EESC plenary debate with Ms Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, 23 September 2021
When I became President of the Diversity Europe Group nearly one year ago, I decided to make poverty reduction the focus of our Group's work. Obviously, there are many ways of achieving this. But I represent rural communities and I firmly believe that poverty levels can be lowered by investing in the well-being of people, communities, territories and our planet.
Indeed, when discussing the EU's cohesion policy, it strikes me that the lines between opportunity and responsibility are very thin and very fluid. This is particularly the case as the Next Generation EU, which symbolises European solidarity, is required to find synergies with the EU's Cohesion programming.
I see four key elements to our discussion today:
- The importance of defining the societies that we want;
- The necessity for a holistic and complementary approach to EU Cohesion Policy, across all EU policies;
- The importance of determining our own red lines, notably between European values and EU funding;
- The opportunities to forge a European identity, around cohesion and solidarity among Member States.
As I mentioned earlier, the lines between opportunities and responsibility are very thin. For example, the Covid -19 pandemic has ushered in the opportunity for transformation, for mutualisation of debt and for greater intra-EU solidarity. It has provided the opportunity for strengthening the European social model and for investing simultaneously in economic and social development. But it has also brought weighty responsibilities to reduce inequalities through Cohesion Policy and the Next Generation EU. It has made more urgent the necessity for effective socio-economic policies, which will help people back to work. Particularly women, the young, persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities.
I would also argue that with these two instruments, Cohesion Policy and the Next Generation EU, we now have the opportunity to bring the EU to every village and every small town. We have the opportunity to extend the principle of partnership and stakeholder consultations, which are inherent to Cohesion Policy. This is crucial, particularly now that the EU is actively seeking citizens' involvement through the Conference on the Future of Europe. However, once again, we are faced with responsibilities, to effectively engage with local communities and civil society organisations. To invest in cohesion, social innovation and upward convergence among Member States, rooting politics and policies directly in communities.
Dear Commissioner, dear colleagues, I would like to bring my commentary to an end by recalling that this month of September marks the 700-year anniversary of the death of Dante, the great Italian literary genius of the 14th Century. The Divine Comedy is a sensual journey to self-discovery. Let us hope that through a revamped Cohesion Policy which is prioritised on the EU's political agenda, the EU will also embark on a journey of discovery towards solidarity, self-confidence and identity! Thank you for your attention.