- The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) stresses that social, economic and territorial cohesion is an objective enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and that, in the longer term, meeting this objective will be key to achieving a climate-neutral continent by 2050. At the same time, the most serious challenge in the short and medium term, including for cohesion policy, is Russia's aggression against Ukraine;., which is in fact also an act of aggression against the European Union;.
- In this context, given that Ukraine has applied for EU membership and that Ukrainian civil society strongly supports European integration as soon as possible, the EESC calls for Ukraine's accession to the EU as soon as possible and for cohesion policy and its financial instruments to be adapted accordingly in the coming years in order to meet the challenges of the country's post-war reconstruction;. To this end, the Committee proposes the swift establishment of a separate European Union fund for the reconstruction and development of Ukraine.
- At the same time, the Committee urges the Member States, the EU's regions and civil society organisations to make the most effective and rapid use of the possibilities to support Ukrainian refugees created by the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on Cohesion's Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) , proposed by the European Commission on 8 March 2022 in conjunction with the revision of . Action is also needed so that savings generated in the 2014-2021 financial perspective and the REACT EU Regulation. proposed by the Commission on 23 March 2022 ;. instrument can be quickly and flexibly redirected to directly support refugees, particularly in countries bordering Ukraine, and to set up a separate fund for this purpose in case the funds currently available are insufficient. The CARE instrument should assure funds for increasing the operational capacity of social partners and other civil society organizations involved to represent the Ukrainian refugees in their path to labour market insertions.
- Another important challenge is overcoming the effects of the current pandemic crisis. In particular, notes that cohesion policy must take into account the fact that the negative impact of the pandemic has generally been greater in less developed regions and among disadvantaged social groups;. This situation justifies "positive discrimination" in decisions on investment and distribution of European Union funds.
- The EESC agrees with the conclusions set out in Chapter 5 of the Commission communication, especially on tackling poverty and social exclusion in the context of climate policy, boosting investment in education, as well as in research and innovation, providing an effective response to demographic change, strengthening cross-border cooperation, including in the area of infrastructure;., providing universal access to services of general interest also in rural areas, ensuring simple and flexible administration of funds, and consistently complying with the partnership principle, particularly in relations with organised civil society;.
- The EESC is in favour of applying the additionality principle cautiously and implementing ex ante conditionalities in such a way that regions without alternative sources of funding are not discriminated against; economic and social convergence should mean convergence with the best.
- The EESC considers a new fiscal policy approach to be necessary, promoted from the European level, which reinforces the established cohesion objectives;. To do this, it is necessary to promote a fiscal policy that takes into consideration ending the competition that is currently established between countries within Europe. Otherwise, the existing disparities between the fiscal policies of the Member States may increase the risk of the existence of a "two-speed Europe". Moreover, an in-depth reform of the fiscal rules is necessary, focussing on the sustainability of the public debt of the countries, on mechanisms of European economic governance and on a more equitable and progressive European tax collection.
- believes that Tthe pandemic crisis has shown that territorial, economic and social cohesion should be accompanied by political cohesion. In crisis situations, it is necessary to strengthen the coordinating role of the EU institutions;., including in areas where the Treaties do not provide for EU powers;. This is a key issue both for the functioning of the common market and for rebuilding and increasing resilience, and also for fostering European solidarity and identity.
- considers that Ccohesion policy should be conducted in such a way as to ensure that the EU's development and climate objectives can be met. However, at the same time, it should implement all 20 principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) fully and consistently;. Delivering on climate policy requires not only effective use of the Just Transition Mechanism, but also complementary actions at regional level to safeguard jobs and make sure they are of good quality, through means such as social dialogue. Social protection systems also need to be consolidated as instruments to combat poverty and exclusion, while at the same time improving social cohesion.
- stresses thata Tthe success of cohesion policy depends on involving social economy entities as widely as possible in implementing it, particularly those providing services of general interest, including for people with disabilities and other socially disadvantaged groups;. These entities should ensure, in cooperation with employees and volunteers, a high degree of social participation and fairness, and support the digital transition and environmental protection. These entities should be given favourable conditions to develop through specific financial support from European funds, favourable treatment in public procurement rules, as well as simplification of rules, a significant reduction in unjustified control activities and getting rid of bureaucratic requirements in individual Member States.
- believes that Mmaking progress on digitalisation is an important element of cohesion policy and . The digital transition should contribute not only to greater economic productivity, but also to better educational attainment and social participation by all people living in the EU, including disadvantaged groups. To this end, it is necessary to ensure universal access to broadband internet as a free public service;.
- The EESC calls on the Member States and the EU's regions to involve the social partners and other civil society organisations as broadly and genuinely as possible in shaping cohesion policy. and monitoring its effects. This inclusion will also help measure the extent to which cohesion policy objectives have been achieved, which should not be based solely on quantitative indicators, but also on quality indicators (measuring development, not just growth). It is extremely important for the European Commission to continuously monitor implementation of the partnership principle in the Member States., as full and transparent application of this principle has a positive impact on ensuring more effective and efficient use of the EU budget.