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The Council continues to examine the legislative package of the Cohesion Policy for 2021-2027. The General Affairs at its meeting this Friday, November 30 in Brussels addresses the architecture of cooperation between regions, known as the Interreg objective, of singular relevance for the outermost territories. The creation of a specific Interreg for the outermost regions with 270.1 million euros is one of the featured news of the proposal of the Commission. The President of the Council, the Austrian Minister Elisabeth Köstinger, has noted that the Member States agree on this point. The “Interreg” for ORs can be approved this November 30.
The proposal with the five drafts of regulation of the legislative package departed from the Commission in May. It began to be discussed under the Bulgarian Presidency, continues under the Austrian and will continue during the Romanian. No wonder: one in three euros of the European Union budget goes to the cohesion policy, which was born as European Social Fund in 1957 along with the Treaty of Rome. If the Commission’s proposal goes ahead, the so-called “cohesion package” comprising seven European funds will consume 330,000 million euros in the budget cycle 2021-2027. The objective of the Austrian Presidency is to set the Council’s position before 31 December on at least two of the funds: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund.
The exception clauses for the outermost regions are frequent in the legislative package proposed by the Commission. A simple query returns more than a hundred references to the ORs in the five drafts. The legal anchoring of all is Article 349 of the Treaty of Functioning, which recognizes the outermost geographical condition as the basis of a specific modulation of Law and European policies.
In addition to accessing European funds through the common eligibility criteria –GDP per capita, youth unemployment, CO2 emissions, reception of migrants, … – the outermost regions have, since the Treaty of Lisbon, a specific allocation in the ERDF . The Commission’s proposal is for 1,447 million euros between the years 2021 and 2027, 9.6% more than in the 2014-2020 cycle.
Rup have exceptional privileges in the application of European funds. In these regions, ERDF resources can go to operating expenses in companies, something that is prohibited or restricted to the maximum in the other regions, because it is considered that it can alter the rules of fair competition. Rup may also resort to the indirect management of Interreg projects with neighboring countries, a faculty that is forbidden to other European regions.
It is not the future of cohesion policy that concerns local authorities and lobbies in the outermost regions. It is true: its leaders warned at the recent Rup Conference held in the Canary Islands against one aspect of the reform of the funds, the proposal to reduce the European co-financing of projects from 85% to 70%. Even so, it is clear that the Rup improve their funding in the Commission proposal.
What is really disturbing in local governments is the reform of the agrarian policy, the other pillar of the Structural and Investment Funds. The weight of the lobby agro-industrial is remarkable in these regions. They remain, after all, eminently rural societies. Cohesion policy has produced uneven results –from one region to another– on the road to convergence. Some, like the Canary Islands, have moved away, instead of approaching the average European income. On the other hand, the agrarian policy has produced happy heroes and distrustful of any change. Its agenda explains, to a large extent, the alarmist tone of the final declaration of the Canary Islands Conference. If they think they will do badly for them, the local political elites will surely do worse.