A new study highlights the crucial role of the European Parliament in supporting a comprehensive, multi-sector and multi-fund cohesion policy “for all regions” and in defending its principles, including the integrated territorial approach. It also points out the close links that Parliament enjoys with the regional and local levels throughout the EU. It argues that the Parliament needs to go beyond espousing defensive positions and proactively adopt an agenda-setting stance in cohesion policy.
This new study examines the role of the European Parliament (EP) in the field of cohesion policy (CP) since 2009 when the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force. The Treaty introduced a number of significant changes, which in the case of the Parliament included:
- enhanced legislative powers through the use of the ordinary legislative procedure (‘co-decision’) in 40 new policy areas, including all CP regulations; and
- a change in the status of its membership, with Parliament now composed of representatives of the EU’s citizens, rather than representatives of the peoples of the EU countries.
The role of Parliament has come a long way since the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force in 2009. Parliament already played a full role in the shaping and adoption of the 2014-2020 legislative package, advancing key aspects of cohesion policy, such as strategic approach and programming, the partnership principle and the integrated territorial approach. This marked the culmination of an ascending trend in cohesion policy in terms of financial weight, reaching €350 billion, as well as in its positioning as an overarching EU investment policy for all regions, at the heart of the EU’s 2020 strategy goals. Strongly advocated principles on multilevel governance and partnership have continued to underpin it, shaping its delivery and, at the same time, creating a strong affinity with stakeholders.
The EP continued playing a full role after the adoption of the 2014-2020 package, especially through its own initiative reports and other ongoing formal and informal activities, and has resumed a major role with the 2021-2027 legislative package. Parliament has come to be recognised by CP stakeholders as a strong advocate for the partnership principle, defender of the role of local and regional governments and of ‘forgotten places’ of the ‘geography of discontent’ (rural, mountainous, isolated or declining areas), and an advocate for a duly funded cohesion policy.
However, the EP’s role has been constrained externally by the challenges confronting CP and its shifting centre of gravity within the EU institutional framework and broader policy agenda, as well as the more advantaged position of the Commission (legislative initiative, technical capacity, access to other institutions, etc.) and Council (especially on MFF). It is also constrained internally in terms of data and know-how capacity, as well as limitations in inter-committee coordination and cooperation affecting REGI’s lead role of the EP’s REGI Committee on cohesion policy.
The EP has a potentially larger role to play in becoming an institution increasingly able to proactively develop agenda-setting policy initiatives on CP rather than focusing on defensive positions. For this to happen, in addition to developing internal capacity and coordination, it requires the ability to mobilise and lead more effectively the large policy community of outside actors that exist around CP.