AE) COHESION: Cohesion policy reform plans gets European Parliament go-ahead

Strasbourg, 20/11/2013 (Agence Europe) – On Wednesday 20 November, the European Parliament gave the go-ahead to reform of cohesion policy and efficient use of the €325 billion from the European budget that goes to the five European structural funds.

The approval of the deal by a wide majority (479 to 126 with 85 abstentions) left MEPs with a bitter taste in their mouths (see EUROPE 10959). They reluctantly agreed to the macroeconomic conditionality requirements, although they did manage to water them down, and also endorsed regulations on the European development fund, the cohesion fund, the European social fund, the European territorial cooperation and European territorial cooperation grouping.

The vote was touch and go until the last moment, and put an end to two years of bitter negotiations over simplified, results-oriented rules that come into force on 1 January 2014 for the next seven programming years. Regional Development Commissioner Johannes Hahn said the reforms were crucial and aimed to make the most of each euro for the benefit of citizens. EP co-rapporteur Lambert van Nistelrooij (EPP, Netherlands) said the Cohesion Policy will no longer be a funds transfer policy, but rather a real investment tool based on knowledge, sustainability and jobs.

The MEPs voted though a compromise deal on the common structural fund regulation without voting through the amendments on macroeconomic conditionality. This approach has been severely criticised for distorting democracy, but did at least ensure that the full package could be endorsed. The Liberals, Christian Democrats and, to a lesser extent, the Socialists voted en masse for the common measures in the new regulatory framework , but in the latter two groups, some Spanish and Italian MEPs expressed opposition to the package. The United Left Group voted against it, and the Greens all abstained, as did a large section of the Conservatives. These divisions are largely due to the retention of the macroeconomic conditionality despite the safeguards introduced by the EP.

The common measures introduce a number of innovations to make cohesion policy simpler, transparent and more effective. Some 6% of the cash will be held in reserve, to be shared out at the end of the programming period among the best-performing regions. The regional categories have been reorganised into three categories – less developed, in transition and more developed. A partnership agreement of outlining the objectives pursued has been introduced, to be signed by the member states and the European Commission. Additional measures have been laid down that need to be introduced in advance in order to be eligible for EU financing. It has now been agreed that 23.1% of the Cohesion Budget will go to the European social fund.

The Council of Ministers has yet to formally endorse the reform, but it has already been agreed that the new cohesion policy operational programmes can be implemented from 1 January 2014, to the great relief of the beneficiaries. (MD/transl.fl)

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