Yesterday, I kicked off my new year in office with a meeting of the task force on implementation that I set up last year to help countries with low absorption of EU funds: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
At the end of last year, quite a few Member States and regions were disappointed that the European Council did not prolong the eligibility deadline for the previous funding period 2007-13 beyond the end of 2015.
Believe me, as a Romanian who understands and sympathises with the difficulties Cohesion countries are facing in the management of the Funds, I fully empathize with them. But I also have a political responsibility for Cohesion Policy.
And I believe that what Council decided is the best for this Policy, now and in the future. Just as I said in the Parliament, this is not charity, it is not just budgetary support, but a fully-fledged economic development policy that aims to bring back growth and to create jobs. It is a policy that offers opportunities, but demands in exchange responsibilities.
In return, I promised Members States in writing that we will do our utmost to help them invest the remaining commitments during 2015 and I meant it.
I told my colleagues in the Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy that I count on them to stand by my words. I expect full commitment to problem solving, going well beyond general diagnostics and the call of duty.
This cannot be business as usual. This task force will not be old wine in new bottles.
I plan to have every stone turned and each possibility explored to find new ways to accelerate 2007-2013 investments in these 8 countries.
I have already written to the governments of these 8 Member States asking for their views on how we can better help them. And I have instructed my services to reinforce the staffing of the geographical units in charge of these countries, to send fact-finding missions on the ground and report back to me on their return.
I am convinced that where there is a will, there is also a way. I want to assure the governments of these Member States that this will be my top political priority in 2015, but I also want to ask them to get behind this effort with everything they've got. Together, we can make this work for the benefit of millions of EU citizens.
This is the faith with which I start the new year. Happy New Year to all of you!