Member of the European Commission responsible for Regional Policy
Keynote address. "Delivering Sustainable Communities Summit".
Manchester, 1st February 2005
Mr. Deputy Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here this morning, in this great city of Manchester, to address such a distinguished audience on the subject of building sustainable communities. I am delighted to see so many of the key people involved in regenerating and developing towns and cities throughout the UK and indeed throughout the world.
We meet at the beginning of 2005, an important year for the enlarged Union. It will be marked by the challenges of ratifying the Constitutional Treaty and deciding on both the EU budget from 2007 to 2013 and the new architecture for cohesion policy. Two Member States (Lithuania and Hungary) have ratified the Constitutional Treaty already, and a third (Slovenia) is expected to follow suit today. Italy is half way and Spain will follow in three weeks, on 20 February.
And the new European Commission is now, I am happy to say, firmly established in office. I was delighted to be offered the wonderful portfolio of Regional Policy, and I am very much looking forward to working with as many of you as possible over the next five years.
Achieving Sustainable Communities
Achieving sustainable communities is no easy task. You need a thriving economy, good transport links, excellent education and healthcare facilities, ample green spaces, cultural attractions, and plentiful and decent housing, among other things.
But success stories are already emerging. I am pleased that the EU has played its part in many of these, providing both finance and new ideas.
In this city, for example, the flagship New East Manchester regeneration area has received over £26 million of European funding. The EU has helped to set up business parks, a vocational training centre and community learning facilities, and a social employment agency which helps local unemployed people back into work.
Of course, the UK has played a pioneering role in regeneration. Most European programmes in the UK emphasise the social and economic development of local communities. There is a rich vein of experience here for the rest of the EU to draw on.
We are spreading best practice through measures like the URBAN initiative, which covers 70 towns and cities across Europe, 11 of them in the UK. Its objectives include physical and environmental regeneration, social inclusion, training, entrepreneurship and employment. URBAN programmes adopt a joined-up approach to the problems facing an area, and they help to forge strong partnerships with local authorities and the local community.
These actions are backed by broader exchanges of experience at the European level. For example, Birmingham, Glasgow and Leeds are involved in the `Security' network, which concentrates on policies and actions to combat crime and its causes.
Sustainable communities and public policy - the Commission's proposals
How do we build in the Commission on these success stories? With three essential ingredients in mind, namely:
resources, both public and private;
and strategic vision,
the European Commission is proposing a renewed EU regional and cohesion policy from 2007.
The proposal aims to support sustainable communities throughout the EU. It aims to unlock the potential for self-sustaining growth and jobs that exists in all regions. The ultimate goal is a Europe that, through its economic strength, is able to maintain a high quality of life for all its citizens.
We face fresh challenges, not least the widening of regional disparities with the entry of 10 new, and less prosperous, Member States into the European Union. I believe, however, that EU enlargement is above all a tremendous opportunity for the Union as a whole. The new Member States have a great deal to offer when it comes to making the EU more dynamic and competitive, and we must support this process of convergence. Helping the less prosperous regions to catch up will be to the benefit of the whole Union.
We will continue to focus nearly 80 per cent of regional policy funds on the poorest regions in the EU, a little over half of which are in the new Member States.
But the Commission's proposal recognises that investments are still needed outside the poorest regions. EU regional policy will continue, for example, to support areas undergoing economic restructuring or regions that would benefit from greater territorial cooperation. We will continue to show our solidarity with cities, because even large, wealthy cities contain pockets of deprivation.
Coming back to the three essential ingredients:
First, resources. The Commission proposes a budget of €336bn for regional policy in the period 2007-2013, which represents a stable share of EU GNP as compared to the current financial perspective. If anything, this errs on the side of prudence, given the scale of the challenges. With 100 million more European citizens, a dramatically increased development gap and the challenge of raising competitiveness and employment ahead of us, reducing the level of investment in the economic, social and territorial cohesion of the Union would be neither wise nor justified.
Second, ownership. EU-funded programmes are developed through partnerships, involving the authorities at European, national, regional and local level, as well as social partners and civil society. Partnership means combining Europe-wide best practice with local knowledge and the involvement of the people who benefit directly from a successful outcome. I believe this is one of the truly world-class aspects of the EU framework, and one I intend to develop.
Third, strategic vision. Our proposals recognise that sustainable competitiveness is the only route to lasting cohesion. Tomorrow the Commission will present its proposals for the mid-term review of the Lisbon strategy, which aims to make the EU more dynamic and competitive. The reformed cohesion policy is an essential part of that.
Let me finish by giving you a brief update on how the negotiations on these proposals are proceeding. Were it not for the question of money, I think we would be well on the way to an agreement with Member States and the European Parliament on the substance of policy.
But of course, this being the EU, it is partly a question of money!
Let me say that calling for deep cuts in the EU budget and its cohesion policy part would be a false economy and a step backwards.
First, for many people, European regional policy is the most visible presence of the European Union on the ground. Take it away and the Union becomes an abstract entity for laying down rules, directives and regulations. Is this the kind of Europe we want?
Second, it would be a political mistake to create a new division in Europe between a West that gives and an East that receives. It is right to concentrate support on the poorest regions in the poorer countries. But it would be impossible to explain to people in the less well-off regions and cities in the richer countries, experiencing industrial closures, high unemployment or social deprivation, that they are no longer entitled to any EU regional aid at all. What kind of solidarity would that be?
Third, regional policy is not about handouts. It is about investment in the indigenous potential of regions and communities whose contribution to European growth, employment and competitiveness will work for a better Europe.
Mr. Deputy Prime Minister,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The European Union must listen to what the regions and the cities have to say about developing sustainable communities. And when I say the European Union, I mean the Member States in the Council as well as the Commission!
We in the Commission are extremely grateful for the hundreds of contributions we have received to the debate on the future of regional policy - many of them, I am sure, from people in this room. There is overwhelming support at regional and city level for the Commission's proposals.
I hope I can count on your continued support in getting the message across about the added value of EU regional policy. And I hope we will continue to work together towards greater competitiveness and greater cohesion throughout the whole of the European Union.