plan for Europe’ (COM(2014)0903),

–  having regard to the communication from the Commission of 13 January 2015 entitled ‘Making the best use of the flexibility within the existing rules of the stability and growth pact’ (COM(2015)0012),

–  having regard to the Special Report of the European Court of Auditors entitled ‘Financial Instruments for SMEs co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund’ (Special Report No 2/2012),

–  having regard to the Council conclusions on the sixth report on economic, social and territorial cohesion: investment for jobs and growth, adopted by the General Affairs (Cohesion) Council on 19 November 2014,

–  having regard to the opinion of the Committee of the Regions of 3 December 2014 on the sixth report on economic, social and territorial cohesion(14),

–  having regard to the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee of 21 January 2015 on the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions – Sixth report on economic, social and territorial cohesion: investment for jobs and growth(15),

–  having regard to the communication from the Commission of 9 March 2015 on the 2015 EU Justice Scoreboard (COM(2015)0116),

–  having regard to the communication from the Commission of 20 January 2015 entitled ‘Draft Amending Budget No 2 to the General Budget 2015’ (COM(2015)0016),

–  having regard to the Annual report 2013 on the protection of the EU’s financial interests – Fight against fraud,

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Regional Development and the opinions of the Committee on Budgets, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, the Committee on Culture and Education and the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (A8-0173/2015),

A.  whereas the determining role of EU cohesion policy in reducing regional disparities, promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion among the regions of Member States, and supporting job creation is incontestable; whereas cohesion policy represents the main EU-wide investment policy in the real economy and is an established tool for growth and jobs in the EU, with a budget of over EUR 350 billion until 2020; whereas, during the economic crisis, cohesion policy is proving to be an essential instrument for maintaining investment levels in the various Member States; whereas in some Member States it forms the principal source of public investment; whereas the concrete and visible nature of the results of cohesion policy has been confirmed by many different evaluation methods;

B.  whereas the latest figures for 2013 portray long-term unemployment in the Union at a historically high level of 5,1 % of the labour force; whereas long-term unemployment has crucial consequences for individuals throughout their lives and can become structural, particularly in peripheral regions;

C.  whereas there has recently been a 15 % decline in public investment in the Union in real terms, and whereas many regions, especially those facing demographic challenges, have been unable to contribute adequately to the Europe 2020 targets, in particular the headline target of reaching 75 % employment by 2020, the target of decreasing poverty by 20 million people and the target of limiting early-school leaving;

D.  whereas it is justifiable that the goals of cohesion policy have evolved over time, in response to the new challenges and threats facing the EU, and that the policy itself has become more closely linked to the overall policy agenda of the EU; whereas, nevertheless, the original role of cohesion policy – the strengthening of economic, social and territorial cohesion in all EU regions, and particularly of less developed and the least favoured regions – should be reinforced; whereas cohesion policy ought not to be regarded as merely an instrument to attain the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy and other EU development strategies but also as an investment policy in the territories;

E.  whereas, according to the Sixth Cohesion Report, the economic crisis has had a negative effect on the long-term trend towards a narrowing of regional disparities and, despite some positive tendencies, at the beginning of the new programming period disparities between regions of many different kinds remain wide;

F.  whereas through thematic concentration, cohesion policy resources are targeted at a limited number of strategic goals with growth-enhancing, job creation, social inclusion, environmental and climate change potential;

G.  whereas high rates of growth and regional economic convergence cannot be achieved without good governance, given the need for more effective involvement of all partners at national, regional and local level, in line with the principle of multitier government and including the social partners and civil society organisations;

H.  whereas the Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes are strategic tools to guide investments in Member States and regions, provided for in Articles 14, 16 and 29 of the Common Provisions Regulation with a timeline for their submission and adoption, according to which Partnership Agreements should have been adopted by the end of August 2014, and Operational Programmes by the end of January 2015, at the latest;

I.  whereas the informal Council that met in Gödöllő, Hungary, in 2011 has asked the successive Council presidencies of 2015 and 2016 to evaluate and consider whether the EU Territorial Agenda 2020 should be reviewed, taking account of how it works in practice, and then eventually lead any such review;

J.  whereas, according to Article 175 TFEU, Member States shall conduct their economic policies and shall coordinate them in such a way as to attain the objectives of overall harmonious development and strengthening of economic, social and territorial cohesion, and whereas the new Investment Plan for Europe shall therefore also contribute to these objectives;

Achievements and challenges of cohesion policy in the context of the economic and financial crisis (programming period 2007-2013)

