Regional policy chief explains the importance of EU funded growth strategies

Europe's social and economic actors are looking forward to the next phase of EU structural programming, argues Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso.

This year's Open Days event comes at a time when regional and local authorities are focusing all their energy in finalising the 2007-2013 structural funds programming period and doing all they can to avoid delays in launching the 2014-2020 programmes. As the effects of the crisis continue to take hold, the past few years have proven just how necessary and powerful EU regional policy really is. Now more than ever many social and economic actors are looking forward to the next phase of programming with high expectations.

If we count cohesion policy (€325bn), the European rural development fund (€85bn) and the European maritime and fisheries fund (€6.5bn) – more than €400bn of EU funding over the next seven years is at stake. It's a significant amount of money which holds particular importance given the grave economic situation that we face and crucial if we are to deliver the EU's growth strategy, Europe 2020. But worryingly, right now it is hard to know when these funds will be made available due to delays in the negotiations.

"Thousands of local authorities, enterprises, associations, students and young professionals looking for a job, urgently need to have access to relevant opportunities linked to EU co-funded projects"

Thousands of local authorities, enterprises, associations, students and young professionals looking for a job, urgently need to have access to relevant opportunities linked to EU co-funded projects. This is why central governments, regions and cities are becoming increasingly involved in a race against time to have the new operational programmes ready for delivering in the second half of 2014. It is not an easy task, also because the programmes are being designed in the absence of an adopted legal framework since negotiations on the cohesion policy legislative package are not over. We don't know yet, for instance, what will be the fate of the macroeconomic conditionality and performance reserve proposed by the European commission which have been firmly opposed by the Committee of the Regions as well as the European parliament.

But one of the most worrying issues concerns the programmes' adoption procedures. New regulations will probably not be published before late November or even December this year. If we are to avoid missing a whole year we need strong partnerships among all the actors involved, from Brussels to the local communities. It's not only a matter of time, procedures and bureaucracy. As local and regional politicians we are fully aware that despite the time constraints, we need to ensure the highest quality in the new programming and to deliver a sustainable and effective recovery strategy. We therefore need to exploit the traditional points of strength of this policy, such as its bottom-up approach involving all key players for growth, as well as its mid- and long-term vision of economic and social development that provides a stable framework to plan public and private investment.

We have to take advantage of relevant novelties linked to the cohesion policy reform shaped also with a relevant contribution by the Committee of the Regions. First of all, our fight against youth unemployment will only be effective by deploying new schemes and programmes, such as the youth guarantee. Moreover, we must count on stronger flexibility in mobilising funds within integrated programmes, focused on clear priorities. Resources can be better allocated thanks to the introduction of the new category of "transition regions" (beside less and most developed ones) and sustainable urban development will be supported through new tools and partnerships.

In such a challenging scenario, Open Days provides a unique opportunity for networking, capacity-building, communicating and debating the main challenges being faced locally. In addition to around 100 workshops and a master class for 77 early career researchers in the field of regional and urban policy, over 300 local events will be organised all over Europe through until the end of November, bringing Open Days close to citizens, thanks to the commitment of the Committee of the Regions' members.

This significant mobilisation is more and more relevant given the intense EU agenda of the coming months. Cohesion policy accounts for one third of the overall EU budget. For millions of citizens this policy is the true face of the European Union. In many regions especially in the more impoverished areas, its capacity to address local challenges by valorising the potential of each community depends largely upon the trustworthiness of the EU project as a whole. This why over the coming months, the democratic debate linked to the EU funded growth strategies for the next seven years will massively contribute to the public discussion related to the 2014 elections and to the future of Europe.

Read the most recent articles written by Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso - Brexit talks must not be marred by discrimination