I was glad to see more than 4,000 participants coming to Brussels, joining the debate as a representative of regional and local authorities, managing authorities of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), EU institutions, businesses, academia, as well as many other stakeholders. They were able to select among 130 workshops, debates and networking opportunities, jointly organised by the European Commission and the European Committee of the Regions, Brussels being the place to be for anyone involved in regional and urban policy. The discussions were intended to help to support the implementation of the 2014-2020 ESIF programmes, to demonstrate the results of EU investments, showcase examples of good practice, and solicit input for possible future improvements.
The 14th edition focused on the challenges currently facing Europe’s regions and cities. Building on the implementation cycle of EU cohesion policy programmes, the event was aligned with the political priorities of the European Commission’s and the European Committee of the Regions for 2016 and with the interests of the partner regions and cities: sustained and sustainable economic growth, inclusive economic growth and making ESI Funds simpler. The results of the Ex post evaluation of the ERDF and Cohesion Fund 2007-13 were widely presented. They demonstrated that one million jobs were created, corresponding to one-third of overall net job creation across the EU during the 2007-2013 period and also showed that 2.74 euro of additional GDP for every euro of Cohesion Policy money invested, meaning an estimated return of 1 trillion euro of additional GDP by 2030 (more information here). Cohesion Policy is based on shared management and responsibility. Whatever our efforts, whatever our aid, they will only be successful, if there is full engagement of all parties. Effective, real partnership is not an empty word but the key to success in this policy.
I confess my satisfaction towards witnessing such interest for our policy. There has been a great deal of attention not only from practitioners, but from the journalists as well for the factual benefits that the policy has brought for Europe. Together with the president of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula, I stressed the results of the Cohesion Policy and the current challenges faced by the European regions and cities. I believe that it became clear for them that this policy delivers a valuable contribution to Europe’s growth and jobs challenges and that it is the Union’s key instrument for showing solidarity.
And never has this been clearer than during the RegioStars Awards, when we saw 23 extremely interesting projects, projects that stand as examples of innovation and excellence. I congratulate the winners, as well as the finalists, and thank them once more for their participation. I am sure that their original projects will inspire other regions and project managers across Europe.
The Urban Agenda for the EU was one of the main topics reflected through various events and conferences which took place in Brussels at the European Week of Regions and Cities.
More than 1000 urban practitioners gathered for exchanges and I am sure that their expertise and opinions will further contribute to a sustainable urban development of European Cities. Every little step counts in this direction and I launched the Commission web platform „one-stop-shop” for cities that provides a single information access point on EU policies. Therefore, urban stakeholders can now get clear information on financing opportunities under the different EU funding opportunities. In parallel, the new Urban Data Platform hosted by the Joint Research Centre will enable urban authorities and stakeholders to compare data, benchmark and monitor, which is one of the aims of the Urban Agenda.
I welcomed an opportunity provided by the joint meeting between the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development and the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget, to voice the interest of the citizens and bring cohesion policy to the forefront of the EU political agenda. Clarity, transparency and communication with the citizens, especially at the local level are essential for re-building citizens’ trust in the EU. I emphasize once again my conviction that we must communicate on the achievements of the Cohesion Policy, that we should make these achievements known to all European citizens. The European Week of Regions and Cities has achieved this as it has become the accepted forum for establishing the state of the regional and urban policy each year.
Concerning the future, I talked about the need to change a system, whose foundations were laid down 25 years ago. I provided two examples: we need to take account of the reality, that institutional and administrative structures and capacities differ across Member States and the delivery system of cohesion policy should reflect this. And the second example was that while we have made some progress in harmonising the rules for the structural funds, we continue to have different rules for different funds, which is an unnecessary burden for everybody.
As regards to 2017, we plan to launch the impact assessment exercise for the preparations of the future policy, which will include a public consultation. Therefore, I encouraged participants of the European Week of Regions and Cities to contribute to this consultation and I informed them about my decision to hold our traditional Cohesion Forum already next June, to ensure a broadest possible input from all stakeholders in the preparation of the new policy. For this and for the reasons above it has been a huge success and I address a big thank you for everyone that participated and in the 14th European Week of Regions and Cities edition!