1.  Underlines that cohesion policy is the main instrument of the European Union aimed at reducing the economic, social and territorial disparities across European regions, boosting their competitiveness, tackling climate change and energy dependence, while at the same time contributing to the achievement of the Europe 2020 strategy goals; underlines that even though they have been difficult for some Member States and regions to co-finance, cohesion policy investments have cushioned significantly the negative effects of the economic and financial crisis, and have given stability to regions by ensuring the flow of funding when national and regional public and private investments have fallen sharply; underlines that cohesion policy funding was equivalent to 21 % of public investment in the EU as a whole and to 57 % in the cohesion countries taken together;

2.  Highlights that cohesion policy has proven its capacity to react quickly with flexible measures to tackle the investment gap for Member States and regions, such as reducing national co-financing and providing additional advance payments, as well as redirecting 13 % of total funding (EUR 45 billion) to support economic activity and employment with direct effects; considers it essential, therefore, to carry out a substantial in-depth medium-term review of objectives and funding levels in line with any developments affecting the social and economic situation of the Member States or any of their regions;

3.  Underlines that the Treaty on European Union includes the objective of promoting economic, social and territorial cohesion and solidarity among Member States (Article 3 TEU);

4.  Welcomes the recent reform of cohesion policy aimed at tackling these challenges, based on a coherent strategic framework for 2014-2020 with clear objectives and incentives for all Operational Programmes; calls on all actors, especially the main authorities involved, to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the implementation of the new legislative framework for cohesion policy by strongly focusing on achievement of better performance and results; calls on all actors involved to establish properly functioning, multilevel governance and coordination mechanisms to ensure consistency between programmes, support to the Europe 2020 strategy and the Country Specific Recommendations;

5.  Stresses that a stable fiscal and economic – as well as an efficient regulatory, administrative and institutional – environment is crucial for the effectiveness of cohesion policy, but this must not undermine the achievement of its aims and objectives; recalls, in this respect, that a suspension of payments, as provided for in Article 23 of the Common Provisions Regulation, could undermine national, regional and local authorities’ capacity to plan effectively and implement the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) for the 2014-2020 period; emphasises that, in order to achieve both the cohesion and Europe 2020 objectives, the policy must be aligned closely with sectoral policies and synergies shall be achieved with other EU investment schemes; recalls, however, that in line with Article 175 TFEU all economic policies shall pursue the attainment of the objectives of economic, social and territorial cohesion;

6.  Underlines that increasing administrative capacity for programming, implementation and evaluation in the Member States is crucial for timely and successful performance of cohesion policy;

7.  Points out that although cohesion policy has softened the impact of the crisis, regional disparities remain high and that the cohesion policy objective to reduce economic, social and territorial disparities, providing special support to less developed regions, has not yet been reached everywhere;

8.  Points out that, despite the crisis and the fact that local finances have been put under great pressure, local and regional authorities have had to continue to meet the demands of citizens for more accessible public services of higher quality;

9.  Underlines the importance of reindustrialising the EU in order to ensure that industrial production represents a share of at least 20 % of Member States’ GDP by 2020; recalls, therefore, the importance of proactively supporting and strengthening the principles of competitiveness, sustainability and regulatory reliability in order to promote jobs and growth within Europe;

Implementation and payment problems

10.  Expresses its serious concern about the significant structural delays in the start-up of the cohesion policy programming periods, resulting from delay in the adoption of Operational Programmes, including through the carry-over procedure; notes that this delay may increase the pressure on payments, especially in 2017 and 2018, and thereby add to concerns over the regrettable backlog in payments, amounting to ca EUR 25 billion for the 2007-2013 programming period; notes that even though – when seen in a wider context – the situation in the cohesion policy is better than in rural development or fisheries, this concern remains as, for several Member States, a significant number of programmes have yet to be adopted; stresses that these delays may undermine the credibility of the EU budget and the cohesion policy, its effectiveness and sustainability, challenging national, regional and local authorities’ capacity to finalise implementation of the 2007-2013 period and to plan effectively and implement the ESIF for the 2014-2020 period; welcomes the recent efforts of the Member States and the Commission in this respect, but calls on the Commission to do its utmost to make sure that all remaining Operational Programmes are adopted without further delays, since the multiannual financial framework (MFF) revision necessary to use unallocated 2014 resources, and the accompanying Draft Amending Budget, have already been approved by Parliament;

