Towards a new territorial governance
Interview with Jean-Marie Beaupuy, former MEP (2004-2009) with a responsibility for regional policy. This local and regional representative has in-depth knowledge of the administrative obstacles and complexities to be found in regional policy. That is why he is calling for more enlightened governance and for partnerships that are effective.
In these times of crisis, are the Structural Funds really indispensable?
Oh yes, now more than ever, because they are intended to help the most disadvantaged regions build up the vitally important infrastructure they need, like roads and bridges, for example. And they also open up possibilities for investment in future areas such as renewable energy and the latest information technologies. What’s more, these subsidies are topped up by the European Social Fund, which contributes aid to thousands of projects designed to help people for whom life is hard.
Could you give us a few examples of what European Structural Funds are used for?
In Spain, 850 km of railway track were built between 2000 and 2006. During the same period, selective collection of rubbish was organised for 6.4 million Italians. Of course, before the 2008 financial crisis, Ireland showed a good example of how to use the funds, which enabled the increase of per capita GDP from 58% of the European Community average in 1973 to 145% in 2005!! In every case, the European aid has served to develop economic activity, meaning new jobs as well and raised living standards for a great many citizens.
Is the EU spending enough on Cohesion Policy ?
Overall, I think yes it is, for two reasons. In quantitative terms that’s true, because the Structural Funds allocated to Cohesion Policy represent the largest part, about 36%, of the European budget. It’s also true in qualitative terms, because we have proof that they enable the development of struggling regions when the funded projects are well designed.
What do you think should be done not just to retain the Structural Funds but also to promote them?
First of all, ordinary people need to be kept better informed, and the same goes for the economic and political decision-makers. Then, you have to develop a better cooperation between the principal actors concerned on the ground. In fact, it’s not enough for the European Parliament and the European Council to adopt the relevant budgets and regulations – after that you have to get the ministers concerned, the regional authorities and other public authority bodies to work together in an intelligent manner. By that I mean they should not all be turning each situation to their own advantage.
Then I think it’s obvious that at the level of each Member State – especially France – there should be genuine political will to simplify red tape. You know, everybody blames Brussels for insisting on the compilation of complicated application dossiers. But when you look into it, in most cases these files have been made complicated by the ministries that intervene between European and local levels for the completion of each project.
Finally, the Structural Funds are still an incredibly valuable tool being made available to struggling regions. Looking beyond the changes that will be adopted in 2013 and then come into force in 2014, it will be essential that each government allows them to be used in the best possible way.
Mr Beaupuy, as the author of an interesting proposal – the launch of an Erasmus programme for locally elected representatives – could you tell us what this project is all about and whether you think it has any chance of success?
I suggested the creation of an Erasmus programme for locally elected representatives in my report to the European Parliament on Governance and territorial cooperation. (It was adopted in October 2008.) Right away the European bodies of elected representatives found this idea attractive (particularly the Mayors and Regional Presidents). Later on, the Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee asked for this idea to be implemented.
On 14 December 2010 the European Parliament adopted the Manescu Report which also called for the launch of the Erasmus scheme for locally elected representatives.
On 27 January, the Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, confirmed his interest in seeing it applied by the Committee of the Regions.
This Erasmus programme will enable groups of mayors from different countries to receive European information on a specific subject (like public transport, energy saving, etc) and then to exchange their own practices so that they can make progress in their own municipalities. Our local and regional elected representatives should become the true driving forces of this new territorial governance.
Interview conducted by Johanna Touzel
Translated from the original French