On 24 April I was in the Netherlands to discuss the future cohesion policy with Dutch ministers. The daily De Volkskrant published my call to Dutch authorities for a strong cohesion policy beyond 2020; here's the original text in English.
On 2 May the European Commission will present its proposal for the next financial period. This is why I am in the Netherlands today: to listen to your country’s views and expectations on the future cohesion policy, and to call for a strong cohesion policy beyond 2020.
I share many points of the Dutch position on the future of cohesion policy such as the need to focus on areas providing the greatest European added value, more flexibility and simpler rules, more pan-European collaboration as well as a link with structural reforms in all Member States. I also agree with the Dutch government's position on the future EU financial period to focus more on research and innovation, climate, migration. However, I would argue that a strong cohesion policy for all regions is the best tool at our disposal to achieve this.
For one thing, cohesion policy already addresses those priorities through thousands of projects that boost innovation, protect our climate and help mayors deal effectively with migrants' integration. All those issues concern not just the poorest, but all European regions. Furthermore, such priorities, to which one should add security and job creation, are in many cases best addressed at local level, sometimes via cross-border cooperation, as most mayors would confirm.
Second, cohesion policy is the biggest EU investment policy for all regions, including the Dutch cities and provinces. But it is much more than that: everybody agrees on the importance of its economic dimension (in the last period, cohesion policy alone created over one million jobs in Europe, that is one third of all jobs created, and this in the midst of the worst economic crisis ever in Europe). But it also has a strong social dimension; I often say cohesion policy goes where the private sector does not venture, and by that I mean we fund projects in poorer areas of sometime rich regions or cities such as in the Netherlands, not only for economic reasons but to reduce the social fracture therein, to improve people's quality of life. Finally, thanks to its two above mentioned dimensions, and because it is so visible, cohesion policy has a tremendous political dimension: it shows Europe at its best, Europe at work in your streets, in your town or city.
Between 2014 and 2020, up to EUR 510 million from the European Regional Development Fund alone are available to the Netherlands to stimulate investments in research and innovation in the private sector and in activities directly related to renewable energy and energy efficiency such as the "Smart City" project in Amsterdam or the "bioprocess pilot" in Delft. But the Netherlands also benefit indirectly from cohesion policy projects in less developed regions in other member states: many Dutch companies are awarded contracts for EU-funded projects there, and raising living standards elsewhere in Europe boosts Dutch exports.
So far, well over 20 Member States have expressed their willingness to increase their contribution to future EU budgets, and over 25 have called for a strong cohesion policy for all regions; I guess this is because cohesion policy is the most concrete expression of European solidarity. In the light of the current challenges and the economic recovery gaining speed, there is only one right scenario for Europe, which is that of all EU regions benefit from cohesion policy. Because Europe needs more solidarity, more equality, more cohesion. Because Europe needs every citizen to feel part of the European project.