The PES Group in the European Committee of the Regions contributed today to a high-level conference entitled 'Towards a progressive strategy for cohesion policy post 2020' and organised by the Party of European Socialists (PES).
Opening the conference, the PES Group President Sergei Stanishev stressed that: "cohesion policy is one of the biggest successes of European integration. With an annual budget of more than 50 billion EUR, no other European policy has a bigger impact on the quality of life in our villages, towns and regions".
"The future of this policy is now at stake. We, in the PES, need to stand up and mobilise support around Europe for a progressive future cohesion policy based on solidarity and sustainability", he emphasized, reminding that it was Social Democrats who were the first to promote cohesion policy as an essential tool in tackling disparities.
He went on emphasising his strong opposition to any cut that could be made to the cohesion policy, noting that "cohesion policy is a major EU investment tool and a win-win instrument for both the net beneficiaries and the net contributors: out of every euro that is invested, we get back 3".
The European Commissioner for Regional policy, Corina Crețu, underlined that "cohesion holds European citizens together and united. It gives opportunities to everybody and is thus an investment that supports our common dreams for the continent: a more social Europe, jobs and growth, innovation, and a new connection with the planet. We cannot tackle the major challenges Europe is faced with without a strong cohesion policy".
Speaking on behalf of the PES Group, the CoR's First Vice-President, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, underlined that the: "European solidarity is first of all felt in cities and regions. To enhance solidarity, we have to relaunch investments. Cohesion policy is essential for this and is thus complementary with other investment tools such as the European Fund for Strategic investment", he stressed.
Likewise, he called for more flexibility in the application of the Stability and Growth Pact, which would allow regional governments to invest more easily in EU co-funded projects.
During the panel debates, PES members Olga Zrihen, Member of the Walloon Parliament, and Kata Tüttő, Municipal Councillor of Budapest, pointed to the need to preserve a bottom-up approach with regard to social inclusion and "patient" investments into human capital as well as to the important role of cohesion policy as an engine for the green economy.
Concluding the conference, Kerstin Westphal, MEP and European Parliament's rapporteur on 'Building blocks for a post-2020 EU cohesion policy', reminded that "we are all aware that, in the forthcoming months, the Brexit impact and the hard negotiations on the next EU budget risk to weaken this policy, reducing its capacity to support EU citizens and businesses. This is why our progressive family will need to get mobilised and involve all stakeholders and beneficiaries in making more visible what cohesion policy means for our communities, ensuring at the same time that the voices of our citizens are heard in Brussels and in capital cities."
The PES Group will continue to advocate a strong and effective cohesion policy post-2020, notably by co-organising with the EP's S&D Group in the framework of the 'Together' initiative an open event on 'Investing in Europe, investing in people – the future of European cohesion policy" on 15 September in Valencia, and dedicating (prior to that) its extraordinary Group meeting to the topic of 'European investments at local and regional level'.