On the occasion of the visit, President Barroso said, "I was the first international leader to meet Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness after agreement on restoration of the political institutions in May 2007. At the time I set up a Task Force to make sure that the people of Northern Ireland get the full benefit of European Union funds. We have seen good progress in the last four years. I want to see more. I'm delighted that the Task Force is back in Belfast to give a new momentum to this work".
European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn stated: "The European Commission has over the years been very supportive of the peace and reconciliation process in Northern Ireland. The Task Force is a natural continuation of this support and best exemplifies the commitment of the European Commission to help Northern Ireland to make the most of the opportunities arising from the return of peace."
The discussion will concentrate on aligning the priorities of Northern Ireland with the priorities at EU level and linking them with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
During the visit, the Task Force members will visit projects that have received funding from the Structural Funds, the Framework Programme for Research and other policies and initiatives.
The Commission's Northern Ireland Task Force was put in place following Commission President José Manuel Barroso's visit to Belfast on 1 May 2007, just before the devolved institutions were re-established based on a sharing of power between the main political parties. Its mandate is to look at how to improve Northern Ireland's access to, and participation in, Community policies and programmes. The core members of the Task Force are services of the Commission with a role to play in the region's economic modernisation (agriculture, education and culture, employment, regional policy, enterprise and industry, environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, research and development, transport and energy), together with the European Investment Bank.
For the period 2000-2006, six programmes in Northern Ireland received EU investment of some €2.2 billion. For the current planning period 2007-2013, six EU programmes will provide a total investment of €1.2 billion: PEACE III (MEMO/08/229), the Regional Competitiveness and Employment programme, the labour market programme, the cross-border cooperation programme with Western Scotland and Ireland (MEMO/08/93) and the rural development programme.