Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for inter-institutional relations and administration
The Commission Work Programme 2014
Plenary session of the Committee of the Regions/Brussels
29 November 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a great pleasure for me to be here once again at the plenary session of the Committee of the Regions to discuss the European Commission's priorities for the next year, which will be the last one of this mandate.
The Committee of the Regions, and the regional and local authorities that you represent, have a key role in ensuring progress on the European growth and jobs agenda and thus in restoring confidence. After all, in many cases it is precisely at the local and regional level that the measures agreed at the European and national levels to boost jobs and generate growth must be translated into meaningful and appropriate action.
I would like to thank you for your clear commitment to supporting the Commission on these and many other major EU initiatives.
The Resolution of the Committee of the Regions adopted in July brought an important contribution to the preparation of the Work Programme for 2014. As you pointed out in the Resolution, 2014 will be a year of important transition but one which must continue to generate growth and jobs, to reinforce EU citizenship and to show citizens how the EU level can make a real difference.
We share a common vision: to get out of the crisis towards a Europe that is stronger, more open and more united. It is my sincere hope that all pro-European forces will speak up for Europe in the next elections - and you, of course, as elected representatives in your own regions and local authorities, will I am sure play a key role in underlining the importance of Europe to your local constituents and encouraging them to vote in the European elections.
I welcome the agreement reached mid-November on the 2014 budget, which will be a real catalyst for investment, growth and reform, and last week's positive vote in the European Parliament on the next MFF. We will need now to ensure a smooth and timely start for all MFF programmes for the period 2014-2020.
Part of that MFF deal was of course a €325 billion investment in regional development projects across the EU in 2014-2020. This is a major step to provide the EU with the resources it needs to support Europe's real economy - and I hope a major catalyst for growth in your regions and cities.
You will see from the priorities set out in the Work Programme that realising the potential of the Single Market remains key. In September we presented a proposal paving the way for a single market in telecommunications that should make an important contribution to a dynamic single market for telecommunications by 2015.
But we will also continue to play our part in the work to boost competitiveness. The Commission adopted on 2 October a Communication on REFIT with a view to promoting a business-friendly environment by simplifying and streamlining legislation. But this must be a joint effort - the Commission may have the right of initiative, but the co-legislators of course have the right to amend and adapt proposals, and these are often further altered when transposed into national law. I call on all of you to use your influence back home to remind your national governments of the need to keep the administrative burden as light as possible, and wherever possible to follow the Commission's lead in terms of impact assessments.
If goods and services can move freely through the single market, then citizens should be able to do so as well, and another focus of our efforts in 2014 will be on further removing obstacles to free movement in Europe at the same time as bolstering the protection of citizens and safeguarding their rights. This will mean a focus on helping to fight crime and corruption, controlling our external borders and ensuring the respect of the rule of law and of fundamental rights.
But growth will not simply come from getting our internal house in order. Our external economic relations are also an important driver for growth, as well as reinforcing our position in the world. We expect to pursue our trade and enlargement agenda in 2014, as well as preparing a number of important international negotiations, including for an international agreement on climate change - and area that I know many of you here in the Committee of the Regions are particularly active in, through the Covenant of Mayors and other local or regional initiatives.
As you can see, the 2014 CWP is all about putting the EU back on the road to sustainable growth and job creation. And we already have a roadmap for this: the Europe 2020 strategy and the European Semester.
The 2014 Semester was in fact kicked off earlier this month with the publication of the Commission's Annual Growth Survey, which I am sure you have all seen.
As in previous years, the continued strong involvement of local and regional authorities in the European semester and the Europe 2020 strategy is of key importance.
The Annual Growth Survey once again sets out the top five economic priorities that should guide Member States when they design their budgets and economic reform plans over the next year. Many of your regions and local authorities will have a part to play in the drawing up of those plans.
The key message of the Annual Growth Survey 2014 is the importance of strengthening the recovery that is already underway. Our strategies are working; Member States are gradually correcting the imbalances that developed before the crisis. As a consequence, the Annual Growth Survey keeps the same five over-arching priorities identified in 2013, with emphasis on different areas to reflect the developing economic background.
