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Document 52012AR0007

Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Proposal for a regulation on the Cohesion Fund’

OJ C 225, 27.7.2012, p. 143–149 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

27.7.2012   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 225/143


Opinion of the Committee of the Regions on ‘Proposal for a regulation on the Cohesion Fund’

2012/C 225/10

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

considers that Cohesion Fund-driven investment in infrastructure conducted over the years has proven to deliver a very high level of European added value. Through these investments, the EU provides Europeans with higher living standards and businesses with opportunities for development;

welcomes the Commission's proposal to maintain a substantial budget for the Cohesion Fund for the period 2014-2020 so that the EU's policy objectives in the areas of transport, the environment and energy will receive financial support from the EU budget;

considers that cohesion policy is and should remain an expression of solidarity in the EU and an effective tool for completing the European single market;

calls for a strongly results-oriented approach and better identifying investment priorities at local and national level;

considers that the Cohesion Fund should fund integrated projects on the energy performance of buildings and housing;

supports the need for smart investment in infrastructure development at European level;

insists that local and regional authorities are responsible for investing in transport infrastructure and for establishing secondary and tertiary links to the trans-European network. They should be closely involved in decisions on the choice of priority projects of common interest in order to ensure consistency between public and private investment at every level;

will oppose any initiatives which might eat away at the budget allocated to cohesion policy, in particular in relation to EUR 10 billion in the Connecting Europe Facility's budget that comes from the Cohesion Fund.

Rapporteur

Mr STAVARACHE (RO/ALDE), Mayor of Bacău Municipality, in the county of Bacău

Reference document

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Cohesion Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1084/2006

COM(2011) 612 final

I.   POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

THE COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS

General comments

1.

stresses that local and regional authorities have a key political, regulatory and administrative role; they often have competences clearly established at national level for planning investment and enacting transport, environment and energy policies, and particularly for local infrastructure development;

2.

emphasises that multilevel governance is imperatively needed to ensure balanced territorial development which complies with the subsidiarity principle. Local and regional authorities should be fully involved in decisions at national and European level on investment priorities funded by the Cohesion Fund;

3.

welcomes the European Commission's commitment to provide budgetary support for transport, environment and energy infrastructure (a prerequisite for economic development); is particularly pleased that the proposed multiannual financial framework 2014-2020 takes account of the disparities between Member States and EU regions, with particular focus on less developed regions;

4.

considers that giving priority to infrastructure development throughout the EU lays the necessary groundwork for the EU to operate properly as a common economic area and for the completion of the European single market, as well as expressing solidarity with less developed Member States;

5.

considers that Cohesion Fund-driven investment in infrastructure conducted over the years has proven to deliver a very high level of European added value; such investment would not have been possible in Member States with a low GDP per capita without EU support. Through these investments, the EU provides Europeans with higher living standards and businesses with opportunities for development;

6.

points out that, as provided for in Protocol 28 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Cohesion Fund will provide financial support for environment and trans-European network projects in Member States with a per capita GNP of less than 90 % of the EU average;

7.

particularly welcomes European solidarity between Member States. The Cohesion Fund provides necessary funds for intra-regional and urban investment in transport and environment infrastructure in less developed countries;

8.

draws attention to the CoR's recommendations regarding the new multiannual framework post-2013 and fully endorses the proposals on cohesion policy and conditionality (1);

9.

welcomes the Commission's proposal to maintain a substantial budget for the Cohesion Fund for the period 2014-2020 so that the EU's policy objectives in the areas of transport, the environment and energy will receive financial support from the EU budget, and endorses the proposal whereby the Cohesion Fund contribution will be kept at a third of the total cohesion policy budget at national level in eligible Member States;

10.

is fully aware of the need to introduce economic and fiscal discipline measures at EU level, but considers that cohesion policy cannot be used as a corrective mechanism for imposing stringent financial discipline in the EU. The Structural and Cohesion Funds must meet the objectives laid down in Articles 171, 174, 177 and 192 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. To this end, considers that should macroeconomic conditionality be adopted, it should be mandatory for all budget headings and not only for cohesion;

Better strategic planning and more efficient use of funds

11.

considers that cohesion policy is and should remain an expression of solidarity in the EU and an effective tool for completing the European single market. The effectiveness of cohesion policy will be proven by the options for investment in smart, sustainable, inclusive and balanced growth at EU level; European, national, regional and local administrations will identify with them before they are transposed into Structural Fund investment programmes in the new planning period;

12.

points out that local and regional authorities' main objective for the forthcoming planning period is to boost the quality of schemes carried out using European taxpayers' money and to deliver better results which can be measured in economic, social and environmental terms;

13.

