Cardiff, 31 January 2011
The EU's cohesion policy - worth almost €350 billion over 7 years - provides support for 455 national and regional development programmes across the EU. In the context of both the EU budget review and the Europe 2020 Strategy, a number of options for reforming the policy when the current funding period ends in 2013 are under discussion. The Fifth Cohesion Forum opening today in Brussels will be the last opportunity for Member States and regions to make their voices heard before the Commission presents its legislative proposals on the future cohesion policy, due out by summer 2011. Organised every three years, the Commission has invited top policy-makers from the 27 Member States to the two-day event which expects around 800 participants.
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Regional Policy, and László Andor, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion will be joined at the event's launch by José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, Donald Tusk, and Prime Minister of Poland – the countries holding the EU Presidency. Andrius Kubilius, Prime Minister of Lithuania will also take part in the forum.
Speaking ahead of the event, Commissioner Hahn stated: "The Union, especially in these difficult economic times, needs good and targeted investment in our regions through cohesion policy. The Cohesion Forum provides a crucial opportunity for national, regional and local representatives, as well as other stakeholders, to exchange ideas on the future policy. The findings from the consultation and discussions during the forum will help us prepare an even more effective cohesion policy, better adapted to the economic situation of today and that will help us contribute to the ambitious Europe 2020 goals. "
Commissioner Andor added: "We have seen that cohesion policy can make a real difference to employment, education opportunities and inclusion. It boosts growth and competitiveness and helps social progress. But it must adapt to respond to the challenges our countries and citizens face as we emerge from the crisis. The Europe 2020 strategy is our commonly agreed recipe and cohesion policy must underpin its most important reform priorities."
The event will look in particular at the role of cohesion policy in delivering the Europe 2020 Strategy – which sets out the sustainable economic development blueprint for the EU for the next decade. Four thematic -panels during the event, each chaired by EU Commissioners, will focus on key components of the EU 2020 Strategy: smart growth, green growth, inclusive growth, and the territorial dimension of Europe 2020.
With the publication of the fifth cohesion report in November 2010, the Commission set out its initial ideas for further simplifying and streamlining the delivery system of cohesion policy, and improving evaluation, performance and results through more effective target-setting. The report showed that cohesion policy has made a significant contribution to growth and prosperity, with figures demonstrating how it helped to create an estimated 1.4 million new jobs, supported some 34 million unemployed to get back to work, enhanced the skills of another 36 million persons, funded 4 700 km of motorway and 1 200 km of high-speed rail, and provided waste water treatment for an additional 23 million people, access to clean water for an additional 20 additional million people, skills training for 10 million people per year, with a focus on vulnerable groups.
However for the future cohesion policy, the Commission has proposed to focus future funding on the key priorities in line with the Europe 2020 goals with a view to maximise its impact. All the options set out in the report will be discussed in depth during the panels.
During the forum, President Barroso will also present the first 'Regions of Excellence' awards at a ceremony after the opening session. Lithuania, Wales (UK) and Brandenburg (Germany) are the winners of the top accolades and will be represented respectively by Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, First Minister Carwyn Jones, and Minister of Economy and European Affairs Ralf Christoffers. ‘Regions of Excellence’ recognises regions and countries that have successfully implemented policies, programmes and projects in line with the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The winners were selected as the best overall performers in the EU's annual RegioStars awards since 2008.