Committee guide: REGI providing scrutiny on implementation of cohesion policy

Written by Iskra Mihaylova on 14 April 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

It's important not just to ensure cohesion policy works, but also that citizens are aware of its successes, writes Iskra Mihaylova.

Iskra Mihaylova | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


The EU faces significant long-term challenges: the economic crisis and resulting investment gap, the migration and refugee crisis, internal and external security concerns, climate change, Brexit. Europe is under pressure now more than ever before, the EU is expected to deliver.

Parliament's regional development committee has been working in good coordination with the Commission, Council, Committee of the Regions, inter-regional cooperation organisations, regional and local authorities.

Our efforts have been focused on providing support for and scrutiny of the implementation of cohesion policy, how it can complement other EU instruments and its overall impact. 

We have also been working on outlining key message and trends for the development of cohesion policy post-2020. Almost one third of the total EU budget is allocated to cohesion policy, remains the main investment policy, with the potential to contribute significantly to Europe's sustainable development and achieve economic, social and territorial cohesion in Europe. 

These goals remain more relevant than ever, given the crises described above, threatening the very heart of the European project. In this regard, I would like to highlight several main issues the committee has been focusing on.

Urbanisation will be the defining trend over the next several decades and its importance has been reflected in the report on the urban dimension of EU policies and the Pact of Amsterdam. 

Our report on European territorial cooperation points out that Interreg has proved its effectiveness, added value and underlines the necessity of preserving it as an important instrument post-2020. The reports on an EU strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region and on the Alpine strategy highlight the importance of the macro-regional concept. 

Another report looked at smart specialisation and how to develop it post-2020. The committee also worked on reports looking at the simplification and performance of ESI funds, as well as complementarities and synergies with EFSI and other financial instruments.

One of our key achievements was reaching an agreement with the Council and Commission on establishing a structural reform programme to help member states implement structural reforms needed to create a favourable environment not only for ESI funds, but also for attracting additional investments, maximising the impact of cohesion policy.

The legislative report on specific measures for member states affected by natural disasters, recently adopted by our committee will help all member states concerned to recover quickly through additional and effective support from the European regional development fund.

Considering the current socio-economic and political context, it is extremely important to speed up the implementation of the 2014-2020 ESI funds programmes and all activities which support its implementation, such as simplification, greater flexibility and improving administrative capacity building. 

There is a strong need to focus on public and private investment in order to enhance the EU's competitiveness, to achieve better coherence between different strategies - especially in the fields of energy, transport, communications and the digital economy - and their links with regional development and urban strategies, as well as with developed smart specialisation strategies.

During the second half of this mandate, the committee will mainly focus on preparing the legislative package for the post-2020 programming cycle of ESI funds, including the mid-term review of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2014-2020 and the discussions and agreement on the post 2020 MFF. 

This will be an extremely important period for shaping a new, modernised cohesion policy post-2020 and the recently prepared report on building blocks for a post-2020 EU cohesion policy will contribute significantly to this goal.

Future legislative acts should support the process of simplifying EU law and reducing regulatory burdens, for the benefit of civil society, businesses and public authorities.

Our committee also strives to ensure, within the context of Refi t, greater flexibility to make EU funds more efficient and result-oriented, and closer to the citizens.

We live in an interconnected world that has become more fragile and prone to crises. We must be ambitious when thinking ahead to post-2020 regional and urban policy.

European territorial cooperation programmes are very important and could support responses on matters linked to migration, and foster effective integration policies.

We also contributed to Parliament's upcoming resolution on the triggering of article 50, underlining that the UK must respect its engagements towards financial commitments regarding cohesion policy, and continue its participation in Interreg programmes.

Against the current setting of Brexit and important national elections in a number of member states, what is most important is to ensure better visibility and awareness-raising on the successes and best practices of ESI funds projects, and how well they can work with other instruments. 

As Chair of the regional development committee, I would like to stress that we are strongly committed to scrutinising not just the implementation of ESI-related projects, but also how their results and outputs are communicated to citizens. European citizens need to be aware of how every euro is spent and its effect.

The future modernised regional policy should be based on performance-based budgeting, ex-ante conditionalities and thematic concentration, at the same time allowing for some degree of flexibility, in order to respond to unexpected specific needs. At the same time, we should maintain links to the European semester and the EU economic governance process, to ensure the right framework for investment in ESI funds.

I am convinced that the multilevel governance principle, the partnership principle and the European code of conduct, are particularly significant for the successful implementation of ESI funds and for ensuring their visibility on the ground, among citizens.

 

About the author

Iskra Mihaylova (ALDE, BG) is Chair of Parliament's regional development committee

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