These priorities are:
-Pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation
-Restoring lending to the economy
-Promoting growth and competitiveness for today and tomorrow
-Tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis Modernising public administration
The AGS also calls for strengthening the national ownership of the country specific recommendations. It calls on Member States to involve national parliaments and other national actors, including local and regional authorities, in the process to ensure that key reforms are understood and accepted. This will be particularly important during the process of designing the National Reform Programmes ahead of their submission to the Commission next April.
Another important aspect is that for the first time in 2014 the policy and the funding are being brought together. 2014 will be the first year of implementation of the new European multi-annual financial framework. In addition to projects conducted jointly at EU level to boost Europe-wide innovation and infrastructure, an investment capacity of more than €400 billion will be mobilised to boost growth and jobs at national and regional level through the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF).
As you all know very well, cohesion policy is one of the main tools at our disposal today to secure growth and create jobs. Its governance model is the only one which allows for investing significant amounts of EU resources in Member States and regions. And in this perspective multi-level governance is a key principle of regional policy.
But we still need to better focus our actions on the right policy priorities and the right investment projects to fully deliver on Europe 2020. This is why in 2014-20, cohesion policy will change significantly from a solidarity instrument to an investment policy.
2014 will be the start of the next programming period for cohesion policy. The programmes that will be approved next year will to an important extent determine how European investments will be steered in the next seven years.
This can be achieved only with an active partnership with regional and local authorities. Local and regional authorities are a crucial link between Europe’s top-level priority of reaching smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and the needs, expectations and knowledge of our citizens.
Those needs are clear. As the Commission's progress report on economic, social and territorial cohesion published back in June clearly shows, unemployment is the number one concern at the local, regional, national and EU level.
This crisis has had a widespread effect, on both more- and less-developed regions. As a result, the disparities between EU regions have started to grow again after a long period of convergence. Now the challenge is to ensure that all regions return to a positive growth path.
The 2014-2020 cohesion policy programmes should ensure that their investments contribute most to overcoming the impact of the crisis on our regions and cities. That's why cohesion policy is now concentrated on key thematic areas that are directly related to the objectives of Europe 2020.
The Commission is also proposing a reinforced territorial approach. This will cater to the specific needs of particular territories, foster integration of territories and build on the local knowledge of its potential.
There is a growing understanding of the importance of integrated territorial development and the functional links in and between territories. This is reflected by the strong emphasis on integration: integration of funds within a Common Strategic Framework for the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund; and integration of sectorial investment to address major territorial challenges.
The Commission has also developed a code of conduct that should ensure the involvement of local and regional authorities in the drafting of the Partnership Agreements and the Operational Programmes at the national level.
Our ultimate goal is to ensure that investments are not hampered by the artificial demarcation between the different funds, but that their potential is maximised through the use of integrated strategies developed at a regional and local level.
Experience has shown that working together across borders - be they national, regional or local - can often bring the best results, and the Commission strongly believes that exchange of best practice, co-operation, capacity building and knowledge development are crucial in helping local and regional authorities get the most out of the funds at their disposal.
There are a number of cohesion policy programmes that focus on these precise aspects: INTERREG, URBACT and ESPON in particular. This support will be continued.
But we also see a growing demand for a stronger urban agenda at the European level. Over the next year, the Commission will host a number of events to debate how Member States and EU institutions should work together to ensure that cities play their full role in European development - and that their needs are fully reflected in policy thinking.
Of course, we expect the Committee of the Regions to contribute fully to that debate, as you and the regions and local authorities across Europe have done on many previous occasions. In fact, sub-national authorities are playing an increasing role in the European project in many areas.
There are a number of factors that explain this. One of the most important is globalisation and its effect on regional economies. National competitiveness in the global marketplace is increasingly dependent on the regions. Regional economies, often based on clusters often involving both the public and private sectors, are increasingly the nodal points in global production networks and increasingly outward-looking.
As I mentioned before, many of the policy responses in the Europe 2020 strategy need to be implemented at sub-national level. Regional policy programmes are the appropriate response that take into account the different situations, strengths and weaknesses at regional and local level, and then devise appropriate growth strategies for different territories.
