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Address by Ivan Žagar, PhD, minister responsible for local self-government and regional policy, to the Regional Development Committee of the European Parliament

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Cohesion policy

Let me first of all express my gratitude for your kind invitation and underline the fact that the Slovenian Presidency considers relations with the European Parliament of great importance. This is to be attributed not only to the new, significantly reinforced role of the European Parliament vested in it by the new Lisbon Treaty, but also to the concrete conceptual issues we will all face in the field of cohesion policy in the months and years to come. The issue of future policy-making as regards development is closely intertwined with the issue of the EU vision, where the European Parliament undoubtedly assumes a vital role. We have made the commitment of always being available to you, my colleagues, and I will be happy to provide answers to all your questions that may arise today as well as in the future.

As you are well aware, the Presidency has put forward five priority areas:

  1. the future of the Union and smooth entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty,
  2. the successful introduction of the new Lisbon Strategy cycle,
  3. a step forward in combating climate change and energy-related issues,
  4. new attention focused on the Western Balkans, and
  5. promotion of dialogue between different cultures, beliefs and traditions in the scope of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

Our activities will take place along the lines of the motto of the Slovenian Presidency – "Si.nergy for Europe". Slovenia will thus strive for stronger synergy between institutions, Member States and citizens, while the same principle will also guide us in discussions on EU policy-making.

As you know, Slovenia is one of the Member States which, even though new, already has considerable experience in the field of cohesion policy. It is thus needless to repeat that we attribute great importance to it and its smooth implementation. The principle of solidarity and the contribution of cohesion policy in strengthening the competitiveness of the EU as a whole surely make it one of the fundamental EU policies. It is our common duty, therefore, to come together and join efforts in order to enable cohesion policy to prove itself with concrete results, which requires sufficient political attention as well as facilitation activities, for example the exchange of best practices and transfer of innovative solutions implemented in individual regions and cities.

The challenges that cohesion policy currently faces in this framework are not so much legislative in nature, but rather pertain to the issue of its structure and functioning. Our activities in the field of cohesion will thus focus on three main areas:

  1. the debate on the future of cohesion policy,
  2. the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy, and
  3. the territorial dimension.

Allow me first to take you back a few years – it was not so long ago that we were fully engaged in negotiations on the 2007–2013 financial perspective, as well as on the package of cohesion regulations. Both represented a considerable challenge, which we nevertheless successfully overcame: the European Council reached an agreement in December 2005, and the inter-institutional agreement, along with cohesion regulations, was adopted in the spring of 2006, thus shifting the attention to the implementation phase, in particular to the preparation and negotiations of the programming documents of cohesion policy. By now, apart from the territorial cooperation objective, we have seen all of the operational programmes approved, which might lead us to believe that the big themes have been put aside for a while and that attention should first and foremost be given to the achievement of the set objectives. This is clearly the case, given that measurable and tangible results of cohesion policy provide one of the best guarantees for its future.

However, it should be borne in mind that the EU currently faces considerable challenges that must be properly addressed in order to retain the European model of a social market economy. Answers should be ensured at all levels of governance, because it is only in this way that we can realistically expect the desired results. Led by such a belief, the Member States decided that a comprehensive review of the European budget needed to be carried out, resulting in its ability to adequately respond to new challenges, and cohesion policy is of course no exception.

The ambition of the Slovenian Presidency regarding the future of cohesion policy is to take forward the debate launched by the Commission at the Fourth Cohesion Forum in September last year, continued at the informal ministerial meeting at the Azorean conference in November. The Slovenian approach will build on the results of the previous forums and other events which will take place in the months to come. The debate and findings thus far have mostly dealt with global issues of cohesion policy without going into the more specific issues at hand. It is the latter that is at the forefront of the Slovenian Presidency.  After public discussion, initiated by the European Commission, which will have been closed in January, we will acquaint the Member States and other stakeholders with the concrete questions on which an exchange of views is necessary. Allow me to take this opportunity to cordially invite you to the conference on the future of cohesion policy, a conference that stands out as one of the major events on this topic in the first half of the year. The conference will take place on 7 and 8 April in Maribor, Slovenia, its main topic being the discussion on the principles of cohesion policy in terms of structure, scope and objectives as well as cohesion policy delivery modes.

The debate on the future of cohesion policy is closely related to the new Lisbon policy guidelines. In the area of fulfilling the objectives of the Lisbon Strategy, Slovenia will endeavour to effectively launch the three-year reform cycle. The results of the last Lisbon Strategy cycle show that significant breakthroughs have been made in certain key fields, such as the reduction of unemployment, favourable economic growth, and the like.

The positive response from regions and local communities as regards their role in the realisation of the Lisbon Strategy objectives is reflected in the development documents for the 2007–2013 financial period in which the majority of the Member States took into account the role of cohesion policy in achieving the Lisbon objectives. Joint efforts of the European institutions to bring the Lisbon Strategy closer to EU citizens will further strengthen the awareness of the development potentials at the regional and local level.

In terms of the territorial dimension, the Slovenian Presidency will continue the work undertaken by its predecessors. In particular, in order to strengthen the decentralised modus operandi and contribute to a more structured discussion, the 2008 Territorial Dialogue, an annual stakeholder conference of local and regional authorities, will provide an overview of the inclusion of these authorities in the preparation of different steps in cohesion policy implementation.

I would further like to mention another activity that we are planning and that the European Parliament will undoubtedly find of particular interest, as you contributed to its creation. I am referring to the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation, the instrument that will facilitate and promote cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation with the objective of strengthening social, economic and territorial cohesion. Considering the fact that the Member States, the local and regional authorities undertake different approaches to implementing the said instrument, the Presidency will, together with the European Parliament, the Commission and the Committee of the Regions, organise a conference on the EGTC with the objective of discussing the state of play of this new instrument and the steps to take for its effective enforcement.

The integration of third countries on the basis of the above-mentioned instrument may make a contribution to stability in the Western Balkans, the latter being of great importance for the security and prosperity of the Union. The Presidency therefore considers that the EU-oriented vision of the Western Balkan countries should remain a key item on the EU agenda. In the course of the Slovenian Presidency and in cooperation with the Committee of the Regions, a RELEX conference on the European Neighbourhood Policy will take place, highlighting the issue of the Western Balkans, which in fact constitutes one of the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

I have specified the main events that the Slovenian Presidency plans to organise. As you see, the plans are quite extensive but confirm our belief and hope that they will contribute to further positive growth of cohesion policy, a policy that has, and will continue to justify a pertinent and indispensable character. I would also like to underline the fact that there will be no results without your help. That is why the Presidency intends to incorporate close cooperation with the European Parliament into its programme. I firmly believe I can count on your support in this common objective.


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Date: 22.01.2008