This week I visited Spain for the first time since I became Commissioner for Regional policy. Our policy plays a key role in Spain and I know that there are a lot of expectations on the ground for the remaining Operational Programmes that have yet to be adopted. This is why I decided to go and exchange views with Spanish stakeholders in charge of implementing EU funds.
For the new programming period 2014-2020 Spain is the third beneficiary of Cohesion Policy at EU level, with €28.6 billion from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.
But did you know that, since its accession to the EU in 1986, Spain has been the main beneficiary of Cohesion Policy in absolute terms and benefited from 160 billion euro?
This has helped the country go through hard times, but it is now time for a change; we need to spend better and not spend more.
Today I met Members of the Spanish Parliament, from the Joint Committee for the European Union; it was a dense and interesting meeting, where we addressed most of the issues related to Cohesion Policy in Spain. On the delay in the adoption of Operational Programmes (so far, only 9 out of 22 new ERDF programmes have been adopted), I told the Members of Parliament that, as soon as the decision on the modification of the multi-annual financial framework is taken in early May, I will make sure that these programmes are adopted as soon as possible. Provided, of course, that the Commission’s observations are taken onboard and that they are sound and forward-looking programmes.
We talked about the worrying number of irregularities which led to interruptions and suspensions of payments in the 2007-2013 programmes. On this subject I welcomed the efforts of the Spanish authorities to reform the system of implementation of EU funds and ensured them that the Commission’s services were ready to assist them in this.
Finally we mentioned the sad case of the Melilla Gulf course. I repeated that I will never allow this to happen again, committed as I am to fighting luxury and unnecessary investments from EU funds.
I then had the pleasure to meet with José Manuel García-Margallo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. We discussed how Cohesion Policy, which accounts for almost 20% of public investment in Spain, could contribute to a more sustainable economy in the country, especially through technical assistance and smart, more strategic investments.
I will have the occasion to develop this last point tomorrow in Seville, during my intervention at the conference on Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisation: Challenges and Monitoring Implementation, hosted by the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, a body of the Commission's Joint Research Centre. Looking forward to it!