President of the Committee of the Regions(left), together with Romano
Prodi, President of the European Commission
One of the conclusions made in the Second Cohesion Report
is the marked increase in social and economic disparities facing
the Union in the wake of enlargement. Given this scenario, what
proposals has the Committee of the Regions (CoR) made to maintain
and reinforce regional solidarity in Europe?
In future the CoR wishes to see Community regional policy focus
all its energies on promoting development in the regions along the
lines of the European social model.
In other words, Community regional policy will, in the years to come,
essentially continue its traditional role of driving integration from
the bottom upwards.
Fulfilling this role, however, will require it to manage its many objectives,
structures and programmes with the principal of subsidiarity very much
to the fore.
Won't this commitment to developing the regions have consequences for
the Community budget?
Yes, levels of development in the regions are dependent on the levels
of assistance provided. The financial package for the next period must
be expanded further to guarantee that the Union's least developed regions
continue to enjoy the same levels of structural funding as its new members.
If disparities of development and prosperity within the Union widen sharply
as a result of enlargement, continued progress towards the goals of social
and economic cohesion and balanced spatial development will be conditional
on increased levels of funding.
By ensuring that, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, and
deploying its resources to generate cross-cultural understanding and a
genuine sense of European solidarity, future Community regional policy
could make a unique "European" contribution to regional development,
namely by strengthening the bonds between the different peoples of the
EU and creating a real European identity.
Strengthening this sense of European identity cannot be created unless
the public in these countries is made aware of the contribution made by
the EU to social and economic regeneration. Are the members of the CoR
conscious of the lack of public awareness about Europe in this respect?
Certainly, public awareness and a locally based approach will be among
the Committee of the Region's top political priorities in the coming years.
Increasing public recognition of the support channelled through the Structural
Funds is part of the local development approach, under which the Committee
has a special role as a public sounding board for Union policies.
As regards enlargement, the Committee will be relying on publicity measures
and communications to enhance people's sense of belonging to the European
Union. The Committee of the Region's 222 members (set to rise to 344 after
enlargement) and their alternates are the link between European citizens
and Community institutions. Their work is not limited to issuing opinions.
One of their chief tasks is to relay to the institutions the public's
concern on various matters, while at the same time passing information,
from the institutions to the public at large. Since the Committee members
represent regional or local constituencies, they are effectively the EU
representatives closest to citizens.
The Committee of the Regions has repeatedly called for expanding the
partnership aspect of Community operations to give local and regional
bodies a bigger role in developing and implementing ERDF-financed programmes.
How does the Community of the Regions perceive the decentralised aspect
of the 2000-2006 programming period?
The Committee of the Regions insists that local and regional authorities
be involved at every stage to draw up, implement and oversee programmes,
in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity as stipulated in the
Structural Funds General Regulation. This decentralised partnership based
on the "bottom-up" approach, must put into effect decisively
but democratically, as it is the key to better results in creating jobs,
honing regional competitiveness and promoting sustainable development.
In fact, only a handful of general provisions in the legislation are needed
to put the partnership principle into practice.
The vertical partnership between the European Commission and its Member
States must be extended to include local and regional bodies with a view
to spreading responsibility more broadly and equitably. At the same time,
decision-making powers must be demarcated more clearly to enable local
and regional entities to play a full part in general regional programming.
To ensure the greater efficiency of such partnerships, the role of local
and regional bodies as managing and paying authorities should be reinforced,
management and control procedures simplified, adequate technical support
provided so that all the partners in a given area can participate fully,
and to ensure the responsibility of roles and responsibilities, organising
the work load, powers of delegation and the availability of management
Besides regional policy itself, a number of other Community policies
also play their part in reinforcing cohesion across Europe. What do regional
and local politicians think of "common policies", especially
the common agricultural policy?
Regional policy is just one way of achieving social and economic cohesion
in Europe, arguably the most important - but other Community policies
are closely related to it in which local and regional representatives
play an important part. This is especially true in fields such as transport,
competition, the single market, economic and monetary policy, the common
fisheries policy and, of course, the common agricultural policy. An integrated,
bottom-up approach can be the best way to harness the synergies of complementary
And, of course, Community action in all of these areas must be based on
the principle of subsidiarity and take into consideration the priority
accorded to enlargement.
Given the marked agricultural bias in the economies of most of the CEECs,
the common agricultural policy will be a vital lever of regional development
in the enlarged Union.
For more information on the Committee of the Regions, you can visit its
website at :http://www.cor.europa.eu/home.htm