welcomes the new proposals in the legislative package on the future of EU cohesion policy which aims to ensure that funds are used more efficiently and to tie policy objectives more closely to the EU budget, specifically concentrating priorities, ensuring critical mass in investments, making financial planning instruments more flexible and streamlining procedures for accessing funds;

14.

emphasises that strategic planning in the use of funds requires genuine involvement by the beneficiaries and particularly the local and regional authorities which are most familiar with the reality and potential of the situation on the ground, thus ensuring that publically-funded investments are coherent at regional level. A bottom-up approach therefore needs to be promoted, with each region or city able to exploit its own potential, use the most appropriate means to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy, and access European funds;

15.

emphasises that investment in infrastructure makes a major contribution to the economic and social development of cities and regions, provided that it is planned and managed in partnership, the territorial impact is completely justified, and local stakeholders or local and regional authorities identify with it;

16.

strategic planning of investment in trans-European transport, energy and communication networks must be transparent and involve local and regional authorities, so that integrated territorial development plans are coordinated;

17.

supports planning in partnership. The new legislative provisions on cohesion policy post-2013 will push competent authorities at every level to focus more closely on applying the partnership principle in the new planning period at every stage, and more specifically to include indicators evaluating the level of partnership in the Member States;

18.

calls for a strongly results-oriented approach. Strategic planning instruments will therefore need to be available to local and regional authorities to allow for peer-to-peer evaluation of development strategies using a set of common and appropriate indicators able to measure investments' merits and multiplier effect;

19.

recommends that in the forthcoming planning period, stronger emphasis be placed on identifying investment priorities at local and regional level, using the financing instruments provided under the Common Strategic Framework in order to avoid funding overlaps or planning major investments for which there is no coverage;

20.

stresses that managing authorities must be judicious in their use of technical assistance so that it improves strategic planning, the development of major projects at local and regional level and the provision of assistance geared towards project promoters and beneficiaries and not to other purposes. Technical assistance must be better coordinated at European and national level in order to avoid fragmentation;

21.

is in favour of partnerships between the Commission, the European Investment Bank and other international financial institutions; also supports the development of financial engineering instruments which will supplement the Cohesion Fund and provide funds for infrastructure projects in the EU;

22.

backs the Commission's ambitious objective, set out in the White Paper on Transport, to cut carbon emissions in transport by 60 % by 2050. Investment funded by the Cohesion Fund will be analysed more carefully for sustainability, environmental assessment and long-term profitability;

23.

reiterates the need for better coordination between the Cohesion Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and the Connecting Europe Facility, and for synergies between the range of European and national programmes and financing instruments with a view to cutting red tape;

Investment in basic infrastructure

24.

points out that the Cohesion Fund is a crucial tool for investment in basic infrastructure which has provided ample evidence that it is both useful and effective, helping less developed countries to fund projects of common European interest;

25.

supports the Commission's proposals on the aim and the areas of action but considers that the Cohesion Fund could also fund integrated projects on the energy performance of buildings;

26.

is pleased that the urban dimension of the Cohesion Fund's investment priorities has been built in, as this acknowledges the major contribution of cities to economic, social and territorial cohesion in the EU;

27.

stresses the need to increase the focus on the TEN-T recommendations and compliance with the Community acquis and national legislation. To this end, ex ante evaluations could anticipate some of the problems which often cause lengthy delays in infrastructure projects, such as land registry deeds, compulsory purchase procedures, the granting of permits, public procurement procedures and the disputes regime;

28.

considers that Cohesion Fund investment priorities set by national, regional and local authorities should be consistent with the Europe 2020 strategy and the thematic priorities of the Common Strategic Framework; the investment priorities should accord equal importance to the recommendations of the Europe 2020 Territorial Agenda which was approved by spatial planning and territorial development ministers in 2011 (2);

Transport networks

29.

again points out that there are major east/west disparities in the EU as regards the quality and accessibility of transport networks: less developed regions have much greater needs in terms of transport infrastructure;

30.

considers that the Cohesion Fund is an effective tool for investing in upgrading TEN-T trans-European, national and intra-regional transport networks, which are strategically important for the EU's economic, social and territorial development. There can therefore be no doubt about the European added value delivered by the Cohesion Fund;

31.

supports the need for smart investment in infrastructure development at European level: extending and maintaining transport networks, innovative solutions and technologies for improving traffic management, IT systems, efficient intermodal transport solutions, etc. The European transport system's ability to compete will depend as much on the EU's ability to develop European transport networks as on its ability to manage each link in the logistics chain, thereby cutting delays caused by traffic and improving transport services;

32.

insists that local and regional authorities are responsible for investing comprehensively in transport infrastructure and for establishing secondary and tertiary links to the trans-European network. They should be closely involved in decisions on the choice of priority projects of common interest in order to ensure consistency between public and private investment at every level (European, national, regional and local), as stipulated by Decision No 661/2010/EU on Union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network;

