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Safeguarding European solidarity

  • Younous Omarjee (GUE/NGL, France) is president of the REGI committee (Photo: EP)

The European Parliament's committee for regional development (REGI) does not often make headlines in Brussels' news.

However, for many Europeans it can be precisely these regional funds that make the EU the most visible force of change.

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Those who visited central European countries before 2004, or 2007, and went again 10 years later, have no doubt seen the new infrastructure built with European funds.

Therefore, these so-called Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund are at the heart of European policy, aiming at more equality between regions within the EU, by trying to reduce disparities in income, wealth and opportunities.

Together, the two funds form one of the largest budget lines of the European Union.

These lines are fixed within the EU budget for seven years (2014-2020) in the so-called MultiAnnual Financial Framework, but will need to be negotiated again for the following seven years (2021-2027).

Since 2018 a new fund, the Energy Transition Fund, was put in place in order to help poorer regions to reach the climate goals through a transition to green energy.

The political control of the spending of these funds is what the REGI committee does.

According to the committee's president Younous Omarjee (GUE/NGL, France) the main challenge for the coming five years will be controlling "the efficiency and absorption of the cohesion funds, as well as the implementation of reforms aiming at reducing the regional disparities."

Another challenge, Omarjee continued is "a just transition fund", or - in other words - finding a way that all European regions "participate in the Paris Agreement objectives".

On top of that he foresees that the "fight against urban poverty and an ambition for European islands" will top the committee's agenda for the next five years.

However, two new political realities since the implementation of the 2014-2020 budget will make the discussion on the regional funds more complicated: the migration issue that deeply divided the EU since 2015, and the call by some to put conditions on the respect for the rule of law on the distribution of structural funds.

This new reality will no doubt make the debates about regional development more political and divisive than ever.

Despite that, Omarjee hopes that within five years he can look back and say his committee has "secured a budget for cohesion that allows European solidarity to continue and to reduce territorial inequalities." He is looking forward, he continued "to prove the added value of cohesion and succeed in the objective of simplification."

The coordinators of the REGI committee are Andrei Novakov (EPP, Bulgaria), Constanze Krehl (S&D, Germany), Ondrej Knotek (Renew, Czech Republic), Niklas Nienass (Greens/EFA, Germany), Francesca Donato (ID, Italy), Raffaele Fitto (ECR, Italy), Martina Michels (GUE/NGL, Germany).

This article first appeared in EUobserver's latest magazine, Who's Who in European Parliament Committees, which you can now read in full online.

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