Monday

25th Mar 2019

Interview

EU regions chief fires warning shot over funding cuts

  • A sign showcasing a project which received money from the European Regional Development Fund (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The EU's funds for developing its poorer regions are at risk - but for most EU member states, the budget of the so-called cohesion policy is not a number one priority.

"It is always a problem to find a front state for a battle where regions are the most important actors," the president of the Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, explained to EUobserver in an interview.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Although Austria's federal government is hawkish on the EU budget, a member of one of its regional governments came to visit Committee of the Regions president Karl-Heinz Lambertz (r) to show support for the Cohesion Alliance (Photo: European Committee of the Regions)

Lambertz spoke to this website in Brussels on Friday (4 May), two days after the European Commission presented its proposal for the next seven-year budgetary framework.

The cohesion policy is one of the two areas where the commission proposed to inflict the biggest cuts - the other one being the common agriculture policy.

But while France, one of the EU's two biggest member states, immediately stood up to call the proposed five percent budget cut in the CAP "unacceptable", the proposed seven-percent cut in the cohesion policy has gone largely unchallenged by national politicians.

At least, when this website asked Lambertz to mention a member state which had stood up to defend the policy, the Belgian politician had no example.

"Our allies are the regions and the cities," he admitted.

"They must have an influence on their national government and the ministers who come and discuss these things here in the European institutions."

"I am not sure that we will find [a lot of] national governments who will have as first priority 'we are fighting for the cohesion policy'," said Lambertz.

He noted that the CAP and cohesion policy were very different in that regard.

Agriculture has a high symbolic value in several member states, where national agriculture ministers will defend their farmers.

"Even if you have less people working in the [farming] sector, it still remains a very important one in some countries," said Lambertz.

Nevertheless, there are initiatives that want to safeguard the cohesion and regional development funds from suffering from Brexit and the desire to increase spending elsewhere.

"You can find a list of our allies in the Cohesion Alliance," noted Lambertz.

The Cohesion Alliance is a cooperation group set up by the Committee of the Regions and European associations of cities and regions.

Just before the interview, Lambertz had a visit from Martin Eichtinger, a member of the provincial government of Lower Austria.

"He came to me because he wanted to sign individually the Cohesion Alliance," said Lambertz.

Austria speaks with two voices

So while Austria's federal government is one of the budget hawks that call for a smaller budget, there is a pushback at the regional level.

And while regional governments may not sit at the negotiating table, Lambertz noted that few federal governments can survive without continued backing from the regional governments.

Lambertz also said that the Committee of the Regions had "many friends in the European Parliament, from all parties".

He stressed that the commission's proposal was only the beginning of the negotiations on the budget, not the end.

"At the moment nothing is lost definitively," he noted.

The seven percent budget cut in cohesion policy proposed by commission vice-president Guenther Oettinger was larger than Lambertz expected.

He said it was not the "worst case" scenario which some had predicted in advance.

"But it is a very serious cut."

The regions chief said that it was not possible to say what the exact consequences of the budget cut would be, because the detailed rules of how the regional funds should be spent have not yet been published.

"I cannot give definitive comments without the details," he noted.

Moreover, he added that it was also not clear whether the budget cut was actually seven percent, or higher, depending on whether you calculate in prices adjusted for inflation or not.

In its press statements, the committee referred to a 10 percent budget cut.

The overall EU budget was proposed to increase from 1 percent of the EU's GDP to 1.11 percent.

The Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament are in favour of a higher percentage.

"I cannot imagine that it will [be] a smaller amount," said Lambertz.

He said he was not sure whether the budget discussions could be wrapped up before the European Parliament elections of May 2019, as some are hoping for.

It will be more clear whether that is a feasible goal by the end of the year, he said.

"Personally I hope that we will have some progress. But I am really not convinced that it is possible to finalise the whole thing, certainly if I am looking [at] the positions," said Lambertz.

Juncker seeks budget whip on unruly states

EU officials want discretionary powers to suspend funds from states that violate treaty values, in a bold power grab amid likely clashes with Hungary and Poland.

Commission launches seven-year budget 'bargaining'

While the European Commission's post-Brexit EU budget proposal for 2021-2027 calls for a less-than-expected increase in spending, prime ministers of net payer countries have already called the starting proposal "unacceptable".

Magazine

A tourist's guide to EU-funded Amsterdam

When it comes to projects paid for by EU regional funds, most people think of roads in Romania or bridges in Bulgaria. But richer regions also receive money. EUobserver takes you on a tour of selected projects in Amsterdam.

News in Brief

  1. EU leaders at summit demand more effort on disinformation
  2. Report: Corbyn to meet May on Monday for Brexit talks
  3. Petition against Brexit attracts 2.4m signatures
  4. Study: Brexit to cost EU citizens up to €40bn annually
  5. NGOs demand France halt Saudi arm sales
  6. Report: Germany against EU net-zero emissions target
  7. Former top EU official takes job at law firm
  8. Draft text of EU summit has Brexit extension until 22 May

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  2. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  3. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK
  4. EU avoids Brexit crash, sets new date for 12 April
  5. Campaigning commissioners blur the lines
  6. Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election
  7. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  8. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us