Enlargement poses enormous challenges to the commitment to achieving Economic and Social Cohesion across the European Union. Meeting this challenge will require that more resources are assigned to EU cohesion policies. This is an inevitable consequence of enlargement.
The Committee supports the retention of Objective 1 territorial assistance and that a substantial part of EU cohesion efforts should be targeted towards these regions. The principle of concentration of effort should not be compromised.
The Committee has examined the Commission's options with respect to the implications of enlargement for regions currently eligible for support under Objective 1 of the cohesion actions. The Committee's position is that the revisions to Objective 1 eligibility criteria should not result in the exclusion of those regions currently in receipt of funds and whose economic development will continue to depend on cohesion assistance. This may be best achieved by raising the current threshold beyond the 75 % level.
EU cohesion actions deliver considerable value-added to the disadvantaged regions. Not only do these actions have a direct impact on standards of living and employment, they also offer considerable indirect benefits by reason of the principles of concentration, programming, partnership and additionality that Member States have to follow when applying cohesion support. These actions should also observe the principle of equality of opportunity with respect to the role of women in employment.
The Committee recognises the force of Commission arguments in favour of a regime of "indirect zoning" to deliver assistance outside of Objective 1 regions. However, if implemented, this change must be accompanied by regulations which ensure that the principles of concentration, programming, partnership and additionality continue to be observed by Member States - if necessary by intensifying monitoring and appraisal arrangements.
The Committee recommends that the Commission seek ways in which the activities of the European Investment Bank in conjunction with private sector capital might be harnessed with a view to increasing the part they play in the EU cohesion actions. There are likely to be considerable synergies associated with a regional economic development strategy which involves these partners.
The cohesion policies must remain a matter of both common financial responsibility and common Union interest. The Committee wishes to ensure that Member State policies continue to be shaped by jointly determined European Union objectives.
The operation of monitoring and partnership is central to the continued success of the cohesion actions. The Committee considers these elements to be central in determining the success of cohesion policies when extended to the candidate countries. Accordingly, the Commission should take steps - where necessary - to assist the candidate countries develop and introduce the institutional arrangements needed to facilitate both monitoring and partnership.
The Committee agrees that the ten priorities for economic and social cohesion which the Commission identifies should lie at the heart of cohesion efforts in the future. In the context of enlargement and the impact of current policy reforms on regions of the EU 15, these priorities should ensure that cohesion actions are influenced by the key cohesion challenges confronting the European Union.