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'LOCAL AND REGIONAL AUTHORITIES MUST BE A DRIVING FORCE IN IMPLEMENTING THE STRUCTURAL FUNDS AFTER 2006'

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In view of the need to reformulate economic and social cohesion policy in an enlarged Europe, the European Commissi...
In view of the need to reformulate economic and social cohesion policy in an enlarged Europe, the European Commission asked the Committee of the Regions to draw up an outlook report on governance and simplification of the structural funds after 2006, which it will take into account when preparing its report on economic and social cohesion for publication in December 2003.

While emphasising the importance of cohesion policy as a key instrument for achieving the principles of solidarity, cooperation and redistribution within the union, the outlook report notes that wide disparities continue to exist, not just between the member states, but also between regions and within member states.

Enlargement is likely to increase those imbalances.

It is therefore necessary to reform cohesion policy, while taking care not to discriminate against regions that still depend on union support, and without querying the budget earmarked for this policy (0.45% of Union GDP).

After talking to most of the presidents of the EU regions, as well as the political authorities responsible for administering the structural funds, the CoR would stress their wish for more coherence in relation to the structural funds, ie better coordination between the funds (EAGGF, ESF, ERDF and FIFG), and between the various community, national and regional programmes.

For example, regional and local authorities are in favour of integrating the structural funds to form one single fund, which would make it possible to merge the structural policies, which by their nature are horizontal. This would also make administration considerably easier.

The regions also deplore the fact that other community policies are applied without direct reference to cohesion policies. The rapporteurs, Raffaele Fitto (IT/EPP) and Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe (BE/PES), note that this leads to a loss of efficiency and synergies.

The regions also wish the subsidiarity and proportionality principles to be better applied in mana ging the structural funds, since these principles are still not adequately considered when decisions are taken about the programmes.

The CoR's members emphasise that since the programmes are intended to promote regional development, it makes sense for the committee to be regarded as a direct partner of the commission on the same basis as the member states.

The regions therefore urge that the principle of co-responsibility with the commission and the member states be established, which would give them a key role in defining priorities, implementing legislation, allocating resources and delegating management and administration tasks.

The CoR reaffirms access to development and cohesion policies not only for regional institutions but also for local institutions, which must be involved in management through a strong partnership.

Finally, the CoR proposes that a single legal framework be introduced for the financial management of the programmes. For example, a single regional fund to provide community financial assistance could be set up that would no longer pass via the budget of the member state.

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