EU regions: don’t touch cohesion funds for Green Deal

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The president of the committee of the regions defended the "crucial role" of cohesion policy not only for the Green Deal, but also for keeping Europe united in the new challenges ahead.

EUobserver

The EU must ensure sufficient regional investment through its cohesion policy, as well as through the just transition fund, to achieve the objectives of the Green Deal, but these mechanisms should not undermine each other, warned the president of the Committee of the Regions, Karl-Heinz Lambertz on Thursday (9 January) .

In the period 2014-2020, €351.8bn was set aside for cohesion policy - which accounts for around one-third of the EU budget.

However, the final proposal of the previous Finnish EU presidency pushes for serious cuts in EU cohesion funds, totalling around €44bn.

For its part, the European Commission has proposed one the one hand a reduction in cohesion funds for regional development, and on the other the creation of a just transition fund for coal regions that would fall under the cohesion policy.

The just transition fund, which will be unveiled by the EU Commission on 14 January, aims to mobilise €100bn to help sectors and regions adapt their industries to the low-carbon economy.

"We need to try to work together to make a change," said Lambertz, who believes that the main aim is to find the right balance among all EU resources, and also convince member states in the EU Council to agree on a multiannual financial framework (MFF) that does not undermine cohesion policy.

"There is no guarantee for success but, I hope that at the end of the day we can have an honourable result," he added.

Allies of cohesion policy

The so-called 'Friends of Cohesion' group of member states - Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - have defended the need to keep cohesion policy fully-funded.

However, the decision on the budget for the period 2021-2027 remains in the hands of all member states, as it has to be voted on by unanimity.

The commissioner for cohesion and reforms, Elisa Ferreira, also believes that cohesion policy should not be "reduced or diminished" to favour other policies, especially because "cohesion policy also foresees a very strong contribution to the objectives of environmental compliance".

"Cohesion policy is now more needed than ever" and it will play a crucial role not only for the Green Deal but also for keeping Europe united in the new challenges ahead, she said.

The new European Commission has put climate change and environmental policies at the top of the agenda, with the Green Deal as a roadmap that seeks to design a set of "deeply transformative policies" at the regional and national level.

However, according to commissioner Ferreira, "the Green Deal will not be feasible if we do not use all the mechanism we have".

'Dramatic challenges'

The transition to sustainable energy will hit regions differently, but those who are deeply-dependent on fossil fuels will face "dramatic challenges," she told journalists in Brussels.

Coal accounts for nearly a quarter of the total electricity production in the EU and it provides jobs to more than 240,000 people in mines and power plants across 41 regions and 12 European countries.

However, Europe will need to reduce the use of coal in the energy sector by two-thirds in the next decade to meet its 2030 climate goals.

"It is our duty to help these sectors and regions that will be massively affected by this transition," Ferreira said, who believes that new challenges require extra money.

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