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EU Cohesion policy

The EU recovery will not be effective without a solid cohesion policy built in genuine partnership with European cities and regions

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EU-wide coalition urges EU institutions and national governments to promote synergies between the recovery instruments and the structural funds to maximise the impact of European action. The COVID-19 crisis has shown that cohesion policy is needed now more than ever to strengthen resilience in Europe, protect citizens, bring the recovery to every corner of the European Union and leave no one behind. Since its creation in October 2017, the #CohesionAlliance – an EU-wide alliance of 12,000 signatories advocating for a stronger cohesion policy – has managed to avoid dramatic budgetary cuts after 2020, keep a cohesion policy for all regions in the Union and put forward simpler and more flexible rules.

During a videoconference dedicated to the new course of the #CohesionAlliance, its founding members renewed their commitment to join forces and keep cohesion policy as a EU top priority. The #CohesionAlliance will be vigilant that the partnership principle will be fully applied by member states in the design and implementation of the cohesion policy 2021-27. Coherence and synergies between the recovery instruments and the structural funds are of paramount importance to avoid overlaps and maximise the impact of the European action. Two months after the entry into force of the new cohesion policy regulations for the period 2021-27, the #CohesionAlliance took stock of the results of its activity so far and outlined its future commitments, based on the renewed Declaration 2.0 adopted in July 2020.

The #CohesionAlliance's work will be focused on the successful implementation and delivery of cohesion policy without further delays in the spirit of genuine partnership and in synergy with other instruments, thereby promoting the concept of cohesion as an overall and fundamental value of the European Union. Local and regional authorities highlighted the urgent request to extend the flexibility measures introduced last year to mobilize EU structural funds and state aid in the fight against COVID-19. This issue was also raised in an exchange of letters with president Ursula von der Leyen, who acknowledged the budgetary constraints that many regional and local authorities may be currently facing due to the pandemic.

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With regards to the potential extension of a 100% co-financing rate for structural funds, the Alliance's partners strongly appreciated the Commission's commitment to closely monitor the situation closely and consider further action if deemed appropriate. The discussion showed that the #CohesionAlliance's mission is far from over. The European recovery must start from citizens on the ground, and it won't be successful if their voices and the ones of local and regional politicians – who are closest to their needs – are not taken into account by EU institutions and national governments.

During her intervention, Cohesion Policy and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: "Cohesion has to remain a cornerstone of the Recovery. It is in the aftermath of crises that asymmetries grow. The Cohesion Alliance is more necessary than ever. The Partnership Agreements for Cohesion 2021-2027 will be instrumental. We have to speed up their negotiation, but quality cannot be compromised. I count on your support to also ensure that the implementation of our other policies and instruments is not spatially blind and supports the long term development of all regions. I've asked member states to be mindful of the territorial dimension in preparing their Recovery and Resilience Plans, both in consulting and engaging with regional stakeholders as well as in the implementation phase. We will only achieve our objectives by making sure that our instruments work in the same direction. Promoting Cohesion cannot be the responsibility of Cohesion policy alone. That is why we must mobilise all the relevant actors, including local stakeholders and citizens as full partners, making sure that the new green and digital priorities work for all."

Younous Omarjee, chairman of the European Parliament's Committee on Regional Development, declared: "It is essential that the recovery funds go as a priority to the least-developed regions and to the ones most affected by the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19. I call on member states to involve regions and cities as much as possible and to ensure that these funds go to the ground as close as possible to the needs. I also call on member states to be consistent. Short-term recovery and longer-term cohesion policy are two sides of the same coin and must serve the same purpose. If short-term recovery is not consistent with the longer-term objectives set by cohesion funds, then the economic, social and territorial disparities will only deepen and all our efforts for the long term will be destroyed."

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Apostolos Tzitzikostas, president of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and governor of the Region of Central Macedonia (GR), said: "The #CohesionAlliance's efforts contributed to avoid major budgetary cuts after 2020 and promote cohesion as guiding principle for the EU's recovery plans. Now, we need to turn our focus towards programming and implementation. To do this, we need to carefully consider key aspects like the application of the partnership principle in the new programmes; the impact of Covid-19 related measures and the consequences of their shutting down – a topic we addressed in a fruitful, exchange of letters with President Von der Leyen; the rural and urban dimensions of cohesion policy; and the synergies between cohesion and the Recovery and Resiliency Facility."

Ilaria Bugetti, spokesperson for territorial development of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) on Cohesion and Councillor for the Tuscany Region (IT), said: "In the programming phase of EU cohesion funds, we could still see cases where local and regional governments were not properly involved, either due to insufficient time for consultation or inadequate contact at the ministerial level. We must overcome the remaining barriers in the years to come for the implementation and monitoring of the funds. The work of the Cohesion Alliance is then far from over!"

Cees Loggen, president of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR) and Regional Minister of the Province Noord-Holland (NL), said: "Unprecedented delays could materialise under future cohesion policy due to late adoption of legislation. Regions will feel the brunt. They are prevented to start spending while regional economies are desperate for investments to support the recovery. We urge the Commission to facilitate a smooth implementation of cohesion programmes and participation of regions in recovery plans, as synergies between funds bring results closer."

Karl-Heinz Lambertz, president of the Association of European Border Regions (AEBR) and Member of the Parliament of the German-speaking Community in Belgium, said: " Cross-border cooperation is an essential element of the EU's cohesion policy. What happens around the Union's internal borders has a major impact on the Union's ability to respond to the major challenges of our time. The EU’s capacity to act would be considerably strengthened if the cross-border cooperation mechanism proposed by the Commission is finally adopted by the Council."

