Commission presents its concept for cohesion policy post-2013
With a planned budget of €376 billion, cohesion policy is second only to agriculture in terms of expenditure in the EU financial framework 2014-2020. Last autumn, the European Commission unveiled its regulatory proposals governing how this policy field should be set out in future.
EU cohesion policy is a key pillar of EU policy by dint of “(reducing) disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions” (Article 174 paragraph 2 TFEU; cf. europeinfos No. 134). For Catholic organisations, it is of relevance as, with the help of its funds such as the European Social Fund (ESF), a number of innovative projects have been or are being given a boost.
A new architecture
By presenting the legislative package on shaping cohesion policy in October 2011, the Commission has injected new momentum into the pan-European debate. What is new is that now we have a comprehensive general regulation which contains joint provisions for the European Regional Development Fund, the ESF, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
As was expected, the Commission’s aim is to align the package closely to the objectives outlined in the Europe 2020-Strategy, which will be translated into investment priorities in a ‘Common Strategic Framework’ (CSF), which will apply to all EU funds which are jointly managed. This should be carried out by a kind of ‘priority menu’. More developed regions and regions in transition will enjoy a smaller selection of priorities than less developed regions.
The eligible thematic objectives extend, inter alia, from research and innovation through to climate change adaptation and environmental protection as well as the efficient use of resources. Promoting employment and labour mobility; social inclusion and combating poverty; education, skills and lifelong learning; all get a mention too. Moreover, the close connection to Europe 2020 explains the emphasis on improving the competiveness of SMEs.
In a Partnership Contract that the Commission intends to sign with each individual Member State, as well as in the operational programmes (OPs) in the Member States, the priorities set down in the CSF will be carried over into the national context. At the same time, the Partnership Contract will contain concrete duties and indicators which will help to measure annual progress. On the positive side, the Commission will be applying multi-level governance in the conclusion of Partnership Contracts on the side of the Member States. At this juncture the draft general regulation cites the competent regional, local and municipal authorities, the economic and social partners and the bodies which represent civil society. With a view to the success of the goals contained in the Partnership Contracts, it is absolutely vital that these be discussed from the outset with as many different actors as possible, if nothing else in order to benefit from the expertise of the entities in question. Against this backdrop, it must surely be an oversight that churches and religious communities, together with their corresponding subdivisions and organisations, have not been included in the long list of actors that should be involved.
As for the criticism that the added value of cohesion policy was not visible enough during previous funding periods, the Commission is trying to respond in future programming phases by deploying various benchmarks which will be used to check whether targets are being reached. The option of a performance-oriented reserve which will only be distributed at the time of the mid-term review is an additional factor intended to steer the Member States towards achieving the agreed objectives. However, should this fail to come to pass, the Commission also plans to sanction any Member State which fails to reach targets by cancelling its funds. Admittedly, it comes as no surprise that this approach is already seen as highly controversial. Furthermore, the Commission intends to introduce new terms and conditions as an incentive for implementing the targets and requirements of the Europe 2020 Strategy.
Looking ahead to further debates
These regulatory proposals will now be discussed in the EU Council and the European Parliament and will be adopted before the end of 2012. In parallel, preparations are under way for the OPs at the various competent levels in the Member States.
Translated from the Original German