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EU Elections 2019 – the regional agenda of the EU Political Groups

EU Elections 2019 – the regional agenda of the EU Political Groups 26 mai, 2019

The European elections in May will be a key moment for Europe this year, and for the next decade. Let us analyse the pan-European political agenda of six important European groups, focusing on one of the most important and biggest EU policies: the European Cohesion Policy. Let’s see how the political groups in the European Parliament (EP) would like to reform its funding and change the tools.

Quick reminder: what is the Cohesion Policy?

The Cohesion Policy is one of the most important policies of the European Union. It is a regional and urban policy that consists in lowering economic and technological disparities between regions and improving the economic well-being of its citizens. It represents more than one third of the total EU budget. Competitiveness and attractiveness of regions as well as assistance to regional and local employment markets are some of its priorities.

The Cohesion Policy’s main tool is the Structural and Cohesion Fund (SCF), which is based on three different funds:

  • The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is like a Robin Hood fund. It ‘takes’ money from the richer regions to ‘give’ them to the poorer. The point of these investments is to reinforce territorial cohesion and to lower the economic disparities between the regions, for instance, by building highways or supporting entrepreneurship.
  • The European Social Fund (ESF) is the social face of the SCF. Its goal is to foster the labour market in member states (MS) and their regions to decrease the unemployment rate. The ESF can henceforth fund trainings or traineeships. The current ESF strategy is to reinforce regional competitiveness, employment and attractiveness for investment.
  • The Cohesion Fund (CF) is the smallest fund of the SCF. It is uniquely allocated to the less developed EU regions in order to build trans-European transport infrastructure such as roads and railways, and to contribute to environmental protection.

Together with the Council and the Commission, the European Parliament is co-negotiating the budget and the strategy of these funds. A new EP composition may deal a new hand in those negotiations. But which ideas does each political group support? The regulations of these funds are due to be reviewed before 31 December 2020 for the next European budget for 2021-2027 and negotiations for some funds are still ongoing. However, note that the case-by-case fund allocations only take place between the Commission, the member states and the regions. As such, it sometimes happens that not all projects are implemented and not all the money is spent.

The different political agendas of the European / Groups

Here are the major changes that the European political groups would like to see in the post-2020 Cohesion Policy. We only focus on the seven EU political groups that currently chair in the EP Committee that drafts the CSG.

Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)

  • Minimal decrease of the current budget for the SCF.
  • Restrict the funds allocations to MS that do not respect the Rule of Law.
  • More transparency in the use of EU funds and more fight against corruption.
  • Use other indicators than the GDP to categorise the regions, such as unemployment rate.
  • Boost spending in SMEs and microenterprises.
  • Increase the efficiency, effectiveness and impact of the SCF with simpler rules and less administrative burden.
  • Enhance the quality of public administration working with cohesion funds and have better governance, e.g. by using user-friendly and innovative IT tools.
  • Improve the visibility and communication of the SCF to raise the citizens’ awareness of its advantages.
The Greens/EFA

  • Tackle excessive bureaucracy and improve access to EU funding.
  • Refuse to combine the European Fund for Strategic Investment (the EFSI, a new fund for strategic investment) into the SCF because it is too much market-driven and would jeopardize the SCF.
  • More focus on sustainable development, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and use of renewables.
  • Suspend ESI Funds for member states, which systematically violate the fundamental values of the EU.
  • Continue the cooperation with UK regions after Brexit.
  • GDP should be complemented by other indicators for the poorest regions.
  • Environmentally harmful subsidies should be excluded.
  • The Cohesion Fund should be phased‐out and integrated into the ERDF.
  • The ESF budget should be increased.
  • Fight the corruption related to the use of EU funds.
European People’s Group (EPP)

  • Stop the European Commission’s control over EU funds spending and give member states full responsibility for the good management of the SCF.
  • Cut EU funding for the member states who violate the Rule of Law as a last resort only.
  • Use the funds to make the regions more competitive and future-oriented.
  • Move towards simpler rules for less bureaucratic burdens on the regions and businesses.
  • Boost ESF spending in youth.
  • Fight poverty and social cohesion.
Socialists and Democrats (S&D)

  • Further involvement and engagement with citizens in the allocations of funds.
  • Use more funds to create quality jobs, and tackle youth unemployment, promote social inclusion, combat poverty and all forms of discrimination.
  • Reduce SCF red tape.
  • Use SCF to respond to climate change and migration.
  • Invest more in small businesses and start-ups.
European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR)

  • Use the SCF to fight past communist policies that “brought poverty”.
  • The cohesion budget should not be used to bribe countries into taking asylum seekers.
  • The SCF should not be used to punish member states for breaking the Rule of Law.
  • Target funding towards policies for economic growth.
  • Reduce budget and refuse any increase of the member states’ contributions.
Gauche Unitaire Européenne/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)

  • More focus on the reduction of inequality and the fight against poverty.
  • Modernise the SCF taking into account the new budget, social dumping and reduced investment.
  • More transparency in the management of the funds.
  • Focus on parts of the population that have not benefited from these funds in the past.
  • Priority to the Cohesion Policy over neoliberal policies.
  • Reduce the administrative burden and make the management and implementation of the funds less complicated.
  • The European Commission should not monitor compliance.
  • Priority of national rules in the management of funds where possible.
Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD)

  • Stop SCF spending because it transforms the EU into a federal state.
  • Stop the “Keynesian-style spending splurge” of the SCF.
  • Stop the “Marxist” aspect of the SCF.
  • Less redistributions from the rich regions to the poorest regions.
  • Have less red tape.
  • Make the SCF more democratic and aligned on the sovereign national democracy.

