Dear ministers,

ladies and gentlemen,

 

Today we adopt the new “Territorial Agenda 2030”.

I congratulate the German Presidency, who took this matter to a successful conclusion. But I also thank everyone who has been involved in this collaborative process over the past two years.

The territorial agenda is essential. I am very glad that “Territory” is becoming ever more a concept of our political lexicon.

All too often and for too long policymakers have been spatially blind. And this is a huge mistake. Because the same decisions and the same policies can have a different impact on different place. And it is our responsibility to bridge this divide between general policies and their impacts on real people in real places, in real time.

The pattern of economic convergence in the EU is a proof that we need to pay closer attention to these dynamics.

In fact, while the differences between countries have been abating, the disparities within countries are growing, including in those that have most converged with the EU average these last years.

In the same country there are differences over 100% in GDP per capita. This is not sustainable from a political, economic or social point of view.

So ladies and gentlemen, today I will make two points.

First: the territorial challenges we face. Territories and territorial inclusion matter! Second: the practical actions we must take, to increase territorial inclusion and resilience.

First, the territorial challenges we face.

Territories matter!

The Corona crisis is a clear example. The virus is a common exogenous shock with asymmetric impact across European countries and regions.

The virus spreads more quickly in cities than in rural areas. The economic crisis hits certain places more than others, it hits certain industries and spares others. Tourism for example is particularly affected, and some regions depend heavily on this.

Territory will matter even more in the recovery. The lesson of every economic recovery in modern times, is that recovery is asymmetric at the regional level.

Territory also matters for our green ambitions. Around a quarter of a million Europeans are employed in coal-related activities, peat extraction and oil shale industry.

These carbon intensive industries are heavily concentrated: regions where a quarter of employment depends on these industries will need support.

Territory also matters for social inclusion. Even before Covid,

youth unemployment varied from 4 or 5 % in some regions to over 50% in others. And I can assure you that Covid is not making the situation better.

Territory also matters from a political perspective, as shown by the “Geography of discontent”. Populism, and discontent with the democratic process, have a very strong territorial dimension.

If we leave regions behind,  we cannot expect their inhabitants to support a system that does not deliver for them.

So for all these reasons, territory matters. It matters in the crisis and in the recovery. It matters for the green transition and for social inclusion. It matters if we want to understand populism. We cannot tackle these issues if we are spatially blind.

This brings me to my second point: the practical actions we must take, to increase territorial inclusion and resilience.

Territorial disparities are not inevitable. We can take steps to correct them. This is why we have cohesion policy in Europe,

This is why I have been advocating for strong place-based policies in the recovery.

Cohesion policy proved its relevance in the crisis. We enabled Member States to mobilise their unspent cohesion funds to address the immediate impact of the crisis.

Over 180 programme amendments have been processed and 16 billion euros of European cohesion investment has already been mobilised through the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII).

Cohesion policy funds have financed 1 billion items of personal protective equipment, as well as support to half a million small businesses and direct support to around a million workers.

This is a story which should be better known. Our work together, bore fruit at the moment it was most needed. I rely on all of you to boost the communication of this story.

After the crisis, comes recovery.

And I see in this an opportunity for a new beginning. You know our historic decision: for the first time ever, to borrow massively on the financial markets to support a robust recovery through loans and grants.

Cohesion Policy is an integral part of the most ambitious recovery plan the EU has ever seen. I hope that we will get past the current block, to get a Europe with the means, a Europe with the opportunity, and a Europe with the vision. A vision to be greener and more digital. A vision to be more resilient.

However, in all these changes, we cannot neglect the social and territorial dimensions. We must tackle spatial imbalances.

No region left behind, and no European feeling forgotten!

We also need spatial awareness in other policies and investment plans. Cohesion cannot be the only policy  concerned with the territorial dimension. This needs to be mainstreamed in all major policies and financial instruments. We must ensure that none of them are spatially blind. And that every one prioritises territorial inclusion, and this vision of a better distribution of activity and of public goods across territories.

We need your voices arguing for this. To take every action

and ensure that it has full territorial vision. For instance, it is critically important that the Recovery and Resilience Plans now under preparation fully take into account this spatial dimension.

Cohesion policy cannot be always correcting what other policies distort. This endless vicious loop needs to be broken.

We will try to contribute to this objective from Brussels. This is why to support the climate transition we proposed the Just Transition Fund, which will cushion the socio-economic impact on regions more heavily dependent on carbon.

The local level and local people have good, innovative ideas on how to take action. The European Climate Pact will accelerate social innovation and act as a breeding ground for these actions.

One strategic territorial aspect is the construction sector. This generates about 9% of EU GDP and accounts for around 18 million direct jobs. Buildings are also responsible for about 40% of the EU’s total energy consumption and 36% of our energy-related carbon emissions. There is also a territorial inclusion aspect, ranging from inequalities between neighbourhoods to disparities between regions and countries.

The Territorial Agenda rightly underlines the need for coherent planning, circularity in building materials, energy renovation of buildings and sustainable land use. The recent EU Renovation Wave promotes holistic approach.

This is also why to avoid a sudden rise in unemployment the EU proposed the SURE mechanism, which can finance short time work schemes, to keep people in their jobs, whatever they are located.

For this transition to happen we need everyone on board. As part of our recovery long term vision we also need to reflect on the way we organise our space, and move away from a continuous overload of already big agglomerations.

A network of multipolar, midsized cities is better for quality of life. This more territorially balanced organisation increases resilience too. Instead of one big city, we have more cities and more diversified economic activities functioning in network.

In conclusion: Territory matters. Place matters.

All of the main challenges of today have a strong spatial dimension. The recovery from Covid, the transition to a carbon neutral economy, social exclusion and populism: none of them can be understood or tackled, if we are spatially blind.

But the same is true for the opportunities of tomorrow.

Greater quality of life, sustainable cities, modern governance and public services: none of them make sense without their spatial dimension.

And we must deliver policies in a way that respects this: balancing the settlement pattern, considering practical territorial issues, like buildings, working with local authorities and local people.

This is what you have done with the territorial agenda, which I strongly welcome.

This too is the heart of Cohesion policy, which once again proves its relevance: it is neither old fashioned nor outdated.  In our current situation, we need Cohesion policy. But our most important challenge is to have Cohesion being delivered by all the other policies. Only then can we say that the vision set out in the Territorial agenda has been fulfilled.