Strategic thinking needs to win out in the future Cohesion Policy debate
Bankwatch Mail | 13 March 2012
As the Polish Presidency ended at the turn of the year and the last formal meetings were over, the Polish government decided it was time to speak out more openly about its own position concerning the future of Cohesion Policy, as it was no longer obliged to remain neutral in the negotiations. This EU budget item had been the priority for the Presidency, as Poland is hoping to receive as much as EUR 80 billion in the forthcoming 2014-2020 period.
This article is from Issue 51 of our quarterly newsletter Bankwatch Mail
Publishing a set of detailed positions on seven regulations published by the European Commission in October 2010, and requesting comments from local authorities, social partners including NGOs and all interested stakeholders, may have appeared to be good practice. Unfortunately, though, the consultations were short and the timing was far from ideal, falling over the nine working days around Christmas and New Year. As a result the public consultation was rather symbolic and only those parties who were really concerned and determined were able to submit comments – including the coalition of environmental NGOs working on the EU funds in Poland, led by Bankwatch member group Polish Green Network.
The coalition’s summing up of the content of these official positions was mixed: very progressive in the declarations, very business-as-usual in the details.
Poland has been trying to defend the Cohesion Policy from budget cuts (very probable as a result of recession and the lingering crisis atmosphere across Europe, with the EU budget’s net payers looking to cut expenditures wherever possible) and to promote it as a development policy that can serve the entire EU and also contribute to achieving Europe’s strategic goals, particularly those included in the Europe 2020 strategy. In line with this logic, Cohesion Policy investments should be concentrated on what is good and strategic for the entire EU.
One of these strategic priorities is fighting climate change and building a low-carbon economy through supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy. The European Commission has proposed in the draft regulations some modest ‘ring-fencing’ of funds for the low-carbon priority area: six percent of the European Regional Development Fund in the poorest regions and 20 percent in the richer ones. Such a commitment is not fully satisfactory if the EU’s plans to move away from dependence on fossil fuels are to be taken seriously, but at least it’s a sign that energy efficiency and renewable energy, unlike in the 2007-2013 budget period, are becoming a priority for EU funding.
This ‘ring-fencing’ mechanism is nevertheless being strongly opposed by the Polish government on the grounds that it is not flexible enough. Yet how can the thematic concentration of funds be achieved otherwise? There is no answer in the Polish position. Most likely, the money would be spread again over many priorities and areas, in an attempt to satisfy all political interests. The consequences would see a repeat of the failure to reach a critical mass of investments addressing the biggest challenges facing Europe, including climate change.
Moreover, the most astonishing example of sticking to business as usual is the Polish government’s push to be able to continue using EU funds for ‘domestic energy security and energy distribution’ – which translates as EU subsidies for fossil fuels.
Poland is not the only country battling to maintain the status quo and use EU funding for national, regional and local political priorities that may be out of kilter with wider EU strategic goals. In the coming months of tough negotiations in the European Parliament and Council we will see whether or not strategic thinking about Europe’s future is completely abandoned as regards the future EU Cohesion Policy.