11.  Recalls that the issue of the persistent payments backlog concerns cohesion policy more than any other EU policy area, with EUR 24,8 billion of unpaid bills at the end of 2014 for the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF) 2007-2013 programmes, i.e. a 5,6 % increase compared with 2013; encourages the Commission to use all available means to cover these outstanding bills; underlines that this situation hits first and foremost the smallest and most vulnerable beneficiaries of cohesion policy, such as SMEs, NGOs and associations, as their capacity to pre-finance expenditure is limited;

12.  Welcomes the fact that the Council, the Commission and Parliament have arrived at an agreement to reduce the level of unpaid bills, particularly in cohesion policy, at year-end down to its structural level in the course of the MFF, as laid down in the joint statement accompanying the 2015 budgetary agreement, and takes note of the Commission’s ‘Elements of a payment plan to bring the EU budget back onto a sustainable track’ received on 23 March 2015; reminds the Commission of its commitment to put forward a payment plan as soon as possible, and in any event before the presentation of the 2016 draft budget; furthermore, reminds all institutions of their commitment to agree on and implement such a plan as of 2015 and by the mid-term revision of the current MFF;

13.  Underlines the fact that the proposed revision of the MFF ceilings(16) transferring EUR 11,2 billion in commitments for sub-total heading 1b under Article 19(2) of the MFF Regulation, and the carryover(17) of EUR 8,5 billion in commitments under Article 13(2)(a) of the Financial Regulation from 2014 to 2015, avoid cancelling these appropriations in heading 1b, but neither genuinely address the underlying problem of the delays in programming, nor change the fact that chronically delayed implementation and systematic late payment can pose significant challenges to final beneficiaries;

14.  Underlines that the aforementioned backlog under Heading 1b of the EU budget is in fact the most important immediate factor endangering the implementation of cohesion policy, both in the previous and, prospectively, in the current 2014-2020 programming period; reiterates that the impact of this backlog is felt forcefully by the cohesion policy actors on the ground, sometimes to the extreme; calls, therefore, on the Commission to elaborate a roadmap envisaging a specific timeline of concrete, step-by-step policy actions, backed up by singled-out budgetary means, in order to reduce, and then eliminate, the backlog; hopes the Council will finally realise the seriousness and unsustainability of the situation, and be ready to contribute actively to finding a stable solution to the problem; is convinced that the first objective of these actions ought to be making 2015 the year in which this backlog reduction is felt in a tangible manner;

15.  Stresses that it is imperative to start the implementation of the Operational Programmes as soon as they are adopted, in order to maximise the results of the investments, boost job creation, raise productivity growth and contribute to the Union’s climate and energy targets, and that the Commission and the Member States should do their utmost to speed up their adoption, without any prejudice to their quality; demands that the Commission – while keeping a high focus on the need to keep up the fight against fraud – analyses all possible ways of streamlining its internal procedures in order to speed up procedures based on the two scenarios envisaged for the adoption of Operational Programmes, to avoid any further delays in the start of implementation;

16.  Asks the Commission, in view of the above: to present to Parliament the measures it envisages to facilitate, as soon as possible, the implementation of the Operational Programmes, especially in order to avoid decommitments of funds in 2017, together with a proposed timeline; to explain the impact of the delay in payments on the start of implementation of the new Operational Programmes; and to put forward solutions to limit the damage as far as possible; demands, furthermore, that the Commission, in the context of the report on the outcome of the negotiations provided for in Article 16(3) of the Common Provisions Regulation, analyses the possible impact of the belated start-up of the 2014-2020 cohesion policy on growth and jobs, and that it provides recommendations based on the lessons learnt;

17.  Considers that the 2014-2020 MFF resulting from the Commission’s proposed modification of the MFF Regulation, carrying over to 2015 alone appropriations not allocated in 2014, significantly increases the risk of de-commitment in 2018 in respect of programmes not adopted in 2014, and hence fails to encourage the full take-up of EU resources or effective support for EU investment in growth and jobs; calls on the Commission, in drawing up the 2017 strategic report provided for in Article 53 of the Common Provisions Regulation, to propose, sufficiently well in advance, appropriate legislative and other measures, so as to avoid the risk of decommitment;

18.  Is concerned about the low absorption of funds in the 2007-2013 programming period in certain Member States and warns that the underlying reasons should be tackled in order to avoid recurrence of the same problems in the next period; underlines that administrative capacity is essential for the effective and efficient implementation of cohesion policy; stresses that instability in the civil service, combined with weak policy coordination, may undermine the successful implementation of the ESIF and pose a threat to effective policy management overall;

