Introductory remarks at the Cohesion General Affairs Council Press Conference

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear members of the press,

We live in urgent times, crisis after crisis. But in unstable times, it is important not just to react to the crisis of the day, but to build sources of long-term stability: our foundations and our structure.

So, I am grateful to the French Presidency for adopting council conclusions on the 8th Cohesion Report, and for organising this debate on the structural issues of cohesion policy.

The Cohesion report is a rich source of data and analysis but let me briefly highlight 3 key findings.

First Cohesion Policy is delivering on long term convergence. For example, the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004 had an average GDP per head in that year of just 59% of the EU as a whole. By 2019, that average had risen to 77%. In other words, the gap with the EU average has almost halved.

But the 2nd key finding is that progress between Member States does not always translate into convergence within Member States. And, in fact, old gaps and old divides are taking a new turn at the local and regional level.

For example, some regions seem to be stuck in a middle-income trap, a “glass ceiling” of limited convergence. This “middle income trap” is often linked to problems with innovation, with institutional quality and the capacity of public administrations. So, we must invest in these.

The 3rd key finding is the emerging asymmetric impacts of crises in general. From floods and fires, to Covid and now Ukraine: some regions bounce back, others need long term help.

So, this is the context: the long-term work of cohesion policy, and the need at the local and regional level to counter development gaps, development traps and crises.

With the ministers today we discussed the way forward. A key word of the day was “adaptation”.

And we agreed that the policy has already adapted over the years. The 2021 programmes are very different from the old policy. We have gone from a provider of basic infrastructure to being a key provider across Europe of modern public goods: green, digital and innovation.

And we adapted rapidly to Covid. Indeed, along with State Aid, we were Europe’s first responder, with support on the ground in less than 4 weeks. Over the months that followed, we mobilised 23 billion euros of emergency support from Cohesion funds.

Now, we are responding to Ukrainian civilians fleeing war, and have already paid out more than 3.5 billion euros to the Member States welcoming the most refugees.

And Cohesion Policy will also be an integral part of Europe’s diversification away from Russian oil and gas.

In this context of adaptation, we agreed 3 key points.

First, the policy must continue to adapt. I am open to discussion of further improvements in the coming months. This will be a necessary reflection as we tackle the effects of the war in Ukraine and as we prepare the next programme period.

But second, our priority right now is not reflection, nor discussion, but implementation. It is high time to finish the 2014-2020 programmes, and to make sure all 2021-2027 programmes are successfully launched. This is my over-riding priority. We have concluded 9 Partnership Agreements with Member States and more are expected very soon.

Third, we should not wait to sharpen our territorial focus. The 2021-27 framework already provides a whole range of new tools, to involve local people and local communities in our actions, building their capacity and tapping into their local knowledge.

And we must already make sure that European and national programmes take account of regional specificities, and their different impacts in different places. I am glad that the 2022 European Semester package presented by the Commission a couple of weeks ago includes a specific analysis of the regional situation in our Member States.

This must be our common ambition: that all regions are equal, and that all Europeans have the right to a good quality of life wherever they choose to live.

We will continue to reflect on how to improve our policies to make this happen. But we agreed today that our priority right now is to make immediate and best use of all the tools we have now.

Étant donné que j’ai la parole je voudrais vous annoncer en présence du Ministre Christophe Bechu, l’approbation aujourd’hui même par la Commission de l’accord de partenariat français.

Ce document a fait l’objet de longues négociations et je me réjouis qu’elles aient pu aboutir sur un cadre stratégique solide pour les investissements de la politique de cohésion en 2021-2027.

18.4 milliards d’euros de fonds européens vont accélérer la transition verte et digitale, la compétitivité des régions françaises, et la réduction des disparités territoriales auxquelles la France est confrontée.

Une attention particulière sera accordée aux régions ultrapériphériques afin de développer le secteur des transports, certaines infrastructures et d’investir dans les affaires sociales conformément à la nouvelle stratégie pour les régions ultrapériphériques.

Cet accord est l’expression concrète de ce que nous avons discuté aujourd’hui au Conseil. Une Europe plus unie, une Europe plus solidaire, une Europe plus forte.

Merci beaucoup.

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