The EU is back on the path to growth, but many of our regions and cities are still bearing the scars of the crisis, which wiped out the gains from social and economic convergence achieved in several Member States since 2000, reversing the trend of reducing regional disparities.
In parallel, we are faced with one of the biggest challenges we have ever had to address as a Union, the refugee crisis. And when Europe represents a haven of hope and stability for hundreds of thousands of refugees, we are witnessing the rise of movements which choose to turn their backs on Europe, revealing that in some countries, citizens have been losing faith in the EU. Often they are losing faith because they feel as if, in the midst of difficulty, and when they need it the most, Europe is nowhere to be found.
I want to ask them to look closer; they will see Europe is everywhere. Europe is the broadband connection coming to people’s homes. Europe is the small businesses saving on their energy bills thanks to the work done in their facilities.
Europe is everywhere the European Structural and Investment Funds make a difference. They are the EU’s main investment arm, working on the ground to change people’s everyday lives and providing tailored support according to specific needs across our territories.
Over the next decade, the European Structural and Investment Funds will intervene where they are most needed, investing in Europe to reduce wealth gaps between regions and to reach the EU goals of growth and jobs.
Reformed for the new programming period, they intervene in a more strategic, performance-oriented way. By focusing on research, innovation, new technologies and entrepreneurship, they help regions capitalize on their competitive strengths and above all, on the European people’s talents and ideas.
The European Structural and Investment Funds also provide robust support to the challenges the EU is facing. In 2015, we presented exceptional measures for Greece to benefit from the Funds to the fullest, ensuring access to much-needed liquidity on the ground.
As a key source of financing for the real economy, the Funds have made a major contribution to strengthening Greece’s economic, social and territorial cohesion. And in difficult times, they play an important role in paving the way for a prosperous future, helping Greece develop its own growth strategy.
There is no small step when dealing with the refugee crisis; every action, every initiative on the ground counts. The European Structural and Investment Funds can support projects to address both short-term needs - first accommodation, mobile hospitals, sanitation, water-supply - and longer term ones, helping migrants and refugees find their place in society. We are at the beginning of a long journey, and this is why we will keep on thinking of new ways to deal with this crisis, by deepening the synergies between the Funds and other EU policies and by working closely with the Member States to find common solutions, also in the framework of our cross-border cooperation programmes and macro-regional strategies.
Over the next decade, the European Structural and Investment Funds will intervene where they are most needed, investing in Europe to reduce wealth gaps between regions and to reach the EU goals of growth and jobs. At the end of 2015 we adopted the last programmes for the 10 years to come; we are now fully into the implementation phase of the new period and 2016 will therefore be a crucial year, as we will see the tangible impacts of the Funds’ reformed framework for 2014-2020. On this basis, we will start thinking about the future of the Funds, in 2020 and beyond. Important challenges are awaiting us in this implementation phase: we need to further simplify the access to the European Structural and Investment Funds for beneficiaries. Too many of them are still giving up on receiving our support because they find it too lengthy and bureaucratic. Equally, we need to work with national and regional authorities to enhance governance and institutional capacities, as the citizens won’t reap the benefits of the Funds if they are not managed efficiently.
They are expected to account for approximately 14 % of total public investment on average, with the highest share reaching beyond 70 % in some Member States. Citizens are counting on our investments, for key infrastructures in transport, water supply or waste management, for better health care or social services or to develop an idea which can end up creating hundreds of job opportunities in a region.
This is the only way to ensure that the European Structural and Investment Funds will establish the right conditions for quality projects to flourish, for businesses to thrive and for the people’s everyday lives to improve, all leading to a new start in Europe.