33.

is pleased that Cohesion Fund investment priorities will include major projects to boost mobility in urban areas and promote green transport solutions along with other investments in developing smart, sustainable transport systems at local and regional level;

34.

is in favour of including indicators to increase resource efficiency in transport, making the Cohesion Fund a tool for achieving the Europe 2020 strategy's targets;

35.

considers that the new guidelines on developing a trans-European transport network will provide a strategic framework for the development of infrastructure which will greatly increase mobility in the EU, as investments will be better prioritised. They will be split into two areas (the comprehensive network and the core network), and made more efficient by means of new implementation measures; the emphasis will be placed on the need to fill in missing cross-border links between different transport modes and the main urban hubs;

36.

draws attention to the problems inherent in coordinating investment from a range of sources and planning smart transport systems. They will need to boost security, safety and environmental performance as well as improving traffic management by means of integrated services for booking, issuing tickets, providing multimodal information, etc.;

Environment infrastructure and energy networks

37.

strongly supports the need for investment in infrastructure to complete the European integrated energy network; the long-term cost of failing to invest would be far too high, undermining the EU's competitiveness;

38.

considers the Cohesion Fund to be an effective tool for achieving the EU's energy policy goals (3) (competitiveness, sustainability and security of supply) and for addressing the EU's economic development, the Europe 2020 strategy and the flagship initiative A resource efficient Europe. Achieving these objectives will require changes in the way that energy networks are planned, built and operated;

39.

reiterates that investment in energy infrastructure should provide Europeans and businesses from all EU regions with unconditional access to affordable energy by abolishing monopolies and all obstacles to competition, so that every region has the option of choosing from two or more providers;

40.

considers that the methodology used to map out and select infrastructure and projects of European interest should be transparent and take account of the situation in the poorest regions and in those where energy security is under threat;

41.

is pleased that the Cohesion Fund will continue to support energy projects which present environmental benefits, such as investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Committee points out that such investment is not possible without the involvement of local and regional authorities; working in partnership with these authorities is vital, as they know how to capitalise on local potential;

42.

stresses that investment in adapting to climate change, preventing natural disasters, water, sewage and waste infrastructure, preserving biodiversity, protecting soil and ecosystems and improving the environment is largely performed by the EU's regions, cities and towns or in partnership with them;

43.

is pleased that investment in updating heating and cooling networks in built-up areas and in reducing conversion losses is eligible for Cohesion Fund support, as such investments have a very high added value;

The Connecting Europe Facility

44.

points out that local and regional authorities are on the alert and will oppose any initiatives which might eat away at the budget allocated to cohesion policy: 20 % of the Connecting Europe Facility's budget comes from the Cohesion Fund, a total of EUR 10 billion which will be used to fund transnational transport projects with priority given to rail infrastructure;

45.

is interested in the new Connecting Europe Facility which the Commission hopes to use to correct market failures (filling in missing links, removing bottlenecks and providing adequate cross-border connections), as this type of instrument could have considerable European added value;

46.

is concerned that there is no clear formula for determining national budgets for the Facility and recommends that contributions should be proportionate to the estimated value of the projects that will be funded in the Member States;

47.

reiterates that the problems facing cross-border project promoters include the limited capacity to prepare mature projects, which are extremely complex. For this reason, funds initially intended for cross-border projects are often channelled towards other projects which are at a more advanced stage of preparation;

48.

is concerned that the Connecting Europe Facility's centralised management will be unable to build the capacity to prepare mature cross-border projects, thus increasing the danger that the Facility's budget may not be spent on funding projects identified in advance by the Commission;

49.

has reservations regarding the way in which local and regional authorities will be involved, the lack of flexibility, and the red tape which the Facility could generate, as well as the interlinkage with other Commission funding instruments;

50.

calls for a clear distinction between projects funded by the Connecting Europe Facility and those funded by the Cohesion Fund or the European Regional Development Fund in the context of partnership agreements. In this way, by using ex ante evaluations of institutional capacity, it will be possible to establish what is needed in terms of compulsory assistance from JASPERS or the technical assistance programmes in order to prepare the projects, with the cost included in the expenses eligible for funding from the Connecting Europe Facility's budget.

II.   RECOMMENDATIONS FOR AMENDMENTS

Amendment 1

Article 2

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Article 2

Scope of support from the Cohesion Fund

1.   The Cohesion Fund shall, while ensuring an appropriate balance and according to the investment and infrastructure needs specific to each Member State, support:

(a)

investments in the environment, including areas related to sustainable development and energy which present environmental benefits;

(b)

trans-European networks in the area of transport infrastructure, in compliance with the guidelines adopted by Decision No 661/2010/EU;

(c)

technical assistance.

