The Warsaw Voice » Politics » Monthly - December 30, 2016
European Union
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Changes in EU Cohesion Policy Could Affect Poland’s Regions: Officials
Polish officials in European Union institutions are worried that planned changes in the bloc’s Cohesion Policy could harm Europe’s poorest regions, depriving them of EU structural funds and forcing them to use loans and loan guarantees instead.

One of the main policies in the EU, the Cohesion Policy enables Poland’s regions to receive European funds. The future of the policy was among the main topics of the 14th European Week of Regions and Cities held in Brussels in October. This annual event, organized by the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions, was held under the motto “Regions and Cities for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth.”

On the first day of the event, participants discussed ways in which non-repayable subsidies could be combined with financial instruments, including loans and loan guarantees, available through the European Commission’s Investment Plan for Europe, also known as the Juncker Plan.

According to Stanisław Szwabski, a councilor from the Polish city of Gdynia and a member of the European Committee of the Regions, Cohesion Policy is the main investment tool and the “most efficient policy of the EU.” He also believes that the policy is “spectacular” in showing to citizens the benefits of being part of the EU.

Szwabski said in Brussels that poor regions in the EU needed guarantees that their access to EU funds would remain unchanged. He also said he was concerned to hear opinions that financial instruments were playing an increasingly important role as a source of funding for projects carried out by regions. According to Szwabski, there is a risk that the European Fund for Strategic Investments and other funds available through the Juncker Plan could gradually replace the EU’s Cohesion Policy rather than remain complementary to it.

“Access to EU funds determines the development of many regions,” Szwabski said in Brussels, addressing EU Commissioner for Regional Development Corina Cretu. “Can we count on your commitment to make sure the EU will not turn its back on medium-sized cities and poor regions … in the name of economic efficiency?”

Markku Markkula, head of the European Committee of the Regions, told journalists he believed Cohesion Policy should be made more simple, less bureaucratized and more result-oriented. According to Markkula, potential beneficiaries would need to read thousands of pages of documents if they wanted to strictly adhere to each rule and guideline devised by EU institutions, member states and individual regions. Markkula added that investment in Europe decreased by 59 billion euros in 2015 compared with 2008 and that disproportions within the EU were growing ever deeper. Meanwhile, data released by the European Commission and coming from an “independent assessment of EU programs in 2007-2013” shows that every euro spent on Cohesion Policy could increase the GDP of EU member states by almost 3 euros, according to Markkula.

The European Commission’s Cretu said that many aspects of Cohesion Policy had been simplified and that changes were being made to EU regulations to make life easier for beneficiaries. As for the policy’s future, Cretu said the European Commission would soon come up with proposals concerning the EU budget after 2020. The year 2020 marks the end of the bloc’s current seven-year budget and so the role of Cohesion Policy, its goals and ways to attain them need to be discussed, Cretu said.

Much as Poland’s Szwabski, European Parliament Vice-President Luis Valcarcel Siso believes that the European Fund for Strategic Investments should be prevented from replacing structural funds. The European Fund for Strategic Investments produced good results in its first year, but it has to remain an extra source of funding, said Siso. To this end, he added, the EU needs to foster greater synergy between different sources of funds.

Siso also said that the European Commission, the European Investment Bank and national and regional banks should work with governments to encourage national and regional platforms where such synergy could be worked out and developed. There is a lot of potential available, according to Siso, and it is vital to ensure a geographical balance between projects that received structural and investment funds, taking into account geographical and economic differences between and within individual member states. Siso also pointed out that protracted negotiations on the EU’s 2014-2020 Financial Framework had caused a number of delays in the launch of the bloc’s Operational Programmes.

Source: Polish Press Agency