7th Cohesion Forum (26th – 27th June)

The 7th Cohesion Forum took place from 26th – 27th June 2017 in Brussels.  This high level political event takes place every three years and is a milestone in the preparations for the post-2020 framework of the European Structural and Investment Funds. Cohesion policy needs to reflect on the demanding challenge of making Europe’s economy more inclusive, competitive and resilient and must address the questions raised by the White paper on the future of Europe about the added value of EU policies, subsidiarity, and gaps between promise and delivery.

There were panel discussions, keynote speeches and themed workshops with high level speakers from the Commission, the Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, representatives from Member States responsible for the Funds and key policy experts.  

The Conference was webstreamed and the recordings can be found below:

DAY 1 : 26/06/2017:

DAY 2 : 27/06/2017:

The full Agenda of the Conference is available here.

Twitter hashtag: #EU7CF

For detailed notes from the panel discussions and workshops please download here.

Main trends from the discussions

Cohesion Policy (CP) is a key instrument with significant added value and a concrete demonstration of what the EU can do for its citizens.  Linked to this the need for better visibility and communication on CP results.  Primacy of the place-based policy approach. Several speakers advocated the broader context (not only CP should be working for Cohesion), discussions on structural reforms, better economic governance and respect for the rule of law should infuse the whole EU budget (convergence and coherence of policy/instruments).

– Difficult to know at this stage the size of the EU budget given Brexit however there will be a €20 Billion gap in the budget each year. The majority emphasised CP funding is for all and should not be reduced – if cuts must be made, they could (or should) be made elsewhere however the main theme was the need to look at new resources while becoming more efficient.

– Several speakers raised and promoted discussions on EU own resources; a Eurozone budget with its own Parliament, increasing revenue through ‘Tobin tax’ (financial transfers tax) and attracting private investment.

– Most speakers agreed that CP funding is for long-term investment while emergent issues or ‘new priorities’ of migration, security & defence and globalisation should be dealt with by other or new funds.

– Strong support for linking CP closer to the EU Semester and Structural Reforms namely the Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs).  Allowing the Commission to apply more pressure for implementation was raised.  Several speakers emphasised the funds should not be connected to punishment re: macroeconomic conditionalities, the broad majority favoured incentives for structural reforms over punishment.

– General consensus was in favour of keeping the ex ante conditionalities (ExACs) while needing to simplify and possibly reduce their number. 

– Strong call for bottom up approaches and questions put forward on strengthening partnership post 2020 (whether to include the European Code of Conduct on partnership in the main regulations, are we satisfied with these minimum requirements?). 

– See detailed notes on the third panel debate, John Bachtler from the European Policies Research Centre on the issue of problems in the way in which resource allocation decisions are made within countries and regions and the degree to which these decisions are politicised.

– There should be a greater role for regions throughout CP but not at the expense of the National Government role (and accountability).  Disparities within regions regarded as key issue; the actual classification of regions was mentioned less, Keynote speech of Commissioner Marianne Thyssen (DG EMPL) advised GDP alone is a poor measurement to decide allocations of ESIF and other (social) indicators should be used.

– Much support for simplification of ESIF rules and procedures, while at the same time the need for legal certainty, proper monitoring and issues of audit.  Some advised the issue was the need for better administrative capacity.  Strong calls for more trust (National and EU) in the regional/lower levels of governance. Several speakers put differentiation forward as a favourable approach (keeping in mind this attaches some political sensitivity on profiling of countries capacity and track record).  Several speakers were in favour of integrating and combining the ESIFs to get away from different rules/procedures.

– Several speakers advised the need for more complementarities and synergies with other EU funds/instruments and policies (Horizon 2020 was mentioned several times), speakers emphasised the Juncker plan (EFSI) is a success but very different to CP, need for better interregional and national cross border knowledge sharing and collaboration.

– Generally, most speakers seemed to favour that the ESIF regulations do not drastically change – see Fabrizio Barca’s Keynote speech proposals on consolidating the framework and changing its politics (single CP fund and Commission Directorate, 500 project level experts deployed).  

– Calls for some aspects to be taken out of the ESIF regulations while others should be kept and improved:

Take out: Performance reserve and n+3 rule; these encourage absorption of funding over quality of projects.

– Cost based management; at a high level it was advised the Commission and others are favouring payments on results and outputs of projects rather than on invoices.  Several speakers advised Simplified Cost Options (SCOs) should be the default post 2020.

Keep and improve: Results orientation, shared management, multi-level governance/partnership, increase cross border programming/instruments (i.e. Interreg), discussions divided on more focused thematic objectives vs. stronger territorial approach.

– ExACs as an incentive fostering structural reforms.

– CP link to EU semester; need stronger ownership of CSRs at the national/regional levels, issue of EU semester timing being different to CP was raised as well as consistency, need to be more country tailored/focused and mid-term review of Programmes.

The Commission proposed a new timeline for MFF namely presenting their proposal mid 2018 (instead of end 2017) that would allow taking into account budgetary implications of Brexit and feedback on the White paper and reflection paper process.  Member States would debate the MFF in the EU Council from June 2018 – May 2019.

– Several calls for the need to have the MFF (legal basis of all multiannual programmes) and know the size of the budget, priorities (post Europe 2020 strategy) and regulations soon.

Creating resilience – Workshop 2: specific mention from Housing Europe on the importance of ensuring the aging population may remain in their own home as long as they wish. 

– European Disability Forum question to Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu on keeping the positive provisions in the current framework for post 2020 – ex ante conditionalities, partnership and accessibility – Commissioner Cretu answered in favour of this however she advised the fact is that funding will be reduced but she will fight in the Commission and with support of MEPs to keep what we have.  

– Intervention of Georges Dassis, President of the European Economic and Social Committee highlighted shortcoming of the Pillar on Social Rights social scoreboard indicators, need for social indicators integration into the governance framework, social impact assessments of the funds and implementation of the SDGs.

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