Recent research points to the key role of geographical approaches in capitalising on assets, such as knowledge, skills, specialisation, and on proximity between economic agents which is region-specific. This is notably the case for innovation, which is a process where success is often determined by specific local circumstances and capacities and is a key driver of regional economic development.
Cooperation between regions and local communities has contributed much to the development of the EU. We need cooperation to achieve sustainable development: few regions can resolve their difficulties on their own.
In the face of globalisation, this concept needs to be enlarged and we need an international exchange of experience and best practices that will help EU regions and cities tackle the challenges they face, as well as helping to promote new economic opportunities for them.
The famous phrase: "Think global, act local", has never been more pertinent than at the present moment, and we in the European institutions must play our part in making it a reality for more of our regional and local actors.
Ladies and Gentlemen
In my role as the Commissioner responsible for relations with national parliaments, among many other things, I am acutely aware of the importance of subsidiarity within the European democratic framework.
As you know, the Treaty of Lisbon strengthened the local and regional dimension of the Union, and established clear procedural rules with regard to subsidiarity.
I can assure you that subsidiarity and the cooperation with parliaments and assemblies at national and regional level remains high on the institutional and political agenda of this Commission.
This is because you are the elected representatives who are closest to the citizens; you are the best placed to understand how the political decisions taken at every level of government will affect the reality on the ground.
The EU works best when it focuses on its core business. Subsidiarity is about the choice of whether and where to propose action at European level. The Commission takes this choice extremely seriously. It is a key part of our approach to smart regulation. This includes, in particular early planning and involvement of stakeholders, including local and regional authorities, in our work, and impact assessments to ensure that we get new legislation right.
As you well know, impact assessment is the key element in this approach. It provides the most detailed analysis of subsidiarity and proportionality of Commission initiatives, taking into account views expressed during stakeholder consultations.
The Commission's revised Impact Assessment guidelines have enhanced the guidance by providing a set of structured questions which are inspired by the work of the Committee of the Regions. They also emphasise the need to reinforce the analysis of regional and local aspects in impact assessments, in case the planned initiative might have differing regional and local impacts.
The Commission is seeking practical ways to improve its analysis and data availability in these terms, including through the Committee of Regions and its Subsidiarity Monitoring Network. We welcome the input the Committee of Regions can provide to reinforce the analysis of regional aspects in impact assessments during the preparatory phase of any significant legislative proposals.
As I said earlier, 2014 will be a transition year, as we move towards a new European Parliament and Commission.
But in many ways, each year from now on will be moving us towards a new vision for Europe. As President Barroso pointed out in his State of the Union address "a political union needs to be our political horizon". This is the indispensable way forward to consolidate our progress and ensure the future.
The European Commission has already started the ball rolling on this process with its blueprint for a more integrated EMU and we will take further steps leading to a political union, with the necessary democratic control and oversight mechanisms.
But let's be clear; the times of European integration by implicit consent are over. We need a public opinion that supports the next steps that are indispensable for a stronger and more united Union.
Your role will be substantial in this crucial debate on the future of our Union.
The Commission will present, before the European elections, further ideas on the future of our Union and how best to consolidate and deepen the community method and community approach in the longer term. That way, they can be subject to a real European debate. We will set out the principles and orientations that are necessary for a true political union.
I think that, building on the community method, the Commission will have to be developed further into an EU executive, which depends on enhanced legitimacy through truly European elections.
In addition, we need a more integrated euro area which remains open to the participation of all Member States. Under no circumstances must the genuine EMU be seen as an alternative to the integrity of the Union and its institutions as a whole. It must build on the current Treaty framework.
And of course, we welcome any input from the Committee of the Regions to the debate on Treaty reform and take note of your views in view of the preparation of the Commission's paper on the future of the European Union.
And of course, 2014 will also be an important year for you too. In April we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Committee of the Regions, a very special moment to show just how much the regional and territorial dimension is a key element in ensuring progress on the European growth and jobs agenda and thus in restoring confidence.
You have come a long way in the last 20 years and I am sure you will continue your wholehearted support for the European project for many more years to come.
I thank you for your attention.