Just two months before the presentation of the much awaited Commission’s proposal for the next financial period, beyond 2020, and with most EU Member States having already expressed their conviction that Europe needs a future cohesion policy for all regions, I was happy to hear that France is willing to follow the same direction.
The political part of the visit included meetings with the Ministers for European Affairs Nathalie Loiseau, and for Territorial Cohesion, Jacques Mézard, as well as with President Macron’s diplomatic advisor Philippe Etienne, a convinced European (and a friend of Romania’s !).
With each of them, the three scenarios the Commission presented to breed a debate on future European budgets featured high: scenario 1, no cut to cohesion policy in order to make all regions benefit from it; scenario 2, a 15% cut that leaves out the richer regions; scenario 3, a 30% cut to limit cohesion policy to helping the poorest regions.
And my conclusion is that they all favour scenario 1, a cohesion policy for every European region; not only for socio-economic reasons (there are pockets of poverty even in rich region, not to mention the need to support those industrial regions that see themselves decline vis-à-vis both the richer and the poorer regions), but also for political reasons: limiting cohesion policy to the poorest regions only would mean Europe “disappearing” from half the Union in terms of tangible, visible presence.
However, I also got the loud message that tomorrow’s cohesion policy must be genuinely simpler to beneficiaries, something I am deeply convinced of. Indeed, too many rules and procedures discourage many would-be beneficiaries as well as the daunting prospect for them to have to pay back EU funding in case of purely administrative mistakes… more than often caused by the complexity of the rules.
Equally important: Merci à Madame le Ministre Loiseau for her idea to organise debates on Europe for French citizens, across the whole France. The European Commission already holds such meetings across Europe, the “citizens’ dialogues”, but having them in conjunction with national debates can only be good for democracy, for inclusion, for Europe’s and Europeans’ future.
Here again, the representatives of those French cities spoke with one voice: French cities and towns need cohesion policy as an investment tool, to modernise, to improve their citizens’ quality of life.
Whoever said that cohesion policy is “traditional” (with a negative connotation), that it does not represent the future should take thirty minutes to visit the Saclay site on the outskirts of Paris. There, with the financial support of cohesion policy a brand new compound hosts start-ups that work on state of the art high technology, often in tandem with universities.
Whether working on ex-skeletons that enable anyone to lift and carry heavy loads, three dimension virtual reality or robotics, the Saclay site is the best answer to those who doubt cohesion policy is a pillar of European research and development, keeping European Member States at the forefront of technology whilst providing jobs.
On the way back from Paris late last Friday, I was reflecting on those packed few hours spent in Paris: the political support I got and the amazing achievements on the ground I witnessed there are to be found in more and more European countries.