Cohesion Policy: present in defining moments for Europe

Cohesion Policy is a history maker. Today’s Europe would not be the same without this policy that helped, for example, to level the disparities between Eastern and Western Germany or to contribute to the economic success of three Baltic countries.

It contributed and continues to contribute to erasing historical wrongs made as a result of decisions that, put in perspective today, seem ridicule. We can see today projects stretching over the Iron Curtain, between Schloss Hof in Austria and Nová Ves in Slovakia. And maybe in the future there will be projects between Mitrovica in Kosovo and Novi Pazar in Serbia. But for this to happen, the Cohesion Policy needs to adapt itself to the changing realities of today’s world and to be more ready to give answers to the future ones. With the thought in our mind of the importance of the policy for Europe itself we are always aiming for even better, for a policy adapted to new challenges.

Now we are looking into the future and we are already thinking of the policy beyond the year 2020. I was present last week in Bratislava for the EU Cohesion Policy conference „Past evidence, current experience and future perspectives”. My speech at the conference was focused on several issues that need to be addressed in the months to come. For example, I think we need to recognize that institutional and administrative structures and capacities differ across Member States, and this should be reflected in the delivery system of the policy. We also need to move decisively toward a single set of rules for shared management funds for the next period.

I also mentioned the relation of Cohesion Policy with the wider economic governance of the Union: we should think together how to strengthen the support of the policy to structural reforms, building on the successful introduction of ex-ante conditionalities. We also need to ensure that Cohesion Policy interventions and reforms are mutually reinforcing, and that the objectives of the policy as fixed by the Treaty are not compromised.

At the same time, judging on recent experiences and based on feedback from the beneficiaries, I believe that work on the post-2020 Cohesion policy should mainly focus on flexibility, performance and the delivery of results, economic governance and structural reforms, and simplification. The reasons behind my assessment are multiple and based on years of dialogue with stakeholders, but I would like to underline, for example, the need to explore how to reconcile the necessity for stable investment in the medium term, while responding to new European priorities. President Juncker mentioned in his State of the Union speech the increase of the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) and we are pondering upon a future regulatory framework which can maximize the benefits from blending European Structural and Investment Funds with EFSI. These are just some examples of the steps considered in order to ensure that Cohesion Policy serves to its full potential the European project.

I was in Bratislava in a defining moment for the European Union, when its top leaders met to discuss the future of our continent in what is maybe one of its most troubled moments in recent history. I would have liked for them to see the tangible answers that Cohesion Policy has offered during the years. I mentioned previously Schloss Hof in Austria and Nová Ves in Slovakia, and I did so remembering what I saw there on Friday: a bridge over a river that used to separate a continent and two ideologies, a bridge over which now Mr. Kováč bikes and greets Ms. Gruber on his way toward the other side of what used to be the Iron Curtain. Cohesion Policy projects like this have an added value beyond their initial purpose and into additional areas such as culture, forging a more united Europe. And as we move into the future we will adapt and continue to deliver great results, forge European integration and avert the mistakes of the past.

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