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The first part of the informal meeting of ministers responsible for regional policy and territorial cohesion, held on May 20 and 21 2005 in Luxembourg, concentrated on regional policy.
The ministers exchanged views on the Community’s strategic aims in terms of cohesion for the period 2007-2013, presented by Danuta Hübner, Commissioner for Regional Policy and Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. Once adopted by the Council, these strategic aims will define the framework for the intervention of Structural Funds.
Jeannot Krecké, Minister of the Economy and Foreign Trade, who chaired this first session, stated after the meeting that he had "taken note of the intention of Commission representatives to take account of the remarks of all Member states before finalising the document to be adopted by the Council in its final stages."
"We had a debate on the strategic aims for cohesion centring around the following three priorities: making Europe and its regions the most attractive place to invest and work, improving knowledge and innovation for growth, and creating more and better jobs.
The Presidency proposed a 'tour de table' around the following three questions:
1. Do you consider that these priorities are relevant and sufficiently focused?
2. For these 3 priorities, how should the goal of convergence and the goal of regional competitiveness and employment be differentiated?
3. What focus should be placed on these 3 priorities to take account of specific regional issues?
Following this discussion, I retained certain points:
I note a large consensus on the Commission document which seems to take account of the diversity of regional situations. Most participants welcomed the Commission proposal not to issue national strategic recommendations and to introduce a degree of flexibility. They approved the possibility of leaving it up to Member states to define their own priorities, adapted to their individual regional situation, within the framework defined by the strategic aims.
However, I did not hear only positive comments. There were requests for further information. The Member states also asked for the sphere of intervention of structural funds to be extended and for better account to be taken of the social dimension, which should not be restricted to creating jobs and developing human resources. Some asked that the bureaucracy and the number of reports linked to structural funds be reduced.
I hope that the final Commission document will be a purely strategic document that can help Member states to draw up their own national strategic frame of reference.
I think that we need to remember – and the treaty underscores this in Article 359 – the sharing of roles between the Community and Member states. Because of the subsidiarity principle, structural funds cannot on their own be expected to solve all the problems in terms of economic and social cohesion. Therefore, there needs to be good coordination and interaction between structural funds initiatives and those taken at national level.Therefore, without prejudging the outcome of the negotiations on financial perspectives, I hope that each of us, in our own area of competence, will succeed in concentrating on the essential, i.e. on interventions that will produce this leverage effect that we are looking for and that is as efficient as possible to advance towards improved economic, social, and territorial cohesion in an ever larger Europe."
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