Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

Magazine

EU regional projects see 'encouraging' shift in focus

  • Johannes Hahn - happy with his "legacy" as he heads to the European Neighbourhood policy dossier (Photo: European Parliament)

As he finishes up his mandate as EU regional affairs commissioner, Johannes Hahn says his "legacy" is getting member states to spend money on the real economy rather than hulking infrastructure projects.

Under his watch, rules governing how regional aid money - running to €325 billion between 2014-2020 - is spent were given a shake-up to encourage projects in line with the EU's long-term economic goals.

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

Adopted at the end of December, the new rules have already resulted in a big decrease in spending on traditional infrastructure - such as roads - and a leap in spending on green and ICT projects.

"We see a clear shift from investment in infrastructure towards stimulation of the "real" economy," Hahn told this website, adding that this is "encouraging".

"I like to think [of this] as a legacy of my time as commissioner for this policy."

Analysis by late September of the plans of various regions have showed that there was a 22 percent rise in spending (to €125bn) on projects dedicated to research & development, innovation, ICT, small businesses, and low-carbon economy compared to the last budget cycle (2007-2013).

Spending on transport and other major infrastructure has sunk by 21 pecent, to €60bn, while member states such as Belgium, Croatia, Italy, Portugal, and the UK have made helping small companies a priority.

On energy security and green projects specifically, the chunk of aid money has more than doubled to €38 billion.

Red tape - also in the member states

Hahn notes that while the more stringent rules mean that getting spending programmes agreed is more time-consuming, the "insistence" on focussing on what results will be achieved rather than just whether money will be spent is "very valuable".

"Member states will have to spell out what they want to achieve and by when, and be monitored whether those results are there," he says.

And while he admits that the rules are still complicated - or not simplified "as much as we might have wished" - leading to grumbling by some local authorities, he says member states themselves are just as much to blame.

"Many layers of red tape come from member states themselves – what we call 'gold-plating' and it is too easy to blame this on the so-called 'Brussels bureaucracy '."

On tying funds to good economic governance - a controversial innovation to the rules - Hahn said stopping EU aid because a member state is fiscally misbehaving would be a "last resort", but underlines that "investments will deliver more in the context of budgetary discipline".

"We are not talking about punishment but rather about an incentive to maintain financial and budgetary discipline so that funds can deliver for citizens."

The Austrian politician, who is due to take over the European neighbourhood policy dossier from November, declines to give advice to his successor candidate, Romania's Corina Cretu.

But he does suggest that, in future, GDP - or how rich a region is - should not be the only criteria for determining whether it should qualify for EU money.

"Other measures such as innovation performance could be taken into account," he says, indicating that being a forward-looking region with clever ideas should be enough for a shot at EU aid.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2014 Regions & Cities Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Regions & Cities magazine.

Magazine

A deep dive into the EU regional funds

While the regional funds account for a full third of the EU budget, they are somewhat under-reported. EUobserver's latest edition of the Regions & Cities magazine looks at the EU's cohesion policy.

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.

Magazine

Tug of war between 'top-down' and 'bottom-up' cohesion money

The European Commission has promised greater flexibility for local authorities when it comes to delivering on-the-ground results - but it has also tied cohesion policy to the European Semester, a tool used to coordinate macroeconomic policies.

News in Brief

  1. Ireland: right Brexit deal is 'not yet close'
  2. UK secrecy on Brexit holds back wider EU talks
  3. Feminist mass protest in Spain after 19 murders this summer
  4. Global climate strike starts ahead of UN summit
  5. UK Brexit minister to meet Barnier on Friday
  6. Russia-Ukraine gas deal talks show 'progress'
  7. Nobel economist: Ireland 'not good EU citizen' on taxes
  8. Germany takes carbon border tax on board

Magazine

A deep dive into the EU regional funds

While the regional funds account for a full third of the EU budget, they are somewhat under-reported. EUobserver's latest edition of the Regions & Cities magazine looks at the EU's cohesion policy.

Magazine

The EU Agencies Race

In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies, exploring how their location matters and the benefits for cities and regions to host them.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Europe goes to New York This WEEK
  2. Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations
  3. Dismiss Italy's Salvini at your peril
  4. Malta PM accused of 'blackmail' over slain reporter
  5. Diplomats back Romania's Kovesi for EU top prosecutor
  6. Brexit raises questions for EU defence integration
  7. Low-carbon cities can unlock €21tn by 2050, report finds
  8. France, Italy want 'automatic' distribution of migrants

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

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us