Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Let me start by thanking the governments of Bavaria and Saxony for this exceptional opportunity to discuss together the future of cohesion policy.
As Minister Jaeckel just recalled, this debate coincides with the commemoration of the first anniversary of the Brussels attacks. I firmly believe the best tribute we can pay to their memory, is to fight for a united and strong Europe, which is a home of peace for everybody, as desired by our Forefathers.
Dear colleagues, 60 years ago, on 25 March 1957, the Rome Treaty was signed, giving birth to the European Union. I hope that many years from now, when future generations will look back at this sixtieth anniversary, they will say that it was just the beginning then. That the EU was young back then.
Let's be honest! The EU is facing numerous unprecedented challenges. Brexit, fast technological change, migration, demographic change, a fragile economy, the resurgence of inequalities within and between EU countries, a difficult international situation…
These factors have planted seeds of concern across the whole of Europe. No individual Member State, no region is immune from it. New forces are emerging which challenge many of the values we take for granted: openness, diversity, freedom, democracy. We are starting to realise that nothing is irreversible. And this is the moment where we should affirm that nothing is inevitable either.
President Juncker's White Paper on the future of Europe is a first step: we need to listen to all, what sort of Europe do we want, do we need in future? But at the same time, we must give our citizens new reasons to believe in European integration. And cohesion policy is a strong reason to believe in Europe.
As I often say, cohesion policy alone won't heal Europe but Europe won't heal without cohesion policy.
First of all, cohesion policy brings European solidarity to each and every corner of the Union. Ensuring everybody has access to the same opportunities, wherever she or he is.
Second, its unique nature sees the European, national, regional and local levels work together across the whole of Europe. It also brings together the public sector, businesses and associations.
Third, cohesion policy delivers! It delivers results that citizens can see with their own eyes: better public transport, better access to internet, a better environment, better schools and better hospitals. This was true in 2007-2013 as the independent evaluation has shown, but let me assure you that it continues being so now, in 2014-2020. The increasing amount of projects supported is the best proof of the attachment of Europeans to this Policy, and our best argument for a strong policy in the future.
The future of this policy, like the future of the Union, will largely be shaped this year.That's why I warmly thank our hosts, Bavaria and Saxony, for their joint position paper and support to the political declaration of last Autumn.
I am glad we have many common views, for example that cohesion policy must remain the main investment force of the EU; We also share the view that it needs to invest in all regions, without exception.
I also welcome the joint position paper of Bavaria and 7 other partners on Macroregional Strategies as presented by Minister Merk today. Dear Minister, I consider cooperation as one of the great successes of cohesion policy and share the view that also other EU policies should contribute even more to its achievements.
We work with the European Parliament, with the Member States in the Council and with the regional partners for achieving more synergies between programmes and good governance. I count on you to tell the story about the positive results of cooperation, too.
I also look forward to the outcome of the discussions on the report of Kerstin Westphal, who I am happy to see here, on a post-2020 cohesion policy. Likewise, I look forward to the work of the High-level Group for Simplification, of which I am glad to see two members here (Olga Letáčková and Erwin Huber).
The question, dear friends, remains how to achieve results with this policy, in a simple, fast and more cost-effective manner. In our views, reflexions should focus on the following aspects.
First of all, we need a policy that is flexible and simpler; this would make it able to respond to emerging challenges and asymmetric shocks, but within a stable investment framework for all regions.
Then, we need a policy with reinforced links to the European economic governance.
Our policy is ideally placed to facilitate structural reforms, because it can provide incentives for taking decisions that are politically difficult. But we have to reflect on finding the right mechanism to let it do so.
Last but not least, we have to work hard on simplification and reduction of administrative burden.
At present, we are currently exploring avenues such as:
Further differentiation, to better reflect needs and potentials; working on results rather than invoices; and ensuring common rules for all Funds.
Now is the time to prepare for the next 60 years of a voluntary union of European countries.
Now is the time to work for a strong cohesion policy for all regions!
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