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EU cohesion policy 'must adapt to structural challenges'

ESPON magazine focuses on debate on future of investment policy

(ANSA) - BRUSSELS, JUN 28 - The policy of social, economic and territorial cohesion is the EU's most important investment policy.
    With the EU enlargements of the early 2000s to countries of central and eastern Europe, the main aim was to achieve real economic convergence.
    This process was interrupted by the 2008 financial crisis that led to a rapid increase in disparities, especially on the labour market.
    Many European regions have not returned to pre-crisis levels since then, falling into what the eighth Cohesion Report of the European Commission called the development trap.
    With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and then the war in Ukraine, what is the future of Cohesion Policy? The latest edition of TerritoriALL, the magazine published by the ESPON research programme specialising in regional-policy analysis, plays host to a debate on this issue, which is at the top of the priorities of the French presidency of the European Council.
    "This debate is not technical," said Nathalie Sarrabezolles, Chairwoman of the Commission for Territorial Cohesion Policy and EU Budget (COTER) of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and rapporteur of the report.
    "It is highly political because it touches on many of the challenges in Europe in troubled times".
    She said these range from the fight against climate change to the digital transition, reducing the rural-urban divide and strengthening the resilience of cities and regions.
    Peter Berkowitz of the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission was on the same wavelength.
    He said the main challenge for Cohesion policy will be to adapt to "long-term structural challenges" such as convergence and climate change, while "strengthening its capacity to respond to new asymmetric shocks" such as the pandemic and the war of aggression in Ukraine.
    Annabelle Boutet, an official from the French National Agency for Territorial Cohesion (ANCT), highlighted the need to focus on the regions that have fallen into the development trap.
    She said that in many cases these territories have the resources and assets to achieve the goals of the Green, digital, economic and demographic transition.
    Francesco Molica, Director for Regional Policy for the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR), also addressed the issue of asymmetric shocks.
    He said the central question was whether cohesion policy should "incorporate an emergency response feature on a permanent basis in the future and if this can be done without harming its very rationale and principles".
    On one hand, Molica stressed the need to adopt "more targetted approaches and bottom-up decision making" to address territorial disparities and the so-called "geography of discontent".
    On the other, he said it was necessary to reflect on how to "prevent fragmentation across the various funds" in view of the increase in the number of instruments contributing to cohesion goals under the Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2021-2027. (ANSA).


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