Luxembourg was focussing on Cohesion Policy this 25 April as the "General Affairs Council" (GAC) met. Such informal meetings with representatives of Europe's Member States are invaluable as we can exchange, confront ideas, and thus progress towards future agreements.
The whole morning was dedicated to Cohesion Policy in one form or another. And yes, it is a crucial issue.
As I often say: Cohesion Policy alone won't heal Europe, but Europe won't heal without Cohesion Policy! What I mean by that is simple; look around: in every region or city of Europe Cohesion Policy is present.
Not in speeches, not on paper: in our streets, schools, businesses or hospitals.
Not only does Cohesion Policy make Europe's economy stronger and healthier, not only does it improve every European's quality of life, but it is the best tool to counter extremism and nationalism.
And this for two reasons mostly:
ONE: it is the most visible European policy, the one that demonstrates Europe's usefulness,
TWO: It shows the caring side of Europe. Cohesion Policy is Europe looking after each of us, now and for the future.
This was our meeting room in Luxembourg
At the "GAC" meeting, we discussed the Commission's proposal to fully reimburse reconstruction work in Europe's regions hit by natural disasters. Think of it: no European region is immune from natural disasters: wild fires, floods, earthquakes can hit any region. Our proposal is therefore for the whole of Europe. It send a crucially needed message to everybody: Europe cares!
We also discussed our proposals to make Cohesion Policy more visible. This was a Council's request to me a few months back, and I am grateful to Member States for showing their willingness to make each European more aware of Cohesion Policy and its achievements.
My fellow commissioner Marianne Thyssen, in charge of social policy, and I put seven concrete proposals on the table:
Launch of a broad coalition to raise the profile of cohesion policy. Such coalition would be open to representatives of local and regional authorities, the private sector and other beneficiaries such as associations representing the health or education sectors.
Organise a video competition on the achievements of Cohesion Policy since its creation in each EU Member State.
Organise a 'Did you know?' campaign showing some most iconic projects completed with cohesion policy funding.
Organise photo exhibitions showing "before - after Cohesion Policy" places in cities or regions.
Organise national versions of the European Regiostars awards in every Member State.
On the 60 years’ anniversary of the EU, showcase 60 projects funded through cohesion policy in each EU Member State.
Organise debates on cohesion policy at regional or local level across Europe.
My message to the Council included the fact that not much of those proposals can rest on the Commission's shoulders alone; we will need the support of Member States, other EU institutions and representatives of cities and regions…
Finally we discussed the so-called Omnibus proposal, in simple terms the proposal to make our funds more easily accessible, especially to smaller beneficiaries. This might sound like a very technical issue, but here again it is important as this would make more beneficiaries to use available EU funds, which in turn is good for the whole of Europe.
Though this may sound like a cliché, I cannot help feeling that this was a much needed, a much fruitful meeting.
Thanks to the Member States and to the Maltese Presidency!