On 24 March, I went to Charleroi in Wallonia. I wanted to see with my own eyes the achievements of Cohesion Policy in that area that is facing unemployment problems and to reaffirm the support of the European Commission in the process of economic reconversion of the region, especially in the wake of the Caterpillar crisis.
The "ministre-président" of Wallonia, Paul Magnette was my host for the day. He explained to me what steps they have taken to ensure the best projects are selected for EU funding, including the step to establish an independent and pluralist board whose task is to assess the quality of all applications for cohesion policy funds.
For my part, I was happy to congratulate Wallonia via Paul Magnette, for the high rate of implementation of the EU Programmes for both funding periods: in 2007-2013 the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) supported almost 6,000 businesses and created more than 2,600 new jobs, while in the current period we expect to support the same amount of business (plus almost 800 start-ups) and to create 4,500 jobs.
Charleroi has recently faced the crisis of Caterpillar, which has led to thousands of job cuts. My visit was the moment to stress our commitment to back the economic recovery of the region. One of the ways is to invest in high-tech technology to create quality jobs for the long-term. That's why Paul magnette and I visited the Aéropole Science Park, a stonethrow away from the deserted Caterpillar site. The Aéropole is a business incubator which hosts 150 companies and provides hundreds of jobs in the fields of aeronautics, ICT, biotechnologies, etc.
We then moved to Charleroi's city centre and more specifically "Quai 10". Here's a project co-financed by ERDF that stands for another face of creativity and innovation in the contemporary world. The project strives for the revival of the south area of the metropolis: bringing together two essential discipline of the world of contemporary image: cinema and video games. The aim is to be a platform for reflection and exchange for companies working in creative businesses.
These projects show how investments in innovation and future-oriented industries - via the European development fund - are vital for supporting such creative sectors and for bringing jobs to all European regions. Cohesion Policy is a very tangible illustration of how Europe can meet the expectations of citizens, improving their daily lives wherever they live. It helps regions suffering from industrial transition to find new niches, it enables jobs to be created in high-tech sectors, it supports businesses to launch new products on the market and enables entrepreneurs to start-up businesses and transforms cities' districts into public areas for their inhabitants.