Cohesion Policy funding is high on the European Parliament’s agenda this month. During plenary votes in mid-February, MEPs can pave the way for a genuinely sustainable future for regional development funding.
Or they can continue to prop up the economy of the past, based on fossil fuels. I believe that the Parliament’s climate credibility is on the line.
A few days before the UN climate summit in Poland late last year, the European Commission published a draft long-term strategy for EU countries, aiming to hit climate-neutrality by 2050 and, therefore, avoid the massive costs of climate change.
The EU’s climate policy and its public investment plans must be consistent. They are two sides of the same coin. Continued funding for fossil fuels would definitely put Europe off target.
So the EU needs to earmark more funding for climate action while excluding funding for fossil fuels. This should in turn reduce global warming and its economic costs which outweigh the costs of climate action.
At the moment the Parliament is busy working on what the funds for Cohesion Policy should look like between 2021 and 2027.
On 13 February, the plenary will decide on the Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), which sets the guiding principles of how EU funds should be spent, and on the following day the Regional Development Committee will take its position on the future European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Cohesion Policy funding seeks to reduce territorial inequalities across the EU and to foster the economic development of its lesser developed regions. Nowhere is the need greater for effective and focused spending than in central and eastern Europe, whose economies are on the whole more carbon-intensive than in the rest of Europe.
It is therefore paramount that EU funds help these regions move faster towards clean energy and zero-carbon infrastructure, which is not yet guaranteed despite recent positive developments.
"Cohesion Policy can address one of the most pressing challenges faced by Europeans as well as make a major contribution to achieving the EU’s climate priorities"
The choice European regions will have to make is simple: set out on a path to sustainable development and a just transition that creates high-quality employment for the long term, or remain lagging behind.
In January, the CPR adopted in the Regional Development Committee improved an earlier proposal from the Commission through the introduction of new provisions aiming at “climate proofing” the next generation of Cohesion Policy funding.
In addition to cutting funding for fossil fuels including gas, the provisions emphasise the energy efficiency first principle and prioritise emissions cuts and a zero-carbon pathway in line with the EU’s climate and energy targets for 2030.
However, these climate proofing provisions must pass the plenary test in mid-February. This is why it is worrying that MEPs continue to push for funding for fossil gas as an eligible form of green funding despite its harmful impact on the climate.
While the Commission initially proposed to exclude all fossil fuels from the EU Budget, these MEPs have shot this down.
Parliament has always striven to be a climate leader. As our term comes to a close, MEPs should look to the future and focus on what is important for future generations of Europeans.
Cohesion Policy can address one of the most pressing challenges faced by Europeans as well as make a major contribution to achieving the EU’s climate priorities.
Let’s not fall at the final hurdle.