Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to thank all our distinguished speakers during the last two days for their participation and their contributions to make this fifth Cohesion Forum a success.
With this Forum, we have intensified the debate about the future role of Cohesion Policy.
You have sat through many speeches yesterday and this morning and the lunch break is close.
Given the number of panels and speakers during this two-day conference, the fact that we are nearly on time, is … well, it beats my prediction.
So, I hope you will forgive me for one more speech.
But as this will be my last chance for a while to talk to you all together, I would like to take the opportunity to say some final words.
We have come a long way with the debate on the future of Cohesion Policy.
Even if the successes of Cohesion Policy on the ground have been plain to see over the years, this has not always been recognised.
But if you look at perceptions of Cohesion Policy one year ago and the perception of Cohesion Policy now, you will see that the image of Cohesion Policy has changed considerably.
Today Cohesion Policy has moved at the heart of the European agenda.
The high ranking speakers at this forum are testimony to that.
This change was only possible because we all together came up with a very credible proposal to make Cohesion Policy a key delivery mechanism for Europe 2020 and a synonym for European investment policy to drive growth and jobs.
Thus, our ideas on thematic concentration and conditionality - or success factors for Cohesion Policy as I would rather call them - are an integral part of this reform and helped us considerably to win support.
Let me emphasise once more, that flexibility and setting priorities are not contradictory.
During the thematic panels we have heard about the many and varied fields in which Cohesion Policy can make a difference when it comes to smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
But we have also heard that each region has its individual needs and specific situation in implementing Europe 2020.
Therefore, each region has a different job to do and has to find its own thematic mix for success.
Today marks the end of the consultation process on our policy paper but our fight for a strong Cohesion policy for the future - meaning also the fight for an adequate budget - is far from over.
Only with a sufficient budget we can make meaningful headway with support for territorial cooperation or investment in the more developed regions (as demanded by 143 RCE regions).
And without an adequate budget all regions will see their funding squeezed.
If the cake gets smaller, so do the slices.
To succeed in making the argument for the Cohesion Policy Europe needs, we need to put up a united front especially in the months to come.
We need to explain that our policy proposals are a serious effort to equip Europe with a regional policy that brings results.
We defend Cohesion Policy not out of loyalty to an old ideal, but out of commitment to a more prosperous and efficient future.
Therefore, I need you to support me, especially when it comes to translating our reform will into concrete regulations.
This is not the moment to hesitate: we need to prove that we are serious when we talk about effectiveness, results, and impact. These cannot be only nice words. They must be accompanied by clear rules and implementing mechanisms.
We have presented some ideas whether on thematic concentration, conditionality, or evaluation and target setting: we should together discuss the details, but we should not be hesitant about the overall direction of reform.
In this respect, I count on the work the Hungarian presidency is preparing for the next General Affairs Council and for the informal Ministerial meeting in May.
Secondly, as Cohesion Policy has moved to the heart of the European agenda all eyes are now on you.
The size of the overall budget for Cohesion Policy will depend to a large degree on the current period.
It is hard to negotiate a higher or even the same budget if the money allocated for this period is not fully used or not used in meaningful ways reflecting European added value.
The award ceremony "regions of excellence" yesterday, showed that you are carrying out excellent projects.
I would like to congratulate all the winners once again and also thank them for their achievements which set such inspiring examples.
You are our business cards to promote Cohesion Policy but we need more of them.
I hope each of you will leave this Forum with a renewed determination to speed up the absorption rate and show doubters that Cohesion funds work hard for the taxpayer, with not a centime wasted.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is how you can help me to help you to achieve the funds you need.
Now, I know there is also something else I need to do to help you.
Maybe this issue is sometimes neglected in discussions on the future of the policy but rest reassured that it is high on my agenda.
I am talking about simplification.
Simplification is of course a very powerful tool to drive our policy towards more results.
Simpler rules simply mean fewer errors.
Our efforts for lighter and simpler rules in the current period have already born fruit as the recent Court of Auditors report showed.
Of course we need further improvements to lighten your load, and the work of beneficiaries.
But as I have already said on several occasions simplification for me does not necessarily mean fundamental change.
As somebody from the private sector I know that stability and predictability of rules are important.
Therefore, I will propose targeted adjustments to the existing system.
As you know, the Commission is currently examining ways how best to streamline the delivery of the next generation of cohesion policy programmes.
This work will be an important part of the future regulations.
For example, we are exploring options for a more differentiated approach to delivery in order to ensure that controls are proportionate to the level of risk.
This will include wider use of simplified reimbursement methods, such as lump sums.
And, to ensure that managing authorities and beneficiaries really see a positive change, I will make sure that our commonly agreed simplified rules are also properly transposed into national rules.
Second, the Commission is making considerable progress in further aligning eligibility rules across EU instruments (e.g. between Cohesion and R&D policies), to ensure that beneficiaries don't have to deal with different rules for different EU funds.
I think such an alignment on its own make a bonfire of a lot of red tape.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Some of you might think it's unfair that I am asking you for two things but just offering one in exchange.
But I promise you 200% effort in all I do on your behalf.
To conclude I would like to thank every one of you for the keen interest, active participation and the excellent contributions to this Forum.
You made it a success as you will the future of Cohesion Policy.
Now, enjoy the well deserved lunch.
Thank you for your attention.