Cohesion policy 2.0: navigating towards a stronger, more inclusive Europe

EESC rapporteurs María del Carmen Barrera Chamorro and David Sventek

At the request of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU, the EESC offers an insightful perspective on the future of cohesion policy. Against the backdrop of evolving challenges such as the pandemic, climate change and digital transformation, the Committee's exploratory opinion highlights key recommendations to shape a "cohesion policy 2.0" that is more adaptable, socially focused and responsive to the needs of European citizens and regions.

At the heart of European cohesion policy lies an unshakable commitment to the principle that no one should be left behind. "We call for it to be preserved, despite any imperfections", says EESC rapporteur María del Carmen Barrera Chamorro. Civil society partners stand ready to align their efforts with a robust EU investment policy that keeps this principle at its core. As Europe faces a shifting landscape, this steadfast principle remains a guiding light toward a more equitable future. Co-rapporteur David Sventek adds: To achieve the objectives of cohesion, it is essential to promote interaction between EU cross-cutting policies and cohesion policy, to bring all policies into line with the EU's fundamental objectives and achieve synergies.

Tackling unequal opportunities

In its opinion, the EESC highlights the damaging impact of inequality on long-term growth and competitiveness at all levels within the EU. To bridge these gaps and align with EU values, more focused cohesion policy is needed. This policy should address territorial, economic, and social disparities in detail, not only between Member States but also within regions and cities. Special emphasis should be placed on regions with the most significant disparities. Additionally, cohesion policy should prioritise support for various social groups and tailor financial support and objectives accordingly. Engaging social partners and civil society organisations is crucial for effective policy development and evaluation, considering not just quantitative but also qualitative indicators of development.

SMEs and large companies

The EESC believes that the range of instruments and approaches should be broadened, modernised or revised to build a strong, effective, flexible and renewed cohesion policy that focuses more on capacity, interregional links, effectiveness of results and opportunities for beneficiaries beyond investment alone. Regarding SMEs and large companies, the EESC is of the opinion that SMEs' sustainability must be preserved, while also recognising the importance of financing large companies, especially in strategic technologies through initiatives like the Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP).

The path forward

True convergence will only be achieved by enhancing the resilience of all regions, focusing on specific development needs, and embracing a bottom-up, partnership-driven approach. As the EU navigates a changing landscape marked by crises, climate goals, and technological advancements, cohesion policy 2.0 stands as a beacon of hope, calling for a more inclusive, adaptable, and people-centred Europe.