EU must avoid 'one size fits all' regional policy

EU policies would be much more effective if regions were more involved in designing them, argues Michael Schneider.

By Michael Schneider

13 Oct 2015

A successful policy to combat unemployment may require a very different set of tools depending on whether it is applied in Andalusia, Saxony-Anhalt or Peloponnese, even if it is tackling the same problem.

Likewise, regulating marine environments and fisheries might have a different cost distribution and benefits for Baltic sea ports than for Mediterranean fishing villages. Nothing describes the complexity of the European project better than its motto, 'united in diversity'. 

It should always be kept in mind when designing policies meant to fit all member states, regions and municipalities, which are so rich in their uniqueness and specificities. EU policies should not extend disparities between our continent's regions and cities, or even compensate for the geographical or demographic disadvantages that some of them face. 


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Policies should be better coordinated and optimise their spatial impacts, while avoiding any negative effects that conflicting measures might have.

To this end, over the last few years, the Committee of the Regions (CoR), the European People's Party group in particular, have been strongly advocating the inclusion of territorial impact assessments (TIAs) as a standard practice in the impact assessments the Commission carries out for new or revised policies. 

We strongly believe these will help improve EU policymaking, especially since the implementation of nearly 70 per cent of all legislation takes place at local and regional level.

Early assessment of territorial impacts could not only help the institutions improve the quality of their policymaking, it would also provide them with data leading to a more effective distribution of funds. 

On the one hand, TIAs, as part of a 'subsidiarity check', are a key argument for taking action at EU level, should this be of greater benefit than action at national or regional level.

However, they can also be useful in shedding light on potential downsides to policy proposals, which is especially important in view of the principle of proportionality.

Impact assessments are vital for regions, as although they are not directly involved in the legislative process, they are the ones who must implement and enforce the laws. This is a chance for regions to make sure their interests are taken into consideration.

It also allows them to map out the potential effect of a legislative proposal in an integrated and balanced way, covering social, economic and environmental aspects and when possible, their potential short and long-term cost and benefits.

We are proud that thanks to intense efforts by the CoR, the TIA was recently included in the Commission's impact assessment toolbox, and the territorial dimension is now included in the new better regulation package. This is clearly a positive step in the right direction.

There is still a lot that could be done, but stronger focus on subsidiarity and proportionality in the impact assessment guidelines is an encouraging development.

One of the CoR's most important partners, since we started developing our territorial impact assessment strategy, has been the European observation network for territorial development and cohesion (ESPON). 

On top of stakeholder consultations - TIA's core method - ESPON have developed a very useful 'quick scan' tool which helps us assess legislative proposals in their ex-ante phase. Its design allows us to transpose experts' discussions into maps, based on the available statistical data.

Thanks to these advancements, the CoR has already successfully carried out ex-ante TIAs on several important portfolios, including the circular economy package and the smooth phasing out of milk quotas. We are also able to produce ex-post valuation on the TIAs of birds and habitats directives from July this year. 

Additionally, following a series of conferences on the topic, including a roundtable last June, a pilot project between DG Regio and the CoR was launched to test a peer group of cities on urban impact assessment.

Given the CoR's increased competences under the Lisbon treaty and the ever-growing importance of the territorial dimension in impact assessments, we consider TIA expertise to be a crucial competence the CoR should be developing further.

We see its added value and potential in future contributions to the work of the Parliament and the Commission, while also strengthening our cooperation with other key actors such as Eurostat and the joint research centre.

 

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