19.  Suggests that, for the preparation of the next programming period, regulatory provisions concerning programming could be introduced separately and in advance of budgetary proposals, thus decoupling debates about content and money and leaving enough time for thorough preparations of programmes; recalls that even though the regulatory provisions are very extensive, this would not provide Member States and regions with complete assurances and may be a source of differing interpretations; notes that there is still room for simplifying regulatory provisions;

20.  Calls on the Commission to consider carefully – taking into account the possible repercussions for growth and jobs – the application of financial corrections or suspension of payments;

Cohesion policy at the core of smart, sustainable and inclusive investments 2014-2020

21.  Reiterates the original role of cohesion policy to promote economic, social and territorial cohesion and reduce regional disparities, providing particular support to less developed regions; underlines that by its nature and original set up, as stipulated in the Treaty, the policy contributes inherently to the objectives of the Union, in particular to the Europe 2020 goals of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, as well as to the fundamental Treaty objective of strengthening territorial cohesion;

22.  Welcomes the new European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI) and its potential leverage effect; underlines that the EFSI’s main objective should be to ensure economic, social and territorial cohesion, and that it should therefore benefit all the regions of the EU; highlights the need to ensure the additionality of EFSI’s resources – and, hence, the complementarity and synergy between it and ESIF, while keeping each financially separate from the other – and, in the same vein, advises the parties concerned to build on the experiences gained from the implementation of the European Economic Recovery Plan in 2008, in particular regarding smart investments;

23.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure enhanced coordination and consistency among all EU investment and development policies, and in particular the cohesion policy, as well as among ESIF, other EU funds and the national and regional funding instruments, in order to ensure complementarity and enhanced synergy, avoid overlaps and duplication of support, and guarantee a high European added value of EU funding; invites the Commission to report on synergies in the forthcoming Cohesion Reports; suggests that the implementation of the new EU investment plan builds on the experiences of the three joint initiatives JEREMIE, JESSICA and JASMINE, which allowed an increase in the delivery of Structural Funds from EUR 1,2 billion in 2000-2006 to EUR 8,4 billion in 2007-2012; calls for a broad and detailed analysis to be undertaken in consultation with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF);

24.  Underlines that cohesion policy legislation provides for the extended use of financial instruments – in order to double their contribution to about EUR 25-30 billion in 2014-2020 – by extending their thematic scope and offering more flexibility to Member States and regions; highlights the role of financial instruments in mobilising additional public or private co-investments in order to address market failures in line with the Europe 2020 strategy and with cohesion policy priorities; supports, in particular, the risk-sharing ‘SME initiative’, and calls on the Commission to make all efforts to make financial instruments easily usable and tempting for Member States and regions, thus ensuring that the doubling of contributions to financial instruments is achieved on its own merits and that stakeholder ownership of this target is well established; emphasises the need to ensure transparency, accountability and scrutiny for financial instruments that involve EU money;

25.  Warns, however, that the EFSI should not undermine the strategic coherence and long-term perspective of cohesion policy programming; stresses that a re-direction of Structural Funds would be counterproductive and can therefore not be accepted, as it would put their effectiveness – and the development of the regions – at risk; points out that the financial allocations to Member States agreed on under Heading 1b in the MFF for 2014-2020 cannot be modified for the purposes of the EFSI; emphasises that the replacement of grants by loans, equity or guarantees, while having certain advantages, must be carried out with caution, taking into account regional disparities and the diversity of practices and experiences between regions concerning the use of financial instruments; points out that the regions most in need of investment stimuli often have low administrative and absorption capacities;

26.  Warns that the flexibility allowed in selecting projects for EFSI funding poses a risk that investments are channelled to more developed Member States, undermining the economic, social and territorial cohesion; asks the Commission to monitor closely the relationship between EFSI and ESIF;

Effectiveness, efficiency and performance orientation of cohesion policy 2014-2020

27.  Highlights the importance of all measures aimed at increasing the effectiveness, simplification, efficiency, and result and performance orientation of cohesion policy that should ensure a shift from funds absorption criteria towards quality of spending and high added value of the co-financed operations; suggests in this respect to come forward with technical adjustments of the ESIF regulations concerned;

28.  Welcomes the thematic concentration in support of investments in smart, sustainable and inclusive growth aimed at creating growth and jobs, tackling climate change and energy dependence, and reducing poverty and social exclusion, as well as the enhanced focus on results and measurability in the 2014-2020 programmes, which should contribute to further increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of cohesion policy; maintains, at the same time, the requirement of greater flexibility for the regions, depending on local and regional specificities, especially in the context of the severe crisis, in order to reduce the development gaps between the various regions of the Union; calls for a genuinely integrated and territorial approach to target programmes and projects that address the needs on the ground;

