Whilst the EESC is convinced that financial resources invested in support for cohesion policy have, to a large extent, delivered good results, it nevertheless believes that such funding can and should be further developed and restructured, and that particularly the effectiveness and efficiency of funding and spending could be improved. Cohesion policy instruments should be aligned with the Europe 2020 strategy in such a way as not to undermine European cohesion policy.
Europe 2020 has 3 interlinked priorities:
a) Smart growth: developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation;
b) Sustainable growth: promoting a more efficient, greener and more competitive economy;
c) Inclusive growth: fostering a high-employment economy delivering social and territorial cohesion.
The EESC agrees that all EU policies should contribute to the success of the Europe 2020 strategy. The EU budget review outlined a new strategic programming approach for cohesion policy. The EESC fully endorses the development of a common strategic framework (CSF) by the European Commission, translating the targets and objectives of Europe 2020 into investment priorities. The framework would cover all EU funds and furthermore integrate all other EU financial instruments.
The EESC suggests that cohesion policy must clearly emphasise societal, social, and solidarity objectives and the use of Structural Funds for investment purposes, in close cooperation with the other European funds. Failing this, the focus in Europe 2020 on strong economic growth, which is perfectly acceptable in itself, could overshadow social and territorial cohesion.
Increasingly, the coming decade will have to be a decade of functional regions. Regions may have one or more centres, with cross-border horizontal regional and vertical economic links, supported by the legal, financial and institutional potential of "enhanced cooperation". Thus a new meaning for the term "regional" can bring a new dimension to a smart Europe. However, given that some regions lag behind – and will continue to do so – a programme is needed to help them catch up.
The EESC agrees that, in the long term, in order to avoid conflicts, there are many arguments in favour of integrating all components of the EU's structural policy (including e.g. Europe 2020, cohesion policy, the CAP or the EIB) in a fully coherent set of general community policies, which could be called EU 2050. This would enable closer policy and technical cooperation and coordination, without meaning the end of individual policies. Of course, this will be difficult to achieve as long as competences for the different parts of the relevant policies are divided between the EU and the Member States. Strengthening the regional dimension could be an appropriate means of gradually achieving the desired objective.