The Committee on Regional Development has prepared an opinion for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs which details the fundamental issues concerning EU cohesion in the context of the current state of economic and social development. The opinion’s author, Spanish MEP Ramon Valcárel Siso, concludes that EU economic development in a number of areas requires extra effort to implement a cohesion policy. According to Valcárel Siso, divergence and differences in the euro area, particularly regarding employment and unemployment rates, pose a threat to the Economic and Monetary Union, and the EU in general.
Valcárel Siso expects there will be positive effects from better identifying regional differences and monitoring these as a prerequisite for a successful cohesion policy. These positive effects would be supported through other measures already envisaged such as strengthening administration and efforts to increase fiscal convergence. He highlights existing deficits in several areas; for example, GDP per capita is stagnating in the euro area. In addition, a large proportion of the EU population would live below the poverty line. This fact makes it difficult for further efforts to combat poverty.
The MEP stressed that a considerable number of country-specific recommendations could not be fully achieved without the active involvement of local and regional authorities. Although around EUR 454 billion is available for the 2014-2020 period, cohesion policy should not be seen merely as a tool but rather a variable for long-term structural policy. It is intended to reduce disparities between European regions in terms of their level of development.
This covers the entire spectrum of investment, employment, competitiveness, sustainable development and economic growth. According to the rapporteur, this is the only way to bridge the gap between ‘Europe’ and its ‘citizens’. This highlights the importance of cohesion policy for the future of Europe. EU citizens moving from poorer countries to more affluent ones, known as EU internal migration, is also a tangible motive. The exodus of highly qualified workers to countries where there are more jobs or better salaries is a great threat to the future of the home Member States.
Observers point out that since the start of the financial crisis in 2007/2008 and increasingly since bypassing the solvency problems of European countries from 2010, imbalances between the EU regions have been increasing. Mass unemployment, over-indebtedness and political failures have damaged local perspectives, disappointed people and triggered a multitude of political annoyances. As a result, Brussels, although active, has been entangled in a number of minor conflicts of interest. Some believe that even today, political gestures – one thinks of the symbolic designation of ‘one’ finance minister for all national euro area budgets – tend to be more symbolic policies than a real way of tackling well-known structural weaknesses: organisational diversity but with combined forces.