29.  Calls on the Member States and the Commission to ensure coherence between National Reform Programmes and Operational Programmes with the aim of addressing the Country Specific Recommendations adequately and of providing alignment with the economic governance procedures, thus limiting the risk of early reprogramming;

30.  Recalls, in this context, Parliament’s initial opposition, and emphasises its responsibility to be fully involved, to control and to scrutinise; demands that the Commission and the Council provide full, transparent and timely information on the criteria for, and on the entire procedure that could trigger reprogramming or a suspension of commitments or payments of, the ESIF in accordance with Article 23(15) of the Common Provisions Regulation; points out that the decision on the suspension of commitments or payments should be taken as a last resort, when all other options have been exhausted and after assessments have been made of possible repercussions on growth and jobs, because suspending commitments or payments could have serious consequences for national, regional, and local authorities, as well as for the achievement of cohesion policy goals as a whole; considers that the aim of macroeconomic conditionality should be to make cohesion policy more sustainable and efficient, and rejects the idea that regions, localities or citizens should be penalised for macroeconomic decisions taken by national governments; draws attention to the possibly considerable administrative workload entailed in reprogramming of funds; recalls that a proposal for re-programming submitted in accordance with Article 23(4) of that regulation requires the prior consultation of the monitoring committee concerned as referred to in Article 49(3) of the same regulation;

31.  Points out that irregularities stem to a considerable degree from complex requirements and regulations; underlines that the number of irregularities in the implementation of cohesion programmes could be reduced through the simplification of management and procedures, early transposition of the newly adopted relevant directives and reinforcement of administrative capacity, notably in the less developed regions; stresses, therefore, the need to minimise the administrative burden for beneficiaries when ensuring the verifications necessary to ensure proper use of ESIF appropriations, as well as the need for efforts to optimise and improve the flexibility of management and control systems, place greater focus on risk assessment and correct the allocation of responsibilities among all authorities, while at the same time not undermining established strengthened control procedures, in order to prevent irregularities more effectively and, as a consequence, avoid financial corrections and interruptions in, and suspensions of, payments; is concerned about the low rates of disbursement of financial instruments to beneficiaries, in particular in view of the objective to increase the use of these instruments; asks, in this regard, the Member States, the managing authorities and other relevant stakeholders working with these financial instruments to make full use of the technical assistance provided through the Financial Instruments-Technical Advisory Platform (FI-TAP) and the fi-compass;

Employment, SMEs, youth and education

32.  Stresses that the ESIF could make a significant contribution to reversing the negative social consequences of the crisis, and that, for this to happen, an integrated approach offered by multi-fund programming should be facilitated and simplified, with more efficient coordination of, and greater flexibility among, the funds, allowing for better exploitation of the synergies between the ESF and the ERDF in particular; emphasises that investments funded by the ESF cannot produce optimal results if the relevant infrastructure and appropriate institutions are not in place; draws attention to the fact that the ESIF can effectively support social inclusion, and should therefore be mobilised to help the integration of disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, such as Roma and persons with disabilities, as well as to support the transition from institutional to community-based services for children and adults;

33.  Calls on the Commission to pay special attention to the situation of minority groups across the Union, as they are subject to all forms of social exclusion and are therefore more likely to suffer from structural unemployment; considers that any policy planning towards social cohesion in the Union must take into account the integration of minorities;

34.  Emphasises the key role of SMEs in job creation and points to their potential for promoting smart growth and the digital and low-carbon economies; calls for a favourable regulatory environment that is conducive to the setting-up and running of such enterprises, especially those launched by young people and those situated in rural areas; underlines the importance of cutting bureaucratic burdens imposed on SMEs and of facilitating their access to finance, as well as the need to support programmes and training that promote the development of entrepreneurial skills;

35.  Underlines that SMEs make up 99 % of the EU’s corporate fabric and account for 80 % of jobs in the Union;

36.  Expresses its concern over the too low ceiling (EUR 5 million) set by the Commission on ERDF support to small-scale cultural and sustainable tourism infrastructures, defined, moreover, as total costs rather than eligible costs, and stresses the strong positive impact that such projects can have on regional development in terms of socio-economic impact, social inclusion and attractiveness;

