We believe regional development is crucial in promoting economic growth and improving citizens’ quality of life. Regional policy directly impacts people’s lives, especially since there are still significant social and economic imbalances between European regions, both in the EU and non-EU countries. Regional development should be a priority in order to create a more just and united Europe based on principles of equity, participation, and ecological responsibility.
Regions, and even more so border regions, often face very specific challenges, such as environmental damages due to climate change, de-industrialisation due to the economic crisis, difficulty accessing healthcare and education, and demographic changes.
Regional development should help European regions with the green transition. In order to ensure policies are sustainable and environmentally responsible, we support the financing of projects that promote the transition to a low-carbon economy, respecting climate targets.
In the same spirit, the goal of successful regional development is also an ever-increasing cohesion of Europe’s various regions. Large-scale projects like the Green Transition can only succeed if all regions receive the support that is adequate for their challenges.
We also recognize the importance of the digital transition of European regions. The emphasis should be on promoting digital innovation in regional development. Therefore, we support connectivity projects providing access to digital infrastructure, such as high-speed internet and telecommunication networks, across all regions.
Because European regions often reach across borders, we also believe regional policies play an important role in developing regional transport projects. Therefore, we support deploying transnational transport projects that improve connections to and in less developed regions, such as high-speed railways.
To achieve this, we call for an increase in the EU budget for regional development to help regions reduce disparities and foster cross-border cooperation. Supporting sustainable economic and social growth of European regions should be the EU’s main investment area. The funds intended for regional development should be primarily used for long-term investments, whereas separate crisis management funds should provide timely short-term crisis support in times of need.
Targeted policies for urban and rural regions
These policies should be promoted in activities designed for specific types of regions, in which the EU should intensively cooperate with member states. A robust urban agenda should help European cities and metropolitan regions become greener and smarter, strengthen housing capacities, and improve the quality of urban life. Particular attention should be paid to the transnational coordination of policies focused on the development of rural areas .
Decentralisation and Empowerment
In order to allow for bottom-up decision-making in our societies, regional authorities should be more empowered to develop their own local policy strategies relying on their unique strengths and resources. Regional authorities should also be more involved in the legislative process when it concerns their development. To this end, we encourage the cooperation of local representatives through EU platforms dealing with regional policy. We also strive to direct public funds as much as possible to regional authorities for distribution to local-led initiatives.
Given the limited administrative capacity of regional authorities, we understand the need to reduce the bureaucracy needed for access to public funds and ask for additional financing for technical assistance to develop and report on large-scale and innovative projects. The funds and their allocation to projects should be based on concrete data to provide evidence-based decision-making.
Just and transparent Funding for more Uplifted Regions
However, this should not hamper the urgent need to improve transparency of end beneficiaries of public funds. This is crucial to avoid conflict of interest, fraud, and corruption. At the regional level, project evaluation criteria and implementation requirements should be objective and transparent. EU funds under shared management by Member States are particularly at risk of being abused because of the lack of information shared between the regional, national and EU levels.
That is why we suggest fully using interoperable digital tools for budgetary control and publishing non-sensitive data on all public procurements, including the implementation reports on projects. Only full transparency will allow the public and the media investigators to follow the money in order to identify potential cases of abuse.
We also believe that regional development policies must be guided by the principles of social justice and inclusivity. This means that rules for the distribution of EU funds to regions should always comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the rule of law and the European Code of Conduct. All citizens should have equal access to the benefits of regional development policies, and these policies should be designed to reduce inequality and promote territorial and social cohesion.
Citizen Participation as the Guarantee of Progress
Finally, regional development policies must be based on active citizen participation and democracy. This means involving citizens in the decision-making process and empowering them to shape the policies that affect their lives.