Strasbourg, 18/11/2013 (Agence Europe) – Several stumbling blocks will need to be removed before victory can be declared on the adoption by the European Parliament on Wednesday 20 November, of cohesion policy reform. The risk of a second reading, which would considerably delay the launch of the next operational programmes, had still not dissipated on Monday evening in Strasbourg.

It is not a done deal that MEPs will follow the recommendation of the regional development committee. On 7 November last, this committee adopted a compromise on the most sensitive political issues, paving the way for an EP vote on the whole package (regulations on the five structural funds and a common regulation). The Greens Group at the EP has said it would vote against this compromise particularly because of the macro-economic conditionality, which, though watered down, has been kept in the final agreement. The United Left also rejects this mechanism. The other groups may not vote as a block because there are still divergences in points of view depending on whether members are from contributor or beneficiary countries.

There is still dissatisfaction regarding the European Social Fund. The REGI committee agreed with the Council for 23.1% of funding from the cohesion policy envelope to devoted to the ESF, a decision made despite the recommendation by the Parliamentary committee on employment (EMPL), which recommended 25%.

In an effort to prevent the collapse of this fragile structure on the cohesion reform package by putting the amendments linked to the compromise to a vote, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, decided, as he is allowed to do, to reverse the order of voting on cohesion reform. During the plenary session opening on Monday 18 November, he said that, “if the compromise is rejected, we will put the other amendments to a vote and the procedure will follow its course… this is the most reasonable way if we have an agreement in a first reading in sight”. He was sharply criticised for this approach by the chairperson of the EMPL committee, Pervenche Berès (S&D, France) and by some of the leaders of the groups, who insisted on moving forward in another way: Gabriele Zimmer (GUE, Germany), Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE Belgium), Hannes Swoboda (S&D, Austria) and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Greens, France). The latter declared that the method used was a disgrace.

A final episode took place in the cohesion saga. On Thursday 14 November, the Lithuanian Presidency informed Coreper that one word was different in the text adopted by the REGI committee on the informal compromise reached in the inter-institutional trialogue, in the provisions linked to the highly controversial macro-economic conditionality. The REGI committee voted on a text that added, in a corrective section of the mechanism, the term persistent, in addition to the principle of non-respect of EU macro-economic injunctions that could lead to the suspension of payments. The substance of the text being altered, the delegations could not agree to such a term being included. Moreover, the way in which the European Parliament acted had created a precedent that could damage cooperation between the two institutions in the future. Coreper therefore proposed that the term persistent be replaced by significant. This adaptation was put to a vote at the REGI committee on Monday evening 18 November. Were it not to support this intermediary formulation, the plenary would have to put it to the vote and possibly adopt a text that is different from the one confirmed by Coreper, which would mean an automatic referral to a second reading, with the same risks of delay to the funding of the new cohesion policy. (MD/transl.fl)

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