37.  Agrees with the Commission’s analysis that economic and social priorities, in particular as regards economic growth, on the one hand, and social inclusion, education and sustainable development, on the other, could be better balanced in some Member States, underpinned by a meaningful dialogue with partners and stakeholders; emphasises that a clear strategy for improving Member States’ institutional framework in terms of administrative capacity and quality of justice is a key determining factor for success in achieving these priorities;

38.  Stresses the importance of the ESF, with the Youth Guarantee and the Youth Employment Initiative, which must sustain as many viable job-creation projects as possible, for instance in the form of business initiatives;

39.  Warns that the alarming rates of youth unemployment threaten to bring about the loss of an entire generation, especially in less developed regions and those regions which have been hit hardest by the crisis and unemployment; insists that advancing the integration of young people into the job market must remain a top priority, to the attainment of which the active contribution of the EU is indispensable, and to which the integrated use of the ESF, the ERDF, the Cohesion Fund and the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI ) can make a major contribution; considers that a more results-oriented approach should be taken in this regard in order to ensure the most effective use of available resources, thereby boosting employment and competitiveness, generating more revenue and benefiting the entire EU economy; underlines, in this context, the vital role of the Youth Guarantee in helping young people under 25 either to find a good quality job or to acquire the education, skills and experience needed to find employment; highlights that all resources needed to implement the Youth Guarantee and the other measures covered by the YEI must be provided as soon as possible; believes that clear and readily understandable impact indicators should be used by which the contribution of EU funds to growth and employment can be gauged properly;

40.  Maintains that efforts must continue to be made to find further ways of improving performance as regards youth employment, given that, notwithstanding the adoption of the ESF Regulation and the Youth Employment Initiative, the results have not been good; points out that the EU is politically committed to providing immediate support for the integration of young people into the job market;

41.  Emphasises that, on account of changes in production patterns and an ageing population, the role of the ESF, and of investments in adapting workers’ skills, have grown significantly; strongly believes that, in this respect, the ESF should be complementary to national approaches in the Member States; calls on the Member States and the Commission to ensure that available resources are used as effectively and efficiently as possible with a view to ensuring workers’ employability, social inclusion and gender equality; underlines, at the same time, that training programmes financed under the ESF should also be tailored to the needs of entrepreneurs and staff at managerial level, in order to ensure the sustainable development of companies – especially SMEs – that generate a majority of the job opportunities in the Union;

42.  Calls on the Member States and the Commission to continue to work, in particular, to improve and extend the EURES platform as an effective tool for facilitating worker mobility in Europe, in particular cross-border mobility, by improving workersʼ knowledge of the Union labour market, informing them of job opportunities and helping them with formalities; encourages the Member States to develop and support EURES networks, not least in recognition of the fact that cross-border workers are the first to be hit by adaptation problems and difficulties in securing recognition of professional qualifications; notes that by bringing together public employment services, the social partners, local and regional authorities as well as other private stakeholders, these networks facilitate and support cross-border mobility;

43.  Emphasises the need to direct the creation of quality jobs with the assistance of new technologies; is of the opinion that the Commission should link the reduction of unemployment with the Digital Agenda and Horizon 2020 tools;

44.  Points out that the number of early school leavers in the Union is still very high and is affecting the youth unemployment rate; stresses that this problem needs to be tackled by modernising education systems and curricula, making use of ESF assistance;

45.  Points out that without effective cooperation between educational institutions and labour market players it will be impossible to remedy the high level of unemployment among young graduates in the EU; stresses, in particular, that through teaching of the knowledge and skills needed on the labour market, the youth employment rate has been raised and social differences narrowed;

46.  Underlines the importance of the gender dimension in job creation; calls on the Commission to allocate sufficient funding to tackle unemployment among women; is of the opinion that women could benefit from technological advances allowing for more flexible working hours, and calls on the Commission to invest in this area;

47.  Reaffirms the need to establish childcare facilities for young children so as to boost the presence of women in the labour market, and calls, therefore, on the Commission to support innovative projects in this direction; points out that investment in public infrastructures, such as childcare facilities, increases the chances for women to take active part in the economy and the labour market;

48.  Calls on the EU institutions and the Member States – with a view to achieving goals related to employment and social inclusion – to take into account the needs of women returning from maternity leave, motivate employers to recruit women after maternity leave, facilitate flexible working arrangements, and promote further education (lifelong learning) enabling women smoothly to resume their professional careers;

