Written by Commissioner Corina Cretu, responsible for Regional Policy
As Commissioner for Regional Policy, I have the important task of ensuring the greatest impact of our policy on the ground in terms of growth and jobs, in line with the objectives of both the Europe 2020 Strategy and the €315 billion Investment Plan.
Regional Policy has been reformed for the new budgetary period 2014-2020, to better take up the challenges of the real economy and the need for strategic investments. The programmes we have prepared and adopted with the EU Member States are performance-guided, have clearly-defined objectives, and focus on four key growth areas: the digital agenda, research and innovation, support to SMEs and entrepreneurship and the low-carbon economy. More than 100 billion euro, nearly half the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), will be allocated to these four priorities throughout 2014-2020.
The 2015 European Business Summit focuses on the impact of digitalisation on industry and society; in the Commission, we are aware of the fantastic potential of the digital sector. We are convinced that the transformative role of digital technologies can be used to create growth and jobs. Digital technologies can transform our economies and our way of life as profoundly as the steam engine did in the 18th century or electricity did in the 19th. Today, 6 May, the Commission is unveiling its strategy for a Digital Single Market. This strategy clearly represents an unprecedented opportunity for innovation, growth and job creation across Europe. For 2014-2020, €20 billion from EU Cohesion Policy funds will be invested in digital and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Managing Authorities will be able to select and implement the projects that correspond best to people’s needs, helping the future Digital Single Market see the light of day. It means, for example, investing in broadband, online public services and better access to ICT for small businesses.
To boost the effect of our investments in these fields, our reformed Regional Policy is equipped with the right tools. Take, for example, Smart Specialisation Strategies. Before ERDF investments are allocated to research and innovation, Member States and regions have to draw up such Strategies, to identify niche areas of competitive strength, and opportunities for public-private partnerships. By focusing on what gives a region its greatest competitive potential, smart specialisation helps position the region in specific global markets and international value chains.
To further multiply the impact of each euro invested, we also strongly encourage the increased use of financial instruments, to give SMEs more support and access to credit. If their usage doubled compared to 2007-2013, such financial instruments would generate up to €40 billion of additional investment in the coming years. To help Managing Authorities make the most of this major opportunity, on 19 January we launched fi-compass, an advisory service on financial instruments for the European Structural and Investment Funds, in partnership with the European Investment Bank (EIB). This service is part of the “one-stop shop” advisory hub, to be launched as an important part of the EU Investment Plan.
Furthermore, in the first 6 months of my mandate, I worked hard to solve the issues that prevent some Member States from fully exploiting the potential of Regional Policy in terms of strategic investments. Low absorption rates, weak administrative capacities, and cumbersome procedures are some of the problems we are currently addressing in a country-specific and short-term manner to make sure that EU funds are spent in a strategic and efficient way, with the regions’ economic wealth and the wellbeing of the citizens at heart.
40 years after the creation of the ERDF, Regional Policy has become the EU’s main investment policy; a smart, strategic investment policy and a pillar of the Investment Plan. My job is now to make sure that this policy has the expected and much-needed results in terms of growth and jobs: and that is exactly what I will do.