Saturday, September 6, 2008

Europe’s future safe with cohesion policy

Hubner wants regional approach to local demands

Brussels, July 7 - There is hope stemming from the ongoing experience of a strong economic growth in the poorer European regions than the rest of the European Union as cohesion policy gets implemented, top EU official told a distinguished audience last week.

Addressing an EPC (European Policy Centre, a Brussels based think-tank) Breakfast Briefing on the EU Regional Policy Post-2013: More of the Same or a New Beginning?, European Commissioner for Regional Policy Danuta Hubner, said that the Commission’s “Fifth Progress Report on Economic and Social Cohesion” showed that structural change, and strong growth in knowledge- intensive, high-tech manufacturing sectors, had reduced the difference between the rich “old” EU Member States and the poorer “convergence” regions over the last five years.

“Per capita GDP growth was 50 percent faster in the convergence regions than in the rest of the EU, and unemployment there has dropped by three percent,” she added. “In order to shape future cohesion policy, we need to understand the reasons for the current social, economic and territorial inequalities,” argued the Commissioner, adding, “research suggests that EU integration and globalisation are producing different concentrations of winners and losers.”

Citing some scholars as saying that is the “price to pay” for high economic growth at the macro-economic level, Hubner sided with “more with scholars who argue that uneven regional growth stems from endogenous factors, such as the lack of natural resources, inadequate skills, poor accessibility, or poor capacity to innovate or to assimilate innovation.”

Recalling that she used to say that not even “a square kilometre,” should be wasted, the Commissioner said, “Realising how small Europe’s landmass is in global terms, we can not waste even a square centimetre.” “The aim of a modern cohesion policy is to provide ‘public goods’ aimed at improving skills, innovation capacity, entrepreneurship, sustainability, employment and accessibility, to enable all European territories to realise their full potential.

“The new policy for 2007- 2013 is designed to meet these challenges, and emphasises a place-based approach to growth and jobs, using local knowledge and responding to local demands.” “The new budget provides three times more funding for research and innovation than the previous allocation,” said the Commissioner.

“There are now 450 programmes that use socio-economic and territorial aspects to develop local and regional capacities: 30 percent are geared to environmental projects, 25 percent to innovation and 14 percent to human-capital related activities. All include a strong focus on developing a knowledge-based economy,” the Polish-born Commissioner said.

Saying, “Globalisation is not an abstract process, but has concrete impacts on European territories,” Hubner pointed out that it generated “pressures which have an asymmetrical impact on regions, especially those dominated by particular sectoral activities. “We need both continuity and change,” she said, so the new policies emphasise partnership and multi-level governance, since - ironically, in an increasingly globalised world - regional and local levels are best placed to take advantage of global processes,” she concluded.

Giving the example of a successful network of cities in Bavaria where there is ongoing work on science based activities, Hubner said, “Europe needs more ‘place-based’ responses that not only involve big cities with industrial activities and universities, but also small communities and businesses.” Reflecting on future cohesion policy, the Commissioner said that stakeholder responses to the Fourth Cohesion Report showed strong support for an ambitious and strong cohesion policy and gave an emphatic “No” to re-nationalising it. “Instead, stakeholders supported a coordinated policy for all EU regions, with a strong focus on the poorest areas, and a shift towards focusing on the Lisbon Strategy’s objectives of innovation, skills and education, sustainable development and developing Europe-wide structures.”

A Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion will also be adopted in early October 2008 which will launch the public consultation on solving interregional and intra-regional disparities, and an Orientation Paper will be published in Spring 2009 to synthesise the results of the debate.

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