Governance of the policy

49.  Emphasises that cohesion policy needs to be conducted within the spirit of properly functioning multi-level governance, combined with an effective set-up for responding to the requests of the public and businesses, and with transparent and innovative public procurement, all of which is crucial to enhancing the policy’s impact; stresses, in this regard, that, notwithstanding the importance of decisions taken at EU and Member State levels, local and regional authorities often have primary administrative responsibility for public investment, and that cohesion policy is a vital tool enabling these authorities to play a key role in the EU; reiterates, hereby, the need for widespread implementation of the partnership principle as detailed in the Common Provision Regulation and the Code of Conduct on Partnership;

50.  Recommends that cohesion policy resources and knowledge be used to bolster the administrative capacity of public authorities in a significant way, especially at local and regional levels, including through greater use of new technologies and a drive for more streamlined procedures, so that their ability to offer quality services to the public is improved; calls on the Commission to define forms of administrative assistance on key issues, such as setting targets for initiatives, assessing their results through appropriate indicators and determining the next steps to be taken to help establish an administrative culture based on monitoring and evaluation across the EU; considers it important to ensure that assistance is given to local and regional authorities on the innovative financial instruments, which are crucial to increasing resources and investments, and on public procurement, which should increasingly feature as a public administration tool for spurring innovation and creativity;

51.  Regrets that the Sixth Cohesion Report does not include an in-depth assessment on the achievements of the technical assistance facility JASPERS, which during the 2007-2013 period provided the Member States with the technical expertise needed to prepare high-quality major projects for co-financing with EU funds; welcomes the launch of the JASPERS Networking Platform for capacity-building activities in 2013 and the establishment in 2014 of the Networking and Competence Centre division for delivery of specialist expertise in project preparation for the programming period 2014-2020; welcomes the establishment of a Competence Centre on administrative capacity building regarding ESIF that should contribute to enhancing the capacity of all authorities in the Member States involved in the management and implementation of ESIF;

52.  Welcomes the fact that the Commission is increasingly paying attention to the role of governance, and agrees that good governance and high-quality public services –including the absence of corruption – are essential for a stable investment environment; calls for high ambitions when it comes to making cohesion policy spending less prone to fraudulent use, and for strict application of anti-fraud measures;

53.  Is convinced that the Code of Conduct on Partnership will strengthen participation within the regions throughout all stages, in form and substance, and must be fully implemented, as it has a fundamental role to play in boosting the effects of cohesion policy and consolidating its impact on the ground; congratulates those Member States and regions that have managed to involve their partners in the preparation of the Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes in accordance with the Code of Conduct on Partnership; raises serious concerns, however, about the numerous cases of weak application of the partnership principle, and calls on the Commission not to approve programmes in which the involvement of partners has not been sufficient; stresses the importance of disseminating examples of good practices in organising partnerships, as detailed in the Code of Conduct; asks, furthermore, the Commission to present, on a regular basis, a report to Parliament assessing the state-of-play of the implementation of the partnership principle;

Territorial dimension

54.  Notes with concern the relative lack of references to the territorial approach, and in particular to cross-border cooperation, in the Sixth Cohesion Report, despite the fact that it is an essential tool for strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion; points out that the inclusion of all the cross-border and macro-regional aspects would have had an enriching effect, as far as e.g. infrastructure, labour markets and mobility, the environment (including a joint contingency plan), water use and disposal, waste management, health care, research and development, tourism, public services and governance are concerned, as all of these areas include remarkable cross-border elements and potential; is of the opinion that in the programming period 2014-2020, the performance of European border and cross-border regions in coming to terms with the crisis – by growing smarter, more inclusive and more sustainable – will improve considerably;

55.  Stresses that the integrated and territorial approach is essential, in particular when it comes to environmental and energy matters;

56.  Welcomes the introduction of new tools for coordinating stakeholders and integrating EU policies, and for focusing investments on the real needs on the ground, such as the Integrated Territorial Investments and the Community-Led Local Development instruments, seeking balanced territorial development; points to the importance of adopting instruments for assessing the territorial impact of policies, the main objective of which is to consider the territorial impact of EU policies on local and regional authorities, and to draw greater attention to that impact in the legislative process, while noting the existing challenges to implementing integrated territorial approaches, given the remaining regulatory differences across the EU funds and the greatly varying degree of empowerment of regional and local communities among Member States and managing authorities; calls for an overall, integrated EU investment strategy, and a strengthening of the EU Territorial Agenda 2020, adopted under the Hungarian Presidency in 2011 and scheduled to be evaluated by the presidencies of 2015, which includes the EU Urban Agenda; is of the opinion that particular attention should be paid to strengthening the role of small- and medium-sized urban areas;