2.   The Cohesion Fund shall not support:

(d)

the decommissioning of nuclear power stations;

(e)

the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in installations falling under Directive 2003/87/EC;

(f)

housing.

Article 2

Scope of support from the Cohesion Fund

1.   The Cohesion Fund shall, while ensuring an appropriate balance and according to the investment and infrastructure needs specific to each Member State, support:

(a)

investments in the environment, including areas related to sustainable development and energy which present environmental benefits;

(b)

trans-European networks in the area of transport infrastructure, in compliance with the guidelines adopted by Decision No 661/2010/EU;

(c)

technical assistance.

2.   The Cohesion Fund shall not support:

(d)

the decommissioning of nuclear power stations;

(e)

the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in installations falling under Directive 2003/87/EC;

.

Reason

To ensure consistency with point 25 of the opinion.

Amendment 2

Article 3

Text proposed by the Commission

CoR amendment

Article 3

Investment priorities

In accordance with Article 16 of Regulation (EU) No […]/2012 [CPR], the Cohesion Fund shall support the following investment priorities within the thematic objectives set out in Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No […]/2012 [CPR]:

(a)

supporting the shift towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors by:

(i)

promoting the production and distribution of renewable energy sources;

(ii)

promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy use in small and medium-sized enterprises;

(iii)

supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy use in public infrastructures;

(iv)

developing smart distribution systems at low voltage levels;

(v)

promoting low-carbon strategies for urban areas;

(b)

promoting climate change adaptation, risk prevention and management by:

(i)

supporting dedicated investment for adaptation to climate change;

(ii)

promoting investment to address specific risks, ensuring disaster resilience and developing disaster management systems;

(c)

protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency by:

(i)

addressing the significant needs for investment in the waste sector to meet the requirements of the Union's environmental acquis;

(ii)

addressing the significant needs for investment in the water sector to meet the requirements of the Union's environmental acquis;

(iii)

protecting and restoring biodiversity, including through green infrastructures;

(iv)

improving the urban environment, including regeneration of brownfield sites and reduction of air pollution;

(d)

promoting sustainable transport and removing bottlenecks in key network infrastructures, by:

(i)

supporting a multi-modal Single European Transport Area by investing in the Trans-European Transport Network;

(ii)

developing environment-friendly and low-carbon transport systems including promoting sustainable urban mobility;

(iii)

developing comprehensive, high quality and interoperable railway systems;

(e)

enhancing institutional capacity and an efficient public administration by strengthening of institutional capacity and the efficiency of public administrations and public services related to implementation of the Cohesion Fund.

Article 3

Investment priorities

In accordance with Article 16 of Regulation (EU) No […]/2012 [CPR], the Cohesion Fund shall support the following investment priorities within the thematic objectives set out in Article 9 of Regulation (EU) No […]/2012 [CPR]:

(a)

supporting the shift towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors by:

(i)

promoting the production and distribution of renewable energy sources;

(ii)

promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy use in small and medium-sized enterprises;

(iii)

supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy use in public infrastructures ;

(iv)

developing smart distribution systems at low voltage levels;

(v)

promoting low-carbon strategies for urban areas;

(b)

promoting climate change adaptation, risk prevention and management by:

(i)

supporting dedicated investment for adaptation to climate change;

(ii)

promoting investment to address specific risks, ensuring disaster resilience and developing disaster management systems;

(c)

protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency by:

(i)

addressing the significant needs for investment in the waste sector to meet the requirements of the Union's environmental acquis;

(ii)

addressing the significant needs for investment in the water sector to meet the requirements of the Union's environmental acquis;

(iii)

protecting and restoring biodiversity, including through green infrastructures;

(iv)

improving the urban environment, including regeneration of brownfield sites and reduction of air pollution;

(d)

promoting sustainable transport and removing bottlenecks in key network infrastructures, by:

(i)

supporting a multi-modal Single European Transport Area by investing in the Trans-European Transport Network;

(ii)

developing environment-friendly and low-carbon transport systems including promoting sustainable urban mobility;

(iii)

developing comprehensive, high quality and interoperable railway systems;

(e)

enhancing institutional capacity and an efficient public administration by strengthening of institutional capacity and the efficiency of public administrations and public services related to implementation of the Cohesion Fund.

Reason

To ensure consistency with point 25 of the opinion.

Brussels, 3 May 2012.

The President of the Committee of the Regions

Mercedes BRESSO


(1)  CoR opinion on The new multiannual financial framework post-2013; rapporteur: Ms Clucas (UK/ALDE), member of Liverpool City Council.

(2)  http://www.eu-territorial-agenda.eu/.

(3)  COM(2010) 677 final.


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