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EU Regional policy, its principles and perspective development
Since the Rome Treaty of 1957, one of the main tasks of the Community has been to promote an ‘harmonious development of economic activities. The need for a coordinated community solution to regional disparities and correction of regional imbalances has been also recognised by Commission. In 1988, the European Council in Brussels decided to adopt the first regulation integrating the Structural Funds under the umbrella of Cohesion Policy. Reform introduced key principles applied up to date. Such as focussing on the poorest and most backward regions, multi-annual programming, strategic orientation of investments and the involvement of regional and local partners. With establishment of multiannual programming, the planning process of EU Cohesion policy is closely connected with the EU budget planning periods. Five such planning periods can be distinguished so far: 1989 – 93, 1994 – 1999, 2000 – 06, 2007 – 13, 2014 – 20. Each of the periods has had its characteristic features in terms planning, setting objectives and shaping implementation framework. In 1989 – 93, integration of the structural funds under five common objectives took place, the rules for administration was larger extent standardised than previously, although still remaining largely diverse, if compared with current level of harmonisation. The management of funds was decentralised – programmes were implemented not by the Commission services, but by administrations of Member States and annual the structural funds’ budget was increased up to 14 billion, which represented about 20% of EU budget. Quite substantial changes in the design of Cohesion policy took place in period 1994 – 99 following the adoption of Maastricht Treaty. A number of new policy areas - transEuropean networks, industrial policy, consumer protection, education and vocational training, youth, culture were addressed by Cohesion policy investment. Secondly, the Cohesion Fund was introduced as tool to assist least developed Member Stats in implementation requirements so called “investment heavy directives”, while letting them being able to comply with requirements of Maastricht criteria. Finally, the the structural funds‘ budget increased up to 32 billion ECU per year, representing about 30% of EU total budget. The period 2000 – 06 is largely associated with preparations for enlargement and entry of new Member states – significant recipients of EU Structural funds. But it was also characteristic with changes in implementation framework. The number of Cohesion policy objectives was decreased from earlier six to three. The new instrument - preaccession instruments for candidates (ISPA) was established to help candidate countries comply with requirements of acquis in the fields of transport and environment. The budget for structural funds‘ was increased up to 38 bn Euro per year, representing about 33% of the EU budget. The period 2007 – 13 was characteristic with the highest proportion of EU budget being allocated to Cohesion policy – about Euro 50 billion per annum or around 36% of the EU budget. The policy objectives were limited to three with their share in total allocation given in brackets: Convergence objective (81.5%), Regional Competitiveness and Employment objective (16%), European Territorial Co-operation objective (2.5%). So far the latest Cohesion policy reform was experienced in relation to planning Cohesion policy interventions for period 2014 – 20. One of the reasons for changes in the policy framework in 2014 – 2020 was to deliver objectives of Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. Thus the Cohesion policy objectives have been aligned with Europe 2020 objectives. The policy share in EU total budget in period 2014 – 20 has decreased to about 34% or approximately 46 billion euro a year. To explain intervention logic and planning process of Cohesion policy, part of the lecture is devoted to reflection of NUTS classification of regions as well as to overview of general policy planning principles and its three main instruments – European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Funds (ESF) and Cohesion Fund (CF).