Press conference by Commissioners Ferreira and Schmit on proposals to strengthen cohesion policy and better support Member States in addressing the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Commissioner Ferreira:

Dear journalists,

Unprovoked, and unjustified, Russian aggression is causing havoc in Ukraine.

Since 24 February, civilians have been fleeing Russian aggression, and Europe has welcomed a total of over 6 million people.

The situation is still evolving: some have returned to Ukraine, and there are signs that entry flows may be stabilising. But the number of refugees is still very significant, and, in net terms, it is still climbing.

We have all been encouraged by ordinary Europeans who have shown warm hearts and open doors to those fleeing the war.

And we, at the European level, have acted in this same spirit of solidarity.

From the very beginning, we provided support to Member States and regions welcoming refugees through CARE – “Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe”.

The first CARE package enabled unspent Cohesion Policy investments to flexibly and quickly shift to supporting displaced people.

CARE 2 mobilised 3.5 billion euros, through increased pre-financing from REACT-EU.

These packages were welcomed across Europe. But the needs continue to grow.

We have spoken with stakeholders, civil society representatives, and local, regional and national authorities, members of parliament, national and European, and it has become clear that more is required.

We have listened to these concerns, and today we are proposing a comprehensive set of amendments to Cohesion Policy, under the FAST-CARE.

This FAST-CARE initiative introduces 3 main changes.

First, FAST-CARE mobilises more support, for those welcoming displaced people.

We will offer an additional 3.5 billion euros of pre-financing under Cohesion Policy, which will provide additional liquidity to all Member States.

To alleviate the impact on public budgets, we will extend the possibility of 100% EU co-financing for investments in priorities promoting the socio-economic integration of third country nationals until the end of the 2014-2020 period. We are introducing this possibility for 2021-2027, until mid-2024.

To better cover the needs, we are raising the newly established unit cost from 40 euros per person per week, to 100 euros, and doubling its period of application to 26 weeks.

We are also extending the possibility for cross funding for refugee support measures.

Previous CARE packages covered the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF+).

With FAST-CARE we extend this flexibility to include the Cohesion Fund. Indeed, our aim is to ensure that every euro is available to make a maximum contribution to the needs.

Also, to help civil society organisations and local authorities, as they respond in real time to the crisis, a minimum of 30% of investments will be ringfenced for them, in a dedicated priority for displaced people.

Second, we offer more flexibility.

We are creating more flexibility to finance operations outside the programme area, to address the situation of people fleeing the Russian aggression and moving within Member States. And more flexibility as well to retroactively reimburse projects which are already completed.

The communication has further details.

Third, FAST-CARE offers more practical support for Member States, regions and beneficiaries working across Cohesion Policy.

The previous CARE packages rightly focussed on displaced people, since this was the top priority in the first weeks.

But now, a broader range of needs have become apparent, as prices are increasing, and projects are delayed by bottlenecks and shortages.

To cope with delay of projects benefiting from Cohesion funding due to shortages of labour and materials, we are offering greater flexibility, to allow the phasing of projects from one period to the next, from 2014-2020 to 2021-2027.

Projects that have already started under the 2014-2020 support period can be easily transferred to the 2021-2027 financing period.

We will be lowering the threshold, from 5 million euros to 1 million euros, of projects that can be transferred, to ensure that they are finished and make a real impact on people’s lives.

But the proposal goes beyond legislative measures.

To help beneficiaries and stakeholders as they manage Cohesion Policy in this very disruptive environment, we will also be offering additional technical and legal support, for example in managing procurement contracts.

These are key examples.

The communication has further details on other forms of support to help deliver projects and programmes.

In closing, with this FAST-CARE package we create:

First, more support for Member States, local authorities and civil society organisations who welcome displaced people.

Second, additional flexibility in the use of Cohesion investments. We have tailored the rules to help those who are working on the ground receiving and integrating those fleeing the war.

Third, a wide range of practical support to programmers and project managers.

To help them manage not just the welcome of refugees, but the delivery of Cohesion projects and programmes in these disruptive times.

We need this package urgently.

I believe it goes to the core of our mission in Cohesion Policy: solidarity in times of crisis, avoiding the emergence of disparities and making sure that no one is left behind.

Because displaced people need our support. And those that welcome them need our support.

And we must also ensure that none of our programmes are delayed, and that all of them deliver on long term, sustainable growth for every region.

We call on the co-legislators to adopt this package

as soon as possible, so that we can all get on, with delivering this vital support on the ground.

——–

 

Commissioner Schmit:

Cohesion policy is one of the most tangible expressions of solidarity between European Member States and regions. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU has acted in solidarity and in unity, and we will continue to do so.

I commend the tremendous work by the people in our Member States and regions that are working relentlessly to support the Ukrainians fleeing.

Our priority remains making sure that the millions – mothers and children – who are crossing into our borders are cared for, are safe, are healthy and can rapidly return to education.

We will help people who had fled Ukraine to integrate into communities and find work. Here, cohesion funds have an important role to play.

Today we build on the previous “CARE” packages, and make cohesion policy even more flexible so that EU funds can be accessed immediately by those most in need.

We are in a total emergency. So the instrument that College has adopted today is simpler, more flexible, more rapid and better targeted.

In the past weeks, I have visited refugee welcome centres in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, and witnessed the extraordinary efforts being made by many different organisations and individuals: some public, some private sector, some private citizens.

A novelty of this new package today is that at least 30% of the resources mobilised should be granted to operations managed by local authorities and civil society organisations like NGOs that are operating in local communities, so that those people I just mentioned receive adequate support and have the resources to keep up their tremendous work.

This is something that NGOs, local authorities and mayors have consistently been demanding, as they are the ones providing the services on the ground. Our proposal improves the situation and provides them with adequate funding.

We are already seeing EU social funds being put to very good use to support those fleeing Ukraine.

For example, the “Skills validation centres” project in Belgium is supported by the ESF. It helps people with professional experience fleeing Ukraine to get their skills validated officially, free of charge. This official recognition helps to demonstrate their skills to an employer, or to be able to continue learning and training.

When I was in Romania, I visited the “Concordia Vocational School”, a Bucharest-based project co-funded by the ESF. Concordia’s “First Room” project supports the social integration of children and young people who have recently been under state protection systems. Concordia is currently providing shelter, support and counselling services to people fleeing Ukraine.

In the short term, FAST-CARE can help to pay for immediate relief measures such as food, basic material assistance, accommodation, transport, immediate healthcare, information and translation services.

Then in the medium term, FAST-CARE can finance things like accommodation with host families or in hotels, construction or refurbishing of reception centres, staff costs for running the facilities and integration activities (including civil society organisations operating in local communities).

And in the longer-term, it can be used to pay for services like healthcare, psychological support, childcare, social housing, access to the labour market, education and training.

Last week I met with the network of 27 European Public Employment Services, where we discussed reception and integration of refugees – from Ukraine and other places. Their support to help evaluate skills, provide language courses, find the right jobs is key.

To support this work and help coordinate with the different stakeholders, the Commission has appointed former Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Lodewijk Asscher as special advisor. He will look at how Member States can best integrate refugees into the labour market and into their social protection systems. We want to be as efficient, rapid and cooperative as possible.

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