EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – The regional and urban dimension will get more prominence in the EU lawmaking process, former commissioner and the new chairwoman of the European Parliament's regional committee told this website.
Up until June the EU commissioner for regional policy, Danuta Hubner i was elected last week as chair of the regional development committee (REGI) in the European Parliament.
"My intention is to make this committee more visible and more important in the Parliament. It should acquire the full right to give opinions on legislation adopted by other committees – for instance environment, transport or energy," the Polish MEP said.
Established as a separate parliamentary committee five years ago, REGI is responsible for all legislation concerning the EU's regional funding – since 2007 the biggest part of the bloc's budget - and its co-ordination with other policies, as well as for relations with interregional co-operation organisations, local and regional authorities.
With 93 members, REGI is one of the largest of the 22 parliamentary committees, after foreign affairs, environment, industry, justice, employment and economic affairs.
"It is one of the big committees and I am happy to chair it," Ms Hubner said, looking forward to the adoption of the Lisbon treaty, which would give more rights to the European Parliament in dealing with legislation affecting regions, cities and employment.
The Lisbon text, if approved in a second Irish referendum and by Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, would also give more power to the regional and local administrations, she said.
"Mobilisation of local and regional potential is absolutely crucial in the management of the post-crisis situation. If we don't mobilise these levels of European governance, we won't be able to strengthen European competitiveness and we will not come out of the crisis stronger. The fact that these levels play such an important role in the EU recovery package gives this committee a co-responsibility for the management of the crisis."
Ms Hubner also stated her strong commitment to revive an interparliamentary group promoting the urban and housing dimension across all relevant policies, which ceased to exist because most of its members were not re-elected. A formal decision to extend the competences of REGI to urban issues as well is still pending.
"I will certainly write a letter to the new president of the EP asking for this," Ms Hubner said.
Fight with member states over EU money
The first priority for the upcoming sessions in the fall will be to adopt as soon as possible the simplification of rules for the EU regional funds, the former commissioner added. She also pledged to reverse the proposals by the bloc's finance ministers to cut back the allocations for 2010 from these funds.
"We will analyse the proposal by the Council [of ministers] to reduce the payment levels for the Social Fund and the ERDF [European Regional Development Fund]. We would like to restore the levels proposed by the commission, which is a higher allocation," Ms Hubner said.
The political groups have already divided up the rapporteurs, with the centre-right European People's Party taking up the part of regulation on the ERDF (worth €200 billion for 2007-2013), where the parliament has co-decision rights together with the Council of EU ministers.
The second larget parliamentary group, the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, will draft the report on the rest of the dossier, where the EU legislature can only give its assent.
The commission's simplification proposals, tabled last week, have to overcome scepticism from some member states, particularly the EU's major donor, Germany.
Reflecting the mixed opinions in the Council, Swedish EU affairs minister Cecilia Malmstrom said that while some of the ideas were good – such as extending EU funding to housing in poor rural areas, for instance to help Roma communities – it was "important that projects are good and meaningful."
"No country wants to use its own money on useless measures. This was an important reason why several countries said No to completely remove the requirement for member states to co-finance investment. For the Swedish EU presidency, it is now urgent to find a balance between these two needs," Ms Malmstrom wrote on her blog.
Seen from the outer regions, however, the commission compromised too easily on the provision to give full EU funding to all regional projects, not only those financed from the European Social Fund, worth €76 billion for 2007-2013.
"It is a big mistake to leave the possibility of 100 percent EU funding for projects backed by the structural funds in 2009-2010 down to the European Social Fund (ESF) alone. The commission ought to have applied the same measure for the regional development fund (ERDF) and cohesion fund," Claudio Martini, on behalf of 161 peripheral and maritime regions said in a statement.
He explained that the full EU funding to all projects would have helped "speed up investments" and avoid "projects grinding to a hald because of a lack of national matched funds to finance them."