In the context of this year's European Week of Regions and Cities (EWRC), the Committee of Regions (CoR) has officially launched the “Cohesion Alliance", a coalition of stakeholders for a strong and efficient cohesion policy in the future.
Eight months before of the presentation of the proposal for the EU budget post-2020, the alliance of regions and cities aims to point out the importance of cohesion policy and argues that neither Brexit nor the increased funding of other policy areas should undermine it. In the conference with the theme "Building the Cohesion Alliance" on 11 October in Brussels, experts on cohesion policy as well as representatives of cities and regions contributed with their testimonials.
"The fight for cohesion policy has only just begun" said Dr. Michael Schneider, CoR rapporteur on the Future of Cohesion policy beyond 2020 , highlighting that investment in cohesion policy has indeed achieved positive tangible results, for example, in job creation and GDP growth and in the reduction of regional disparities. In addition, he stressed, cohesion policy serves as a powerful expression of European solidarity since it gives all citizens, irrespective of their place of residence, an opportunity to experience the benefits of the EU.
For these reasons, Mr Schneider concluded that cohesion policy must continue to be an effective long-term investment tool with sufficient resources to which at least one third of the future EU budget should be allocated. In order to reach that goal, he pleaded for an increased cooperation with other European institutions.
According to Stefano Bonaccini, President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) and governor of the Emilia-Romagna Region, "structural funds have changed the living environment of many regions, in terms of employment, industry, administration, infrastructures, skills, green areas, and enterprises." To make cohesion policy even more efficient, he advocates more flexible rules in order to adapt the investments’ choice to each territorial context: "For instance, common thematic objectives or investment priorities should be determined according to local and regional needs, not uniformly earmarked at EU level."
A similar stance was taken by Daniël Termont, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Ghent. Representing the perspective of cities, he pledges that in the future cities must be involved in shaping policy priorities since mayors are aware the most pressing local challenges. That way, cohesion policy could even produce more benefits that it already does. "As Mayors, we clearly see the results of cohesion policy in our cities. In brief, it allows cities to take their responsibility in making a social Europe that works by creating perspective, offering work and social protection." For that reason, Termont argued, cohesion funds should continue to be allocated to all European cities, not only the poor ones.
Enrico Rossi , the Vice-President of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions of Europe (CPMR) and President of Tuscany region, welcomed the attempt to speak up with one voice against a possible reduction in resources destined for cohesion - especially with regard to Brexit and re-allocations of the upcoming EU budget: "Surely there are new challenges such as immigration, security and defense, but cohesion policy cannot pay the bill". Mr. Rossi however also took a look on the perspective of the citizens and stressed that for the future a better communication of the importance of cohesion policy better to the citizens is needed. A good example on how that can be achieved comes from his own region: "In Tuscany, we are already doing it: We have produced a study which demonstrates with concrete examples the impact that the European Structural and Investment Funds have had on our territory during the last programming."
During the conference, Prof. Ugo Fratesi from the Politecnico di Milano presented the main ideas discussed in more than 120 EWRC workshops. These included efforts to increase the role of the citizen by better integrating them in local communities, to boost urban development and to establish new tools in the implementation of cohesion policy, most importantly the increased inclusion of regional and local authorities and non-state actors and a stronger cooperation of national and supranational levels. Moreover, Prof. Fratesi emphasized that a better communication of the importance and need of cohesion policy is needed in order to raise the awareness of the citizens about its benefits."
In his final and inspiring response to Fratesi's presentation, Mark Lemaitre's (DG Regio) appealed to be more proud of the European cohesion policy: "Cohesion policy is like the EU itself – more admired outside of the EU than inside. Indeed, other parts of the world are admiring its features such as public investment. We are ahead of our time and we have a potential which today is not fully exploited yet. Cohesion policy is a goldmine."
In the next eight month, the Cohesion Alliance invites municipalities, regions, universities and enterprises to sign their 10 key principles.