It is worth €374 billion, it is Europe’s main source of investment and its aim is to reduce economic, social and territorial disparities Europe: it is the new cohesion policy for the 2021-27 financial period as announced by the Commission on 29 May.

This follows up on our proposal for a pragmatic, modern, long-term budget for the 2021-27 period for a Union that protects, empowers and defends, which the Commission had presented on May 2.

The future cohesion policy has undergone massive transformation to make it fit closer to today’s and tomorrow’s needs. Though its achievements have been confirmed by countless studies and reports (such as creating over one million jobs across Europe through the last economic and financial crisis, to name but one), there were two overarching needs.

The first was to make sure the bulk of its funding goes to those regions with the lowest income per capita. The second was to make it easier to use for beneficiaries, more flexible to adapt to unforeseen events, and mirroring more the EU’s priorities.

Therefore we propose less red tape and fewer rules.

Tomorrow’s cohesion policy will also strengthen its urban dimension

This is a small revolution in itself. All the surveys and consultations we launched pointed to the same conclusion: cohesion policy is great, but not easy to use. Well, we have heard you; it will be simpler to use as we propose a single ‘rulebook’ for seven EU funds, which should make beneficiaries’ lives ‘seven times’ easier…

Also, common sense must prevail: why keep the same level of audits for all programmes? We felt those programmes that function well could do with simpler procedures than those that are more problematic.

I am also pleased that we have made cohesion policy’s rudder easier to turn depending on changing conditions. Indeed, at the start of the current seven-year period (2014-20) nobody expected migration and security to feature as one of the top priorities today; however our regions and cities are first in line on those issues but find it difficult to adjust the use of EU funds to new priorities.

This is why we propose to keep enough flexibility for addressing new priorities: after five years, we will sit around the table to assess whether today’s priorities are still valid or adjustments are needed.

Tomorrow’s cohesion policy will also strengthen its urban dimension.

Again, this makes total sense, especially as over 80 per cent of Europeans are likely to be living in urban areas by 2050. In future, local authorities in Malta and elsewhere will have more say on how to best use cohesion policy funding in their city, and a minimum of €13.5 billion will go to implement local development strategies agreed with local partners. 

In short, with reduced financial resources and added responsibilities, we are proposing a cohesion policy that looks after each of its regions, regardless of how different their needs are, and therefore that leaves nobody behind.

A cohesion policy that is simpler to use, simpler to adjust to new developments, focussed on key priorities and tailored to its beneficiaries’ needs, all this while making sure taxpayers’ money is spent soundly… I am confident that the European legislator (member states and European Parliament) will side with us for a strong, cohesive Europe.

Corina Creţu is RU Commissioner for Regional Policy.