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16th Feb 2019

Polish diplomats instructed to defend EU cohesion

  • Warsaw city centre: Poland is the largest beneficiary of Cohesion Policy, but the budget line also has an ideological value (Photo: EUobserver)

With the EU fast approaching talks on its €1 trillion 2014-to-2020 budget, Warsaw has set out its strategy for protecting the bloc's Cohesion Policy, the golden goose of subsidies that put Poland in line to receive €67 billion of EU money in the 2007 to 2013 period.

The 12-page strategy paper, entitled "Position of the Polish government on the Cohesion Policy after 2013," was approved by an internal unit of the foreign ministry on 30 July and is to serve as a blueprint for Polish negotiators in Brussels.

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The document, obtained by Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza and seen by EUobserver, spells out the political logic for keeping the policy intact in the coming years.

The Cohesion Policy is a "promoter of integration" and "contributes to the growth potential and global competitiveness of all European regions" at a time when "the EU is going through a difficult financial and economic period, which is impacting its political unity."

It says the existing €347 billion Cohesion Policy basket of funds - such as the Cohesion Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund - should be kept together and even augmented by adding in the €3.5 billion European Globalisation Adjustment Fund.

It proposes to buttress the policy's place in the EU institutions by launching new monthly meetings of cohesion-related junior ministers in Brussels.

The money should continue to be distributed under today's so-called "Berlin formula," which privileges regions with low per-capita GDP and high unemployment, the majority of which lie in the EU's post-Communist east.

Member states should have more freedom in choosing spending priorities, with the Cohesion Policy to give strong support for post-Communist-region interests such as transport and communications infrastructure, rural development and "building good neighbourly relations with countries bordering the EU."

Polish diplomats will also be pushing for softer rules on getting EU clearance for grants. For example, administrative-type errors in applications should not invoke EU penalties, Warsaw's paper says, while countries that perform well in administering EU funds should receive a reward to the tune of five percent of the value of the programmes in question.

The EU debate on the 2014 to 2020 budget will get under way after 21 or 28 September, when the European Commission publishes a reflection paper on spending. It will gather steam when the commission puts forward its formal 2014 to 2020 proposal in April 2011 and is expected to last until late 2013.

The countries which put the most into the budget - Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain - are the biggest players.

But Poland is in a good position to shape talks because it begins its EU presidency shortly after the April 2011 proposal and because of friendly relations between the Polish EU budget commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski, and Poland's centre-right Civic Platform government.

Sources in the commission and the Council said the Polish cohesion strategy is entirely predictable given its interest in keeping funds flowing.

One contact noted there is a danger that the bogeyman of "renationalisation of regional development" - the theory that each EU country should look after its own poor instead of creating a joint pot - could raise its head in the EU budget talks due to the politically painful austerity measures coming into effect across the union.

The Cohesion Policy could also "become a pawn on a giant chess board" in which rich EU states bargain with the commission by saying they will put more money into the EU coffers if less of it goes into cohesion and more of it trickles back to themselves through other budget lines.

The EU official said the Cohesion Policy is highly valued in Brussels because it touches "the spirit and purpose of the EU."

"It is simplistic and misleading to say: 'Why should Germany pay for some Polish region to get richer?' If people in, say, Lodz [a Polish city] become more prosperous, they buy German cars, it creates new markets for German companies."

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