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Conference on the Future of Cohesion Policy for a Cohesive and Competitive EU with Simplified and Effective Policies

At the Conference on the Future of Cohesion Policy taking place in Maribor within the framework of the Slovenian Presidency, all major stakeholders involved in the area of cohesion policy gathered. The introductory session, at which a number of EU institutions as well as social partners and civil society representatives expressed their views, showed strong support for the solidarity principle and for cohesion policy as one of the integrative policies which not only reduces development disparities but also strengthens the competitiveness of the EU as a whole. At the same time, some representatives called for the modernisation of cohesion policy, particularly as regards delivery mechanisms. The debate by the Member States, which will continue until tomorrow afternoon, will highlight the extent to which this view is shared by the Member States, especially as regards the scope and objectives of cohesion policy.

The conference, which represents part of the broader debate on the future of the EU budget, was opened by Slovenian Minister Ivan Žagar and EU Commissioner Danuta Hübner. Their assessment of cohesion policy performance thus far has been very positive, as the growth of a number of less developed regions and Member States is significantly above the EU average. There is little doubt that cohesion policy played an important role in contributing to this objective. This attitude was strongly supported by the European Parliament, represented by MEP Jan Olbrycht, who argued that there could be no Union without strong cohesion-oriented policies.

In looking toward the future, it was noted that the challenges of globalisation and demographic and climate changes, as well as possible enlargement of the EU will continue to provide a fundamental rationale for strong cohesion policy. It is not just that development disparities among the regions and Member States will remain a challenge in the foreseeable future, but also that the above-mentioned challenges will require profound restructuring and adaptation, especially in regions at an intermediate level of development.

On the other hand, the participants expressed the need to further simplify and modernise implementation mechanisms, if need be through profound reform. On this issue there is less consensus among the EU institutions whether more fundamental reform is really needed, however this might be expressed more emphatically by the Member States.

Minister Žagar concluded that cohesion policy is a typical policy with the capacity to provide a response at the right level, i.e. through a bottom-up initiative and strategic approach at the same time. Furthermore, in order to ensure cohesion in the EU, the convergence objective mentioned in the Treaty needs to be taken into account in the designation of other EU policies, as only in this way is it realistically possible to expect a genuine impact at the EU level – a proclamation fully in line with the slogan of the Slovenian Presidency: "Si.nergy for Europe".


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Date: 07.04.2008