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)
|European People’s Group (EPP)
||Socialists and Democrats (S&D)
|European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR)
||Gauche Unitaire Européenne/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL)
|Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD)
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.
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!
- 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