'Objective 1 presents us not only with an opportunity to transform Wales' economic prospects, but also to develop new ways of working. These must recognise that the future of our country depends not on any one institution or agency, but on genuine and creative partnership between all those with a stake in enhancing the prosperity of all our people. I am convinced that this partnership can and will be mobilised by the national assembly.
'I am proud that the work of the Wales European task force in developing a national development strategy for European funds across Wales from 2000 is already setting the tone in developing this sort of genuine partnership.'
Speaking at a seminar to develop a draft national development strategy, he welcomed the work of the task force in developing objectives and priorities for the strategy.
'It is a tribute to your commitment and to the spirit of partnership in which this exercise has been conducted, that we have successfully come so far so quickly.
'The European programmes - not only Objective 1, but also Objectives 2 and 3 in East Wales - will be a major plank of the assembly's policies for economic and social regeneration. This will not only be true for those policy areas traditionally associated with economic development, such as business support, transport and agriculture, but for a wide range of other related policy areas as well.
'The opportunities offered by European programmes will play a vital role in tackling social exclusion and promoting self-confidence and self-reliance among communities.'
Looking forward to the public consultation on the task force's findings, Mr Michael added: 'The consultation process will help people across Wales appreciate the scale of the opportunities - and challenges - of this unique programme.
'We need to embed understanding and ownership of the national strategy across our country if its benefits are to be fully realised. Successful implementation of the European programmes in all parts of Wales will require the co-operation of a broad partnership working in a spirit of trust. That - and a great deal of commitment - has been the key to the success of the Task Force so far. It must continue in the months ahead.'
The task force's findings will be summarised in a consultation paper on the contents of the national development strategy and arrangements for implementation. The consultation period will run from 15 February to 31 March and will include a series of conferences around Wales.
The strategy itself will then be developed by the task force for submission to the European Commission by the end of June, assuming that negotiations on the structural fund regulations are completed in Brussels by the end of March.
Member organisations of the European task force, chaired by the Welsh Office, are:
- Council of Welsh TECs
- Heads of Higher Education Institutions in Wales
- Welsh Council for Voluntary Action
- Federation of Small Businesses
- Equal Opportunities Commission
- Wales Tourist Board
- National Farmers' Union
- Farmers Union of Wales
- Four Regional Economic Fora
- Environment Agency Wales
- Countryside Council for Wales
- Hywel Ceri Jones
- Wayne David MEP (representing all Welsh MEPs)
Questions and Answers.
Q: What is Objective One Status?
A: It is the European Union's (EU's) highest form of structural fund aid. It only goes to areas which are regarded as seriously lagging behind the EU average, economically. It is defined as areas whose GDP per head is less than 75% of EU average. The EU will provide funding up to 75% of the costs of projects in this area
Q: What will be the benefits?
A: Up to£2bn worth of EU programmes which could be used for projects in the following areas:
- Infrastructure development
- Small business support
- Measures to integrate the unemployed into the labour market - Training for the unemployed and those in work
- Measures to promote equal opportunities at work
- A wide range of measures to support agriculture
- Measures to support the rural environment
- A range of schemes to support for the fisheries sector
Q: What about other parts of Wales?
A: All parts of Wales will qualify for some EU assistance. Many of the eastern counties of Wales will continue to receive some EU support through the new Objective 2 programme. This links the old Objective 2 (industrial) and Objective 5 b (rural) programmes. Funding is available for most of the same measures available in Objective 1 (except for some agricultural schemes) but at a lower rate of EU co-funding. Those areas which do not qualify for the new Objective 2 funding programme are likely to receive some form of transitional assistance. The European social fund measures will be available throughout Wales. There will also be separate support programmes for agriculture.
Q: When can we be certain that Objective 1 status has been secured?
A: We can't be absolutely sure until negotiations on the new structural funds regulations are finalised at the EU. However the principle that areas with less than 75% of EU average GDP should qualify for Objective 1 status is not controversial. Our principal challenge is to provide the commission with a convincing programme for the deployment of structural funds in the Objective 1 area and in other parts of Wales.