Cohesion policy could be an effective way of addressing societal trends (Euroscepticism, etc.) facing the EU if its funding remained an important source of investment, making Europe more relevant to its citizens, promoting stronger engagement with stakeholders and better communicating its impact. This was the message from stakeholders at an EESC hearing on cohesion policy post 2020.
The general view at the hearing was that stakeholders had to call for an ambitious and future-proof cohesion policy post 2020 aimed at sustainable and inclusive economic and social growth, competitiveness and employment across the EU. Most participants could not accept the 10% cut in the policy's budget proposed by the Commission for the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
The future of the EU would be unthinkable without continued cohesion. Cohesion funding should remain at least at its current level, as the expected increase in regional disparities in per capita GDP, the risk posed by depopulated areas and the development of rural areas showed the need for a stronger policy.
A cohesion policy that ensures long-term investment and sustainability, founded on a place-based approach and with more flexibility to address challenges and needs irrespective of their type could also aid greater efficiency.
Participants generally supported a stronger link between the policy and the European Semester, but called for full implementation of the Code of Conduct on Partnerships as an enabling condition. They also urged linking compliance with the Annual Growth Survey, the Country Reports and the Social Scoreboard, which should be regionalised.
Speakers also urged the negotiating parties to step up their efforts in the ongoing negotiations on the legislative proposals for the future MFF and cohesion policy.
The findings of the hearing will feed into an EESC opinion on the subject, which will be put to the vote at the March plenary.(jk)