Europe needs targeted cohesion funding
18 October 2012, European Voice
On the eve of last Friday’s ‘Friends of Cohesion Policy’ meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, set out in your newspaper (“The Cohesion policy is good for all”, 4-10 October) why the European Union’s net beneficiary states want no cuts to the future multi-annual financial framework (MFF) 2014-20. Boosting jobs and growth was Fico’s message, reinforced by the countries at the Bratislava meeting, but with very few concrete details and, of course, some obligatory nods to ‘better spending’.
By Sunday, however, UK prime minister David Cameron was threatening that he is prepared to veto any MFF deal that is not acceptable to the UK, with an increased European budget seen as a red line for the UK. Commission President José Manuel Barroso, meanwhile, has vainly sought to bridge this budget divide by calling for the “Friends of cohesion” and the “Friends of better spending” (the UK and other net payers) to become “the friends of growth”.
We are now at a dangerous moment, and bellicose posturing has to be replaced by constructive negotiations focused on areas of mutual concern and benefit. It is time for both advocates of better spending and cohesion to abandon haggling over cuts and actually discuss the quality of spending and cohesion. One crucial area is the environment: the Commission has already proposed that 20% of the future budget should be devoted to climate change measures to contribute to EU2020 objectives, while boosting jobs and promoting de-carbonisation across Europe. Also important is the reform of EU farm policy to promote sustainable agriculture. But this topic has of late been swamped by the arguments over cohesion funding.
Last week, both Prime Minister Fico and the Friends of cohesion group chose not to make mention of the transformative potential of the budget in their declarations. Yet the Slovak government is aware that increasing energy efficiency in our housing sector – using some of that 20% to be allocated for climate measures – would create thousands of jobs. Our research also shows that every €1 million invested into the renovation of buildings creates net benefits for the Slovak state budget of half a million euros, with residents saving massively on domestic energy bills into the bargain.
Similar scenarios can be replicated all across Europe, and targeted cohesion funding within the EU budget is the key to unlocking this potential. All the EU’s member states are facing similar challenges when it comes to the environment, dealing with fuel poverty and rising unemployment. A collective, strong commitment to green spending is needed to overcome the ‘faux amis’ impasse that we are now in.
Institution: EU Funds