Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be here with you today for the launch of the
Border, Midland & Western Regional Assembly Annual Report for 2009.
Firstly I would like to pay tribute to the Assembly, its members and its
staff for the transformation that happened in the BMW Region over recent years;
thanks in part to well-spent European Regional Development funds from the
European Union. I think that it is fair to say that the Regional Operational
Programme for 2007 to 2013 will address many of the fundamental disadvantages
that the BMW Region had faced historically. The region is now much better
placed to take advantage of the new opportunities than it was in the past.
It is important to remember that Cohesion policy is the European Union's
strategy to promote and support the overall social and economic development of
its Member States and regions. The policy aims to reduce differences in the
level of development of Europe's regions, focusing on key areas that will help
the EU tackle the challenges facing it and remain globally competitive.
Approximately 35.7% of the EU budget 2007-13 (equivalent to ±€350 billion
over seven years) is allocated to financial instruments which support Cohesion
Policy (i.e. the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund
and the Cohesion Fund). These are managed and delivered in partnership between
the European Commission, the Member States and stakeholders at the local and
Each region needs its own tailor-made solution. The key to finding the best
formula in each case, is partnership with many actors, optimising the impact of
€50 billion European funds a year, in combination with local, regional,
national and private budgets. In today's challenging economic conditions, the
EU's regional policy must deliver tangible results and above all, the creation
of jobs. In our ever more interconnected world, achieving growth in one region
will lead to new employment in another. In the end, regional investment means
More than in any other way, the diversity of the European Union is shown in
its many regions. Alongside the rich spectrum of cultures in the EU, we also
face different levels of economic development, within the Union and within
individual Member States. Our regional policy programmes and funds aim to
bridge disparities of prosperity and development, to the benefit of all.
I think that everyone will agree that the financial crisis has put us to the
test, and Europe is showing that it has the determination and the political
will to withstand even the fiercest challenges. The new Europe 2020 strategy is
designed to place our economies on the road to recovery and to ensure that they
keep pace with the rapid economic, social and environmental changes that none
of us can avoid, wherever we live on the earth's surface. New competitors are
entering our markets, climate change poses new imperatives for action, and
swiftly developing technologies require a new flexibility from people
everywhere. There is no room for complacency, and we will ensure that the
Regions benefit from the thinking behind Europe 2020 as much as any other part
of the EU.
With the Europe 2020 strategy, the European Union has agreed on a common
line to move towards a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy delivering high
levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion. This strategy is both
our operational answer to the crisis and a vision of a better Europe. From the
European Commission's point of view, the place of regions in delivering the
strategy's priorities is undisputable and we are convinced that European
Regional Policy will be crucial to the success of the EU 2020 vision. While the
EU needs an overarching strategy to unlock its full potential, implementation
needs tailor-made solutions – and these can only come with the expertise that
Europe's regions can provide.
The Commission intends to put European regional policy at the heart of our
efforts for economic recovery and long term prosperity under our EU 2020
strategy. The aim is a better life for Europeans everywhere: from the most
densely populated cities, to the deepest countryside and the remotest
As we approach the end of the current financing period, you will be aware
that there is a very active debate on the future of Regional Policy. The
Commission’s vision is not of a system of hand-outs but of a strategic
investment policy, an indispensible element of modern economic planning. Our
watchwords will be focus and flexibility. Focus means a close alignment with
the objectives we have identified in the EU 2020 strategy. Regions should be
the engines of the competitive and sustainable growth we all want to see – but
flexibility means they should be allowed the freedom to determine for
themselves the best way to attain these goals.
One important lesson to be learned from the global financial and economic
crisis is that no region has a guarantee of prosperity for eternity. This has
only strengthened the Commission’s conviction that Regional Policy should cover
all regions of the EU. All regions need to adapt constantly to global
challenges and in Regional Policy can play a crucial role in facilitating the
transition towards a more innovative and sustainable economy.
We need to rethink the way we address our support to regions at different
stages of economic development. Those that lag behind must continue to receive
support to help them modernise and reinforce their human capital.
We in the Commission are aware of the limits of GDP as a measurement of
development and well-being but it remains the most stable, robust, comparable
measure of socio-economic development at regional level.
Europe faces a moment of transformation. The economic crisis has wiped out
years of economic and social progress and exposed structural weaknesses in
Europe's economy. In the meantime, the world is moving fast and long-term
challenges – globalisation, pressure on energy resources, migration, ageing –
intensify. Many of the crisis's economic impacts, both in terms of unemployment
and economic downturn, are most visible and tangible in our rural areas.
I think that no-one could argue that the ERDF has not been good to Ireland.
I recently read in a report concerning the impact of cohesion policy in the
transport field that there has been a 46% reduction in journey time on major
road corridors in Ireland. As I drive around the country, I can well believe
this figure. There are many good examples contained in the 2009 annual report
on the implementation of the BMW operational programme 2007-2013; it is nice to
see all these good news stories together in one place
On a personal note, it is with mixed feelings that I must also tell you of
my posting back to Brussels in the autumn. I have spent an exciting and
challenging 5 years as Director of the Commission Representation in Ireland and
I really appreciated the close cooperation between the Representation and the
Regional Assembly and especially the good working relationship we had with
Gerry Finn and his team. I hope that this good relationship will continue with
We are planning to arrange an official launch of the information brochure
that we prepared in conjunction with the Irish Regions Office for early
September and I hope to see some of you at that launch. We will confirm the
exact date with you in due course.