Cohesion policy is key to developing a new post-COVID-19 vision for the European Union, centred on prosperity, inclusion and environmental sustainability, a vision in which organised civil society is fully included. This was the message from Christa Schweng, EESC president, and echoed by Elisa Ferreira, European Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, at the EESC September plenary session.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, cohesion policy has been instrumental in finding solutions during the emergency, and in the 2021-2027 programming period it should continue to be used to address the challenges and inequalities existing within and between Member States, regions, cities and people, with the situation worsening during the pandemic.

"Cohesion policy plays a key role in ensuring a balanced recovery that leaves no one behind. The principle of partnership with civil society organisations is part of the policy's DNA, and we would like to see this principle extended to NextGenerationEU and the implementation of the National Recovery and Resilience Plans. Cohesion policy should also become less bureaucratic, more digitalised and more effective", said Ms Schweng.

Ms Ferreira noted that the COVID-19 crisis had made existing inequalities worse and opened up new ones, affecting in particular workers on the front line, vulnerable people such as the elderly and people with disabilities, those with less access to services, and those who had suffered more from the impacts of lockdown, such as women and young people: "our Union is as strong as its weakest link. To fight back and reduce inequalities is a sine qua non for a strong and thriving Union. Social fairness and inclusivity need to be at the centre of our recovery. We cannot solve social issues without solving spatial and regional inequalities. We must take account of the places where people live". (mp)