I am in Riga for two intense days of discussions on the challenges and the future of Cohesion Policy together with the Ministers responsible for Cohesion Policy and the Ministers responsible for Territorial and Urban matters.
Cohesion policy plays a key role in contributing to sustainable growth and quality jobs: by investing in key growth drivers, by actively contributing to the priorities of the Juncker Commission including the Digital Market and the Energy Union, and by promoting an increased use of financial instruments.
It is very encouraging for me to see that Member States have taken up all the novelties of the reformed Cohesion Policy 2014-2020, such as the performance oriented approach or the focus on the key growth areas. I will continue to work closely with the Member States to ensure that Cohesion Policy will deliver the best results for the benefit of all European citizens.
Yet, for our policy to have the most tangible impact on the ground, we need to ensure that the public administrations in Member States and regions are functioning smoothly. Helping Member States strenghtening their administrative capacity and improving good governance for the management of the funds is therefore a key priority of my mandate.
I have already taken concrete actions to help Member States fully exploit the potential of Cohesion Policy funds. I set up the PEER 2 PEER initiative, a platform for the exchange of best practices in the management of EU funds. And of course, the Task Force on Better Implementation is helping Member States to spend funding and make sure that those are invested strategically.
However, there is also a pressing need for simplification in the management of our funds. I do not want to hear again that an SME is no longer interested in receiving our support because it finds it too lengthy, bureaucratic and cumbersome.
That is why today I announced my plan to set up a High Level Group on simplification. It will look at ways to reduce the administrative burden for beneficiairies to access the five European Structural and Investmten Funds. With this High Level Group, I want to ensure that Member States make full use of the simplification measures included in the new regulations. On our side, we will explore what we can do to further improve the rules.
Former Commision Vice President Siim Kallas will chair this group which is planned to run for three years. The members of the group should include the best available experts in the field. It will focus on five priorities :
Facilitating access to funding for SMEs
Tackling the « Goldplating » practice, where extra requirements or administrative hurdles are added at national or regional level
Using simpler ways to reimburse costs
Increasing the use of online procedures, such as « e-cohesion » in Cohesion Policy funded projects
Analysing how projects initiative and managed by local communities are implemented
The High Level Group should deliver its first recommendations already in 2016. Its work should also be relevant to make further recommendations for after 2020.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank the Latvian Presidency for hosting this meeting and for the excellent work they are carrying out during their Presidency. Together we can pave the way for the success of our policy even beyond 2020. From my side, I will do my best to gain the support from our partners in the Member States to achieve the results that European citizens are waiting for.