Commissioner Cretu: THE EU BUDGET IS 'VERY EMOTIONAL' Despite Brexit and new priorities, it is important to keep EU funds for all regions – rich and poor – argues the regions commissioner. But more controls, including a link to rule of law issues, are part of the discussion. By Eric Maurice EUobserver: How would you define what the EU is trying to achieve in the European regions with its cohesion policies? Corina Cretu has been European Commissioner in charge of regional policy since November 2014. The centre-left Romanian was previously a member of the European Parliament. Corina Cretu: As commissioner for regional policy, I'm responsible for 276 regions from 28 countries. It has not been an easy exercise to define the new budget. The Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) is very emotional. But this time it was much more than that because we have Brexit - which means we have lost the second-largest contributor - and new challenges, like migration, cross-border security, defence. I think we did a great job in proposing a package for a modern, simpler, flexible cohesion policy that covers all regions. We have managed to keep an envelope that is big enough to keep funding for poorer regions - more than 70 percent is going to poorer regions - and also for the rich ones. These are the policies that show the most tangible results in the life of citizens. Given this new context, what did you try to keep as core programmes? I have visited most of the countries and regions. And the most important for me was to make cohesion policy much more flexible, because I'm always sad to see people, especially young people, who are giving up using our funds because of the complexity of the rules, bureaucracy and very long procedures. We have now a single set of rules, and the new regulation has 50 percent less words than the previous one. We also reduced the number of priorities, to five priorities instead of eleven: 'smarter Europe', 'greener Europe', 'connected Europe', 'social Europe', and 'Europe closer to citizens'. You cannot decide from Brussels and sometimes even from the capitals what is needed or not needed for the citizens and the localities.
Most of the regions have been funded for about 40 years, and others for only 14 years - or less. How would you compare their evolution, and their situation now? This is, in a way, the irony of this policy. The ERDF (the European Regional Development Fund) was founded under the pressure of the UK and Italy, when mines in Wales were closing. I don't know how many people who voted for Brexit in Wales knew that their parents or grandparents had a job in 1975, and after, due to EU funds and reconstruction we made there. these problems with infrastructure - like highways in Spain or in Portugal for instance. We have a lot of needs in eastern Europe. In the rich regions, we invest mostly in innovation, and in research, which is very important. Of course, in eastern Europe they still have needs on basic waste treatment management, water management, infrastructure and, of course, job creations. Does it make sense to continue to fund rich regions, when there is less money available overall for the budget? Photo: hj_west Coming back to your question, I think there is a difference, because it is one thing to use these funds for 45 years, and another thing to use them for ten years. In terms of administrative capacities, in terms of experience, and of course in regions that are using funds for a long time, they have finished It was very important to keep these policies for all regions, because I don't think that we need new divisions in the EU, we have enough of them. And we have to be flexible. Even in the richest regions we have pockets of poverty. Rich regions could share their experience. I'm a big fan of the exchange of good practices. 'It was very important to keep these policies for all regions, because I don't think that we need new divisions in the EU', the commissioner insisted. Photo: European Commission 13 — REGIONS & CITIES 2018