57.  Notes with concern the lack of reference to how the principles and priorities of the EU Territorial Agenda 2020 have been taken into account through the implementation of 2007-2013 cohesion policy programmes; calls for appropriate evaluation mechanisms to be undertaken during the 2014-2020 period so that an assessment can be made of the territorial dimension of cohesion policy;

58.  Approves, nevertheless, of the fact that urban issues are highlighted by the report, given the importance of cities in the globalised economy and their potential impact in terms of sustainability; notes the commitment of European regions and cities to make the transition to greener growth, as embodied by the Covenant of Mayors; suggests that the major gaps in development between rural and urban areas should also be duly addressed, as should the problems in metropolitan regions, which are showing resilience while remaining vulnerable;

59.  Regrets that the Sixth Cohesion Report does not refer to polycentric territorial development as a key element of achieving territorial cohesion and territorial competitiveness in line with the EU Territorial Agenda 2020 and the 2013 ESPON Report “Making Europe Open and Polycentric”; highlights the role of small and medium-sized towns and the importance of enhancing the functional links of the urban centres with their surrounding areas to achieve balanced territorial development;

60.  Calls for greater respect for Article 174 TFEU on territorial cohesion, in particular in rural areas, with attention duly paid to the important relationship between cohesion policy and rural development, in particular as regards areas affected by industrial transition, and regions that suffer from severe and permanent natural or demographic handicaps, such as outermost regions, northernmost regions with low population density, and island, cross-border and mountain regions; recommends that consideration be given as well to other demographic challenges that have a major impact on regions, such as depopulation, an ageing population and highly dispersed populations; asks the Commission to pay particular attention to the most geographically and demographically disadvantaged areas when implementing cohesion policy;

61.  Is of the opinion that the Sixth Cohesion Report pays insufficient attention to European Territorial Cooperation (ETC), given that this has been a fully-fledged cohesion policy objective since the 2007-2013 programming period; recalls the potential of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) not only as an instrument for managing cross-border governance, but also as a means of contributing to a comprehensively integrated territorial development;

62.  Calls for closer coordination between cohesion policy, the Instrument for Pre-accession and the EU Neighbourhood Policy, as well as for better assessment and dissemination of the results of projects;

Cohesion policy in the long-term perspective

63.  Recalls, in view of all of the above, the necessity for a new dynamic to be given to the EU cohesion policy debate; states that the 2019 European Parliament election year will be decisive, as the then newly-elected Parliament, and new Commission, will have to deal with the termination of the Europe 2020 strategy and an upcoming new MFF, as well as to ensure the future of cohesion policy after 2020 with an adequate budget and prepare new legislation for cohesion policy; notes that the cohesion policy debate must take into account the serious time constraints and delays experienced at the beginning of the current programming period;

64.  Stresses the crucial importance of administrative capacities; calls on policy makers at all governance levels to favour targeted technical assistance for the implementation of cohesion policies in general, and in particular for the extended use of financial instruments in combination with the ESIF;

65.  Considers that cohesion policy measures have an essential role to play in reducing internal competitive disparities and structural imbalances in regions that need it most; calls on the Commission to consider pre-financing in order to facilitate the full use of funds by the Member States concerned in the 2014-2020 period, while always ensuring that the principle of budgetary accountability is upheld;

66.  Calls on the Member States to conduct regular, high-level political debate within the national parliaments on the effectiveness, efficiency and timely implementation of the ESIF and on the contribution of cohesion policy to the fulfilment of macroeconomic objectives;

67.  Calls for regular Council meetings to be held with the ministers for cohesion policy, to address the need to monitor, and to respond to, the constant challenges facing the economic, social and territorial cohesion of the EU;

o   o

68.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 320.
(2) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 289.
(3) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 470.
(4) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 259.
(5) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 303.
(6) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 281.
(7) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 884.
(8) OJ L 298, 26.10.2012, p. 1.
(9) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0002.
(10) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0015.
(11) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0132.
(12) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0133.
(13) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2014)0068.
(14) OJ C 19, 21.1.2015, p. 9.
(15) OJ C 242, 23.7.2015, p. 43.
(16) Proposal for a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 1311/2013 laying down the multiannual financial framework for the years 2014-2020 (COM(2015)0015, 20.1.2015).
(17) Commission Decision on non-automatic carryover from 2014 to 2015 and commitment appropriations to be made available again in 2015 (C(2015)0827, 11.2.2015).

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