On 21 March, rue des Tanneurs in Brussels, in a building that was refurbished thanks to cohesion funds, the biggest talk show ever dedicated to cohesion policy took place, in cooperation with EURONEWS. Its aim: celebrate the thirstiest anniversary of cohesion policy and its achievements.
First, the quality of the speakers: the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Commission, former EU Commissioners for regional policy such as Monika Wulf-Mathies, Michel Barnier, Danuta Huebner, Johannes Hahn, the president of the Committee of the Regions Karl-Heinz Lambertz, Members of the European Parliament and a string of representatives of regions and cities... Whether in the flesh or via video, they all agreed to be part of this anniversary.
Second, the quality of the debate. The rule imposed to the speakers on stage was simple: no written speeches, no PowerPoint; this had to be a genuine debate, a sharing of experience. And we heard a lot of them.
From Antonio Costa who explained how Portugal benefited from cohesion policy and how net contributors to the EU budget also benefitted from Portugal's economic growth, to Johannes Hahn showing a model of the bridge that cohesion policy helped build to link catholic and protestant areas of Londonderry, Antonio Tajani recalling how much Italian regions owe to cohesion policy projects, the mayor of Stockholm stressing how even rich cities need such funding or Karl-Heinz Lambertz describing the breadth of support the cohesion alliance has attracted... And I could go on for a long time, so passionate was the debate.
As interesting were the two moments in which the audience was invited to vote on two questions (what is cohesion policy about first and foremost, and what it should focus on in future). It may come as no surprise to you that for the first question, there was a clear winner "cohesion policy is first and foremost about improving people's daily lives. As for the second, no "clear winner" emerged, thus indicating that indeed, cohesion policy is the most versatile of EU policies as it covers social inclusion, climate, public services, jobs and growth.
One and half hour of intense debate that seemed to pass in a blink, and that left me both exhausted and happy: yes, cohesion policy is the best liked of all EU policies, yes its supporters are in every Member State, and in every city.
PS: You can watch the whole debate here
PS': You can also watch a shorter version of the event on EURONEWS, on 24 March at 20:05, 26 March at 17h10, 27 March at 11h05 and 28/03 at 13h10 All Brussels time