Kata Tüttő, member of Eurocities and Deputy Mayor of the City of Budapest (HU), said: "The forthcoming investments through EU’s cohesion policy will be more important than ever. It will be crucial to finance the projects and reforms that can bring all Europe’s cities and regions on the path for green and just recovery. As local leaders, we have a central role in making sure this money is targeted where it is most needed and where it benefits people the most. We can be invaluable partners to the EU when the partnership principle is fully implemented in all parts of the EU. Investing in Europe’s urban areas will support the longer-term resilience of Europe and help all of us stand stronger in the face of future crisis." Jean-Claude Marcourt, Chair of the Conference of European Regional Legislative Assemblies (CALRE) Working Group 'European legislation and public investments' and President of the Parliament of Wallonia (BE), said: "Cities and regions must have the ambition to strengthen the cohesion of their territories, to reduce disparities and inequalities while raising economic, social and environmental standards in compliance with the democratic values and principles that are the founders of a prosperous and sustainable European Union."

Magnus Berntsson, president of the Assembly of European Regions (AER) and Vice President of the Region Västra Götaland (SE), declared in the margins of the conference: "The new Cohesion Policy can be truly transformative for rural communities across Europe. The AER is fully committed to working together with national governments and the European Commission to deliver a Cohesion Policy that builds back better for rural regions; ensuring that they are better connected, more resilient, vibrant and prosperous by 2040."

EU Cohesion policy

EU Cohesion Policy: 25 finalists announced for the 2021 RegioStars competition

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The Commission has announced the 25 finalists of the 2021 RegioStars awards for the best Cohesion policy projects in five categories: ‘Smart Europe: Increasing the competitiveness of local businesses in a digital world', ‘Green Europe: Green and resilient communities in urban and rural setting', ‘Fair Europe: Fostering inclusion and anti-discrimination', ‘Urban Europe: Promoting green, sustainable and circular food systems in functional urban areas', and the specific Topic of the Year ‘Enhancing green mobility in the regions: the European Year of Rail'.

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira said: “This year we broke once again the record in terms of participation in this flagship Cohesion Policy competition, with 214 applications received from all over Europe. The goal of the RegioStars awards is to find projects that are lighthouses of quality and can be inspirational for others to follow. As Cohesion policy is committed to leave no one behind, I am glad to see excellent examples of this inclusive approach among the 2021 RegiosStars finalists.”

An independent jury has selected five finalists per category among the high-quality applications received. In particular, the jury has selected projects located in Flanders and Wallonia in Belgium, in Kaunas region in Lithuania, in the North Denmark region, in Krapina Zagorje County in Croatia, in Lower Silesia in Poland, in Emilia Romagna in Italy, in Centro Region in Portugal as well as projects financed by different Interreg Programmes: ‘North Sea',  ‘France-Spain-Andorra', ‘Ireland-Northern Ireland-Scotland', ‘Italy-Austria', ‘Alpine Space',  ‘Nord' , ‘EMR',  ‘North-West Europe', ‘Croatia-Bosnia Herzegovina-Montenegro', ‘Balkan Mediterranean'. The RegioStars 2021 5-category winners and the winner of the Public Choice Award will be announced on 2 December 2021 during the Award Ceremony in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

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The full list of finalists can be found here. As of now, the public is encouraged to vote for its favourite project until 15 November here.

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EU Cohesion policy: Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy receive €373 million to support health and social services, SMEs and social inclusion

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The Commission has granted €373 million to five European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) operational programmes (OPs) in Belgium, Germany, Spain and Italy to help the countries with coronavirus emergency response and repair in the framework of REACT-EU. In Belgium, the modification of the Wallonia OP will make available an additional €64.8m for the acquisition of medical equipment for health services and innovation.

The funds will support small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in developing e-commerce, cybersecurity, websites and online stores, as well as the regional green economy through energy efficiency, protection of the environment, development of smart cities and low-carbon public infrastructures. In Germany, in the Federal State of Hessen, €55.4m will support health-related research infrastructure, diagnostic capacity and innovation in universities and other research institutions as well as research, development and innovation investments in the fields of climate and sustainable development. This amendment will also provide support to SMEs and funds for start-ups through an investment fund.

In Sachsen-Anhalt, €75.7m will facilitate cooperation of SMEs and institutions in research, development and innovation, and provide investments and working capital for micro-enterprises affected by the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, the funds will allow investments in the energy efficiency of enterprises, support digital innovation in SMEs and acquiring digital equipment for schools and cultural institutions. In Italy, the national OP ‘Social Inclusion' will receive €90m to promote the social integration of people experiencing severe material deprivation, homelessness or extreme marginalisation, through ‘Housing First' services that combine the provision of immediate housing with enabling social and employment services.

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In Spain, €87m will be added to the ESF OP for Castilla y León to support the self-employed and workers who had their contracts suspended or reduced due to the crisis. The money will also help hard-hit companies avoid layoffs, especially in the tourism sector. Finally, the funds are needed to allow essential social services to continue in a safe way and to ensure educational continuity throughout the pandemic by hiring additional staff.

REACT-EU is part of NextGenerationEU and provides €50.6bn additional funding (in current prices) to Cohesion policy programmes over the course of 2021 and 2022. Measures focus on supporting labour market resilience, jobs, SMEs and low-income families, as well as setting future-proof foundations for the green and digital transitions and a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

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