Local and leaders warn against poor involvement of regions and cities in new cohesion policy programmes. A real partnership between different levels of governance is key to identifying priorities and targeting effective investments in European territories
The plenary of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) adopted the opinion on the effective engagement of local and regional authorities in the cohesion policy programmes for the 2021-27 period, drafted by Juraj Droba (SK/ECR), President of the Bratislava Region. In supporting this opinion, CoR members ask for the full respect of the "partnership principle" and its implementation under the new instruments financed by Next Generation EU, such as the Just Transition Fund and the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
With a total of €392 billion for the 2021-2027 period, cohesion policy is the main investment policy of the European Union. Partnership agreements and operational programmes are the cornerstones of cohesion policy, laying out Member States' strategies on how to use structural funds to strengthen economic, social and territorial cohesion by reducing disparities between regions. In order to ensure that cohesion policy successfully meets citizens' needs on the ground, the full involvement of local and regional authorities, socio-economic partners and civil society at all stages of the preparation and implementation of these key documents is of paramount importance.
Juraj Droba (SK/ECR), President of the Bratislava Region and rapporteur of the opinion adopted by the CoR Plenary, said: "I would like to stress the importance of involving regional and local authorities in the negotiations on the new programming period at the EU level. The regional dimension and solid data are often missing in the debates between governments and the European Commission. Therefore, the voice of the regions and cities must be strengthened."
The opinion is built on the results of a recent study commissioned by the CoR, which shows that the involvement of partners in preparing the new 2021-27 programming period has improved only slightly compared to the previous 2014-2020 period. The study found that the potential of partnerships is still under-exploited in a number of countries with some local and regional authorities still lacking direct involvement in all stages of the programming periods.
Local and regional leaders call for the partnership principles to be fully implemented under new instruments such as the Just Transition Mechanism, the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) financed under Next Generation EU, the recovery plan for Europe. Moreover, they point to the major impact that the RRF will have on cohesion policy and to the risk of possible duplications and inconsistencies between these instruments which would undermine the effectiveness of EU investments.
CoR members stress that differences in the timing of the preparation of national recovery and resilience plans and partnership agreements may, in some cases, hinder effective institutional coordination and limit the search for synergies. The potential priority of RRF funding over cohesion policy, owing to the pressure for rapid implementation and take-up, may reduce the activities in the programming and implementation of cohesion policy 2021-27, contributing to further delays and take-up of cohesion funding. Therefore, they urge that main strategic documents for the new programming period be adopted without delay so that implementation can get under way as soon as possible.
Moreover, local leaders warn against trends towards centralisation in the programming and implementation of structural funds as a result of the pandemic and the parallel running of two programming periods (resources from the 2014-20 programmes can be spent until 2023).
The CoR calls on the European Commission to closely monitor the application of the partnership principle both in informal negotiations with the Member States and in the assessment of draft partnership agreements and operational programmes, and to provide recommendations to Member States and relevant authorities to improve partnership processes;
The CoR plenary takes place during the 19th European Week of Regions and Cities, co-organised by the CoR and the European Commission, which runs from 11 to 14 October. The implementation and delivery of the new cohesion policy 2021-2027 will be discussed also during a joint meeting of the European Parliament's Committee for Regional Development (REGI) and the CoR's commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER), with the participation of Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms Elisa Ferreira. The meeting can be followed here.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole entry into force of the new cohesion policy legislation, as well as the submission of partnership agreements by Member States to the European Commission, has been delayed. The regulation 2021-27 entered into force on 1 July 2021 and only the partnership agreement from Greece has been adopted by the Commission so far.
The European Committee of the Regions
The European Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives from all 27 Member States. Created in 1994 following the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, its mission is to involve regional and local authorities in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. To sit on the European Committee of the Regions, all of its 329 members and 329 alternates must either hold an electoral mandate or be politically accountable to an elected assembly in their home regions and cities. Click here for more details on your national delegation.
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