For the first time, member states held a formal meeting, on the EU’s cohesion policy, at the General Affairs Council’s session in Brussels, on 21 February 2011. As a result, of the work coordinated by the Presidency, member states declared their wish to secure the whole EU’s harmonic development primarily through cohesion policy.
The General Affairs Council, a forum responsible for the horizontal matters of the EU, discussed the member states’ vision on cohesion policy in the new multi-annual budget period starting in 2014. This was the first time that Foreign Ministers officially negotiated formally about the issue.
The approved conclusions acknowledge that “cohesion policy is the European Union’s main instrument for promoting overall harmonious development across the Union, in particular by reducing disparities between the levels of development of the various regions”. The conclusions also underline “the contribution cohesion policy has made to the achievement of the goals of the competitiveness and growth agenda of the European Union through innovation and modernising the economy”.
Today’s orientation debate was based on the Fifth Report on Economic, Social and Territorial Cohesion, published in November 2010, in which the European Commission evaluated the policy’s achievements to date; and proposed strategic amendments in several areas.
Focused but flexible objectives
Presiding the meeting, Foreign Minister János Martonyi, reminded member states of the proposal that regional development would be more successful, if funds focused on a limited number of priorities. According to the principle called “thematic concentration,” in the Commission’s proposal, this can be achieved if cohesion policy regulations include priorities coordinated with the Europe 2020 Strategy’s aims.
Member states backed the Commission’s proposal, but wanted to provide some flexibility for the satisfaction of specific national, regional, and local demands. According to the conclusions, this has to be achieved through negotiations at appropriate levels between the Commission, and member states.
Coordinating investment priorities
During the course of the debate, besides the thematic focus, the Presidency asked for member states’ opinions on another idea proposed by the Commission. The Fifth Cohesion Report suggested that in line with the Europe 2020 Strategy’s objectives, a common strategy framework should be created to provide common principles for specifying investment priorities for all relevant funds: the Cohesion Fund, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Fisheries Fund.
Member states welcomed the proposal, because they believe it will be capable of creating “better coordination, harmony and synergies,” between funds. At the same time, they invited the Commission to give more details.
Advancing towards a single energy policy
The Foreign Ministers evaluated the results of the European Council’s meeting, on 4 February 2011. Mr Martonyi said at the meeting, that heads of state and government made important decisions on both energy and innovation. He made special remarks on the result of concrete deadlines set, for perfecting the energy market, interconnecting gas and electricity networks, and for establishing the European Research Area.
“We want the Energy Council’s meeting on 28 February, to adopt detailed conclusions on the Europe 2020 Strategy and infrastructure priorities, which will be approved at the European Council’s meeting on 24-25 March” by heads of state and government, the Foreign Minister announced.
Preparations for the EU summit
With reference to the preparations for the March summit, Mr Martonyi repeated the Presidency’s request, that member states should keep to the strict deadlines of the European Semester, a new procedure coordinating economic policies, and to submit their national reform programmes and stability or convergence programmes in April. The required European-level guidelines will be approved by heads of state and government, at the summit in March.
Mr Martonyi presented the summit’s draft agenda, and gave an account of the Presidency’s consultations on the six laws aimed at the economic governance reform. The minister explained that the Presidency managed to make progress, and in the weeks to follow, it will work to find solutions for the problems specified at the Finance Ministers’ meeting, on 15 February. “Progress is satisfactory at this point of time and we very much hope that a general approach will be adopted in March and the whole work on the six legislative texts after of course all the necessary dialogue with the European Parliament will be concluded in June,” Martonyi said.
Foreign Minister János Martonyi’s declaration at the press conference after the meeting (Part 1)
Foreign Minister János Martonyi’s declaration at the press conference after the meeting (Part 2)