Main findings

The only thing in common throughout the political spectrum is the wish to reduce bureaucratic and administrative burdens to make the SCF easier to use. Another popular demand is to make the EU funds more transparent in order to fight fraud, although opposed by the conservative and Eurosceptic groups (ECR and ELDD). Several groups, conservative and progressive, also agree on excluding member states that do not respect the Rule of Law from the EU funds. Right and centre right groups (ALDE and EPP) have the same idea of using the SCF in order to make the regions more competitive and attract private investors.

On the left side of the spectrum (S&D, GUE/NGL, Greens), common goals include the reduction of inequality, the promotion of social inclusion and the fight against poverty. Some groups, such as the ALDE or the Greens, want a status quo or an increase of the SCF budget, while others, such as the ECR or the ELDD, want to diminish it.

Finally, we find in both alt-right (ELDD), mainstream (EPP), and alt-left (GUE/NGL) groups the wish to narrow the European Commission’s control over EU spending and to give member states full responsibility of the good management of SCF.

Conclusion

The regional Cohesion Policy, with its Structural and Cohesion Funds, is one of the most important policies of the EU because of its huge budget and its distinct direct impact on the thousands of programs it finances in every region across the EU. The agendas for the Cohesion Policy of the different groups are not that surprising if we compare them to where they belong on the political spectrum. As we see, some groups have the same wishes, but there are also many differences. In the end, it is more up to the regions, member states and the Commission than to the EP to allocate the SCF spending case by case. Nevertheless, it ought to be important to look at these political agendas to know the main priorities and strategies of the European groups, and to keep them in mind when it is time to vote. By the way:  do not forget to vote!

Sources:

  • POLITICO, “Populist plan for 2019 election puts EU in crosshairs”. 4 June 2018, https://www.politico.eu/article/populist-plan-for-2019-election-puts-eu-in-cross-hairs/.
  • “European Election Forecast”. europeelects.eu, 6 December 2018.
  • REGULATION (EU) No 1300/2013 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 17 December 2013 on the Cohesion Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1084/2006.
  • REGULATION (EU) No 1301/2013 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 17 December 2013 on the European Regional Development Fund and on specific provisions concerning the Investment for growth and jobs goal and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006.
  • REGULATION (EU) No 1304/2013 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 17 December 2013 on the European Social Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1081/2006.
  • ALDE, “ALDE Position Paper on the FUTURE OF COHESION POLICY AND EUROPEAN STRUCTURAL AND INVESTMENT (ESI) FUNDS POST 2020”, May 2018.
  • EPP, “Breaches of rule of law which affect EU funds will be sanctioned”, 17 January 2019, https://www.eppgroup.eu/newsroom/news/rule-of-law-breaches-affecting-eu-funds-will-be-sanctioned
  • EPP, “Building a competitive and future-oriented Europe”, https://www.eppgroup.eu/how-we-make-it-happen/working-groups/wg-budget-and-structural-policies
  • EPP, “European People’s Party priorities for the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) post-2020”, 30 January 2018, https://www.epp.eu/papers/european-peoples-party-priorities-for-the-multiannual-financial-framework-mff-post-2020/
  • S&D, “Transport, tourism & the regions”, https://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/policies/transport-tourism-regions-0
  • ECR, “Tomasic: Cohesion funding vital for economies still rebuilding after Communism”, 29 May 2018, https://ecrgroup.eu/article/tomasic_cohesion_funding_vital_for_economies_still_rebuilding_after_communi
  • ECR, “Koelmel: Next 7 year EU budget must end the waste of the past”,  14 March 2018, https://ecrgroup.eu/article/koelmel_next_7_year_eu_budget_must_end_the_waste_of_the_past
  • GUE/NGL, “The Future of Cohesion Policy”, 3 March 2016, https://www.guengl.eu/events/the-future-of-cohesion-policy-3-3-2016/
  • EFDD, “EU cohesion: Repeating past Marxist mistakes”, 2014, http://www.efddgroup.eu/medias/videos/eu-cohesion-repeating-past-marxist-mistakes?highlight=WyJjb2hlc2lvbiJd
  • EFDD, “Cohesion funds: A Keynesian-style spending splurge?”, 2014, http://www.efddgroup.eu/medias/videos/cohesion-funds-a-keynesian-style-spending-splurge?highlight=WyJjb2hlc2lvbiJd
  • THE GREENS/EFA, Position Paper of the Greens/EFA group on the future of Cohesion policy post-2020, June 2017, https://www.greens-efa.eu/files/doc/docs/0c9dd02b52b4a904b6da8489702e304e.pdf.
  • EP, “The future of cohesion policy post-2020”, press releases, 13 June 2017, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20170609IPR77007/the-future-of-cohesion-policy-post-2020
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