The Future of EU Cohesion Policy: Ensuring Support for People and Territories
With the 2024 European elections around the corner, an important debate on the future of EU investment policies supporting people and territories will take a new turn.
Questions such as whether the EU has the right tools and instruments to support people and territories in light of the green, digital — and more than ever — industrial transitions will be raised. As part of this debate, a central question will be asked about where EU Cohesion Policy fits, what should be its central purpose and mission.
Vasco Alves Cordeiro: ‘The risk is clear: unless we renovate cohesion policy in time for the next programming period, the policy as we know it is at stake’
During my mandate as president of the European Committee of the Regions, I have engaged with several ministers from national governments on this issue and so that we can develop a common understanding for the future. During Friday’s (29 September) informal council meeting in Murcia, I will share proposals about the future of cohesion policy.
Despite cohesion policy playing a major role in supporting all territories in the wake of recent crisis facing our continent — most notably the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic or supporting people fleeing the war in Ukraine — on top of its core mission to reduce disparities across Europe, it seems to suffer from a poor reputation.
One look at the cohesion open data platform of the European Commission proves the enormous impact cohesion policy had on the ground, in the past years, reaching from infrastructure to education, from public spaces to cross border cooperation.
But the available funds of the 2021-2027 programming are still far from being spent.
One could blame the creation of the Recovery and Resilience Facility as an alternative EU investment policy, the late adoption of the EU budget for 2021-2027, or the disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic for the fact that lots of Cohesion Policy projects are still queuing to be implemented.
This is an issue that needs to be addressed.
The Risk of Inaction
The risk is clear: unless we renovate cohesion policy in time for the next programming period, the policy as we know it is at stake. We need to improve the policy to support all those initiatives across our continent which need cohesion funding urgently. To secure the future of the EU’s only long-term investment tool, we need to show that cohesion has the money and the projects.
This is why I worked together with Emil Boc, former prime minister of Romania, to give a new impetus to cohesion policy. As co-rapporteurs for the European Committee of the Regions’, we take it upon us to answer the key issues at the heart of the debate: how do we take the policy one step up so that it supports all regions and cities face the green and digital transition, whilst ensuring that the policy is tailored to each region’s needs and opportunities?
How can we avoid new disparities between European territories caused by such structural transformations?
And on a more practical basis: what can we learn from the delivery of both the RRF and cohesion policy which happened in parallel?
Strengthening Cohesion Policy
One of the clear answers is that we need to stress what makes cohesion policy unique, starting from its place-based approach which relies on a partnership with local and regional authorities. What we need most of all is a stable framework for the policy which brings together all funds under shared management so that the policy can reach people in all corners of Europe in the most efficient way.
Let’s start an inclusive debate about tangible, visible support for Europe’s cohesion. If we fail on this exercise, we will feel the consequences across the EU: the risk of growing discontent is too high.
Ahead of the upcoming European elections and the new mandate of the European Commission, local and regional representatives will express the urgent need for action and support in achieving the EU’s key objectives, such as the green transition.
Only if we keep strengthening the territorial cohesion, we will avoid a divide between frontrunner regions and those vulnerable to the external shocks of our globally connected internal market. Our Union is built on diversity. Let’s unlock that potential through a renewed regional policy that secures a future for all territories.