23rd Jul 2019

New report adds to cohesion policy debate

  • The EU's cohesion policy has helped fund major infrastructure projects in poorer regions (Photo: EUobserver)

Debate on the future of the EU's cohesion policy post-2013 received a major contribution on Monday (27 April) with the publication of an independent report by Dr Fabrizio Barca, director general of the Italian finance ministry.

The report broadly backs the EU's current cohesion policy that aims to boost development in underperforming regions, but also outlines the need for a number of important reforms to improve the policy's future efficiency.

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Dr Barca conducted a series of meetings over the course of 2008 with an extensive list of academics and policymakers to assess the current appetite for change in the area. What he discovered is that "very conflicting views exist", he says.

"The risk whenever there are very conflicting views is that wrong changes are made, or more likely, that no changes are made at all," he told journalists in Brussels on Monday.

One of the report's chief conclusions is the need to tackle the persistent underutilisation of economic potential in certain European regions and the ongoing social exclusion that local and national politicians are failing to diminish.

Marking a break with the past, Dr Barca says EU cohesion policy should end its dogmatic pursuit of regional convergence in terms of GDP per capita, as this can be achieved despite a deterioration of circumstances in the regions concerned.

Potential opposition

Ex-commission president Jacques Delors was a principle architect behind the EU's cohesion policy, including its legal basis in the 1986 Single European Act as a means to offset the potentially negative effects of the creation of a single market on poorer regions.

Since then a number of countries such as Ireland have benefited greatly from the policy which primarily funds development projects in EU regions where GDP per capita is less than 75 percent of the EU average.

Cohesion policy for the spending period 2007-2013 will benefit from 35.7 percent of the total EU budget or €347.41 billion, primarily spent through the European Social Fund, European Regional Development Fund and European Cohesion Fund.

However, member states are unlikely to be overly receptive to the report's calls for a toughing up the current spending contracts, known as operational programmes, between the commission and national governments, with greater emphasis on meeting targets.

Likewise, Dr Barca says future cohesion policy should strengthen the principle of "additionality" under which member states are required to match commission funds on spending projects, instead of merely using EU funds to replace national ones.

The creation of a Council for Cohesion Policy – another of the report's recommendations – would also increase the check and balances on member state spending and give the European parliament a greater role in this area.

Regional policy commissioner Danuta Hubner welcomed the report, saying it was "rich in argumentation", something that would help the commission justify its policy decisions in the future.

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