Regional policy is 'key' to exiting the EU's economic crisis, says commissioner

Value for money and flexibility are at the heart of the EU's new-look regional policy, explains Johannes Hahn.

By Johannes Hahn

30 Sep 2013

This year's Open Days event, "Europe's regions and cities taking off for 2020", comes at a particularly crucial time for regional policy. On the one hand, we have visible results and outputs on the policy's contribution to the EU's economic recovery over the last seven years, while on the other hand we are on the cusp of reforming the policy for the period 2014-2020 to better tackle the challenges and meet the priorities of Europe 2020. Open Days 2013 will reflect on the need for such a change before the start of the new programming period.

With the current economic downturn, I believe that regional policy is the key policy at European level to exit the crisis. Over recent years, this policy has shifted from an infrastructure oriented one towards an investment policy addressing the key challenges of tomorrow. Such investment is needed not only in the poorest EU regions, but across all Europe's regions to ensure they stay competitive. The policy is now supporting projects that help SMEs, encourage innovation, generate sustainable jobs and stimulate economic activity.

However, we have a duty to ensure that the money is spent in an efficient way. We have to guarantee that we make the best use of those funds, invest them wisely and get the best possible return. Additionally, the policy should be capable of great flexibility to adapt to changing needs. This is even more crucial in our current times of crisis and tight fiscal constraints.

These principles are at the heart of our new reformed policy currently being discussed in the European parliament and council. [pullquote]The proposals for post-2013 are designed to ensure that the EU invests in key areas of growth to stay competitive in an ever more globalised economy[/pullquote]. The emphasis is on an effective policy highlighting results in line with better spending.

First, resources will be concentrated on a small number of growth-enhancing investment priorities. Between 50 and 80 per cent of the budget – depending on the category of region – will be directed at measures to support research and innovation, the digital agenda, the competitiveness of SMEs and the shift towards a low carbon economy. This thematic concentration aims to ensure maximum impact of investment to get Europe back on track to economic recovery and to stay competitive on a global scale.

Second, in the next round of regional policy, we are particularly focusing on delivering clear and tangible results. Those should be monitored, measured and integrated in all programmes. In addition to that, member states and regions have to fulfil strict conditions before they can invest. These are for example conditions to ensure that EU legislation is transposed into national legislation, or conditions to make sure that all kinds of administrative blocks are cleared. The new reforms also aim for a closer link between regional policy and economic governance to optimise the impact of investments. Finally, transparency will be increased on where and how EU investments are used.

I am sure you will appreciate this new direction that I have steered the policy towards. It is in the interest of all taxpayers that every single euro is spent wisely to help our regions become more competitive. The reforms will equip regional policy with the right tools to tackle the EU's main obstacles to growth.

It is now crucial to agree the last open issues of the reform package. The actual implementation is up to the regions, cities and member states of Europe. They will decide how to translate the EU priorities into concrete actions that have a real impact on the ground.

I invite all regions and cities to use the time during this year's Open Days event to learn more about the priorities of the next phase of the structural and investment funds, and to exchange views with each other on how to effectively target those funds. It will be the ideal opportunity to learn from each other. Let us all return to our member states and regions with new ideas of how the funds can contribute to achieving growth and jobs.

Finally, I would like to welcome the participation of the Croatian regions to Open Days. On 1 July, the Republic of Croatia joined the European Union as its 28th member state. The EU structural and investment funds available to Croatia until the end of the year amount to €450m. Some €8bn will be allocated for the period 2014-2020. This investment will support Croatia in strengthening economic, environmental and inclusive growth in its regions.

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