I would like to debate with you on the future of cohesion policy. On how it can make Europe stronger, more cohesive, and better prepared to promote its values in this changing World.
In this context, it feels really good to be here this morning with you.
I must say it is a relief from what feels like a constant flow of negative news these last months.
In fact, we all are in a search of good news, of hope.
But let me tell you: there IS good news!
Europe IS good news, cohesion policy IS good news.
You know, maybe these last years, we have all made the same mistake:
Some politicians and journalists found that criticising the EU for everything was the only way for them to exist, and we made the error to dismiss them; and by doing this, we let too many lies and distorted facts about the EU grow in countless speeches and articles.
We let many people across Europe believe those lies, we let them hear nothing but criticism about Europe.
Sometimes valid criticism, yes of course; but most of the times unjustified, dishonest criticism.
And we have forgotten that Europe is a unique project; we have allowed ourselves to forget that Europe is NOT Brussels; it is the sum of its 500 million citizens.
It is almost 30 countries pooling their financial resources together to improve their people’s health, to make transport safer, to protect consumers, to look after our climate.
Nothing like this has ever been attempted and achieved in the history of our planet.
And then: cohesion policy.
Like the EU itself, often criticised; sometimes valid criticism, but most of the times unjustified, dishonest criticism.
At the end of the day, Cohesion policy is the most concrete expression of European solidarity.
It brings the ideal of social and economic progress to each and every corner of the Union.
Investing in essential assets for people such as roads, trains, schools, hospitals, which improve their daily life.
Reaching everybody. Leaving no one behind, no matter where he or she lives.
But this is not all.
It makes all institutions - central government, regions, local authorities - work together to deliver services instead of wasting resources and energies in duplication and unconnected efforts.
In fact, the strength of cohesion policy lies on the very way it works; in the millions of people that are on board across some 300 regions of the European Union.
You are all aware of it: in 2017, the Commission will come up with a proposal for the next financial period, what we call "MFF" in Euro-jargon.
And the MFF is political priorities with figures attached to them.
In the current political and economic climate, we will need to defend Cohesion Policy for the next 7 years.
We are already reflecting on how we can make it more effective, simpler to use and more flexible to address unforeseen events.
We will need to look at how to better work with cities, or with regions with specific features, like islands or mountains, how to enhance our joint work with macro-regional strategies, how to strengthen and target the use of financial instruments.
But let's be clear about this: the economic benefits of cohesion policy for the whole of Europe are only one half of the argument.
The other half is that cohesion policy is a political statement in itself: “We in Europe build bridges to connect, NOT than walls to exclude!”
Cohesion policy is Europe telling the whole world: "we put our resources together to invest them
in a sound, strategic way, to the benefit of all. We have chosen to work together!"
And I want this statement to remain strong in future.
If you agree that together we are stronger, that cohesion policy, without being perfect, is the perfect concrete illustration of this motto; if you agree that we need it for our children’s future, in all regions, then help us defend it.
Help us defend it, mostly by spreading that message around you, by challenging the lies, the undue attacks.
Help us by widely contributing to the Cohesion Forum next June as well as to the subsequent public consultation.
By doing this, you will also be helping your own regions as EU funds make a real difference.
I will stop here. The idea is to have a genuine debate together. Now I want to hear from you: your suggestions, your criticism, your vision.