Brussels, 15 November 2017
[check against delivery]
[FIRST INTERVENTION ON THE OMNIBUS]
Thank you very much, Chair.
Dear Ministers, Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Estonian Presidency for organising this General Affairs Council meeting dedicated to cohesion policy.
On the modification of the Common Provisions Regulation, I would like to make two short points.
First, together we need to ensure that the Omnibus proposal is adopted by the end of this year.
I am confident that a political package could be established during next week's trilogue, which could form the basis for a final agreement.
I count on the Council to keep the momentum going.
Second, regarding the recent proposal, which adjusts the financial allocations for cohesion policy and for the Youth Employment Initiative.
Here the timeline is even tighter.
I am grateful that the Committee of Permanent Representatives agreed to take over the Commission proposal, and I am happy that the Parliament proceeds also swiftly.
[SECOND INTERVENTION ON THE COHESION REPORT]
Thank you Chair.
The 7th Cohesion Report tells us many important things on the state of cohesion in the EU. Today, I would like to focus on three issues in particular, which I think should inform our debate for the preparation of the post-2020 cohesion policy.
First, the report tells us the convergence is occurring at EU level. This is good news. It means that cohesion policy works.
But the report also tells us that disparities are increasing between countries and within countries.
Whether between rural and urban areas; between urban peripheries and downtowns; between small towns and large metropolitan areas;
the geography of discontent is changing and is affecting to different degrees all Member States.
As one eminent newspaper recently wrote:"Affluent places are pulling away from poorer ones. This geographical divergence has dramatic consequences.Assuaging the anger of the left-behind means realising the places matter too."
This is the fundamental, economic, social and political reason why I believe that cohesion policy is needed more than ever and is needed everywhere in the EU.
Second, the report tells us that the drivers of growth and jobs, and the factors which define the resilience of places and the opportunities of people are also changing.
Social inclusion, including integration of migrants, climate change and energy, sustainable transport, basic services such as health and increasingly digital infrastructure, innovation and research: these are the areas where cohesion policy has made a difference and should focus even more in the future.
For example, according to the cohesion report, innovation remains concentrated in a limited number of regions. In some cases, benefits spill over, but we have to strengthen that trend, for example by facilitating interregional collaborations along value chains as defined by the smart specialisation strategies.
This may require a re-thinking of the current set of thematic objectives. I am thinking of a menu of objectives that have a clear link with the Commission's priorities. This should also allow for a better coordination between the different sources of funding, and ensure a more tailor-made approach in programming and implementation.
The third and final message of the report is that governance and administrative capacity are paramount.
The report highlights that the low quality of government and structural weaknesses hinders economic development and reduces the impact of public investment.
Structural reforms that improve competition, the business environment, education and skills sectors, labour markets and social protection systems can have major benefits.
I am convinced that ex-ante conditionalities have proved to be the most effective mechanisms to establishing the right framework conditions for investments.
We should reflect on how to make the system at the same time simpler and even more successful.
More generally, we need to find the best way to provide positive incentives to implement structural reforms: should there be one specific instrument or should these incentives be implemented through the delivery system of the funds?
We should also reflect on how to better match the annual cycle of the European Semester and the mid-term planning of cohesion policy.
Your views and experience will be of great value in finding the right answers.