EU to focus funds for regional development on creating jobs and sustainable growth. Policymakers met in Brussels 31 January-1 February to debate the changes.
The EU is one of the richest economies on the planet, but there are still big differences between some of its regions. One region in four has a gross domestic product per person under 75% of the bloc's average.
Narrowing those differences is important for the EU's continued prosperity - especially in today's harsh economic climate. The EU's regional funds help less developed regions to modernise as the EU responds to the challenges of a globalised world economy.
About €350bn is available over the seven years up to 2013. The money is used to co-fund projects with the bloc's national, regional and local governments.
So far, the funding has created 1.4m new jobs, helped 34m find work, and upgraded the skills of another 36m, according to a November 2010 report. The focus includes skills training - especially for vulnerable groups - and infrastructure, such as road, rail and water treatment projects.
As the current funding period draws to a close, 800 representatives from national, regional and local government met in Brussels for a Cohesion Forum, to discuss how to make funding better meet regional needs.
The EU wants future funding to be targeted on jobs and growth - in line with its Europe 2020 strategy.
The debate focused on the strategy's push to develop sustainable economic growth that is smarter, greener and more inclusive. It was timed to give member countries and regions a chance to have their say before the Commission presents its first legislative proposals on future cohesion funding by this summer.
Some regions are already successfully using the funds in line with the Europe 2020 strategy. Examples include Lithuania, Wales and Brandenburg in Germany, which are among those selected for the EU's annual RegioStars awards.
Other examples and case studies of best practice are available at the EU's online policy learning database.