Rapporteur Bernard Soulage (FR/PES) warns new rules linking economic governance to regional policy are "unfair, counterproductive and far too complex"
Between 2015 and 2019 the European Commission will have the power to demand the reprogramming or suspension of structural funds if Member States fail to respect EU economic governance rules. But reprogramming will be extremely expensive and difficult for national, regional and local authorities to manage. Furthermore, according to a draft opinion adopted on 16 December by the Committee of the Regions' Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy (COTER), local and regional authorities responsible for implementing EU cohesion policy programmes will be unfairly penalised as in most cases they are not accountable for excessive national deficits.
Last year the Committee strongly opposed the introduction of the "macro-economic conditionality" and succeeded in obtaining a first limitation of its scope. Now that new provisions are being put into practice, regions and cities are reiterating their opposition. The Committee is committed to raising awareness of the potential risks of linking the actual availability of cohesion policy investment for 2014-2020, and respecting Member States' obligations on sound economic governance.
The draft opinion unanimously adopted by COTER on the European Commission's Guidelines on the application of the measures linking the effectiveness of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) to sound economic governance questions whether the reprogramming and associated arrangements can positively deliver and contribute to improving a country's long-term competitiveness. It also raises concerns about the complexity and legal limits of the whole exercise.
Indeed, it should be completed respecting a number of requirements set by the new regulation, such as the concentration of funds on thematic priorities, the minimum allocation for the European Social Funds, as well as the definition of objectives for the performance framework. Once all these aspects have been updated, negotiations between the Member States and European Commission on both partnership agreements and operational programmes would be re-opened to include the required changes. In general, the suggested reprogramming procedure will lead to more red tape and place unnecessary administrative burden not only on the EU and national authorities, but also on managing authorities which will result in significant additional costs needed to implement the necessary changes.
From a broader political perspective, the draft opinion deplores the recentralisation at national and EU level that underpins the entire measure and involves considerable interference from the Commission. It also argues that surprisingly, according to the Commission's guidelines, the European Parliament's democratic oversight of this new macroeconomic conditionality system will no longer be exercised to the full, especially where the reprogramming of funds is concerned. The central decision-making role of the European Parliament should be therefore restored in the implementation of the principle of macroeconomic conditionality, in association with the Committee of the Regions.
The final adoption of the draft opinion is scheduled on 12-13 February 2015 during the Committee's plenary session.
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