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Regions slam proposal for conditional EU funding

EU regions have criticised a European Commission’s proposal to give regional research funding only to regions that fulfil specific macro-economic conditions.

The initial proposal would tie a percentage of structural funding for regions to economic stability. This could affect those parts of the structural funds that can be used for research and science infrastructure development. About a quarter of EU’s structural funds for cohesion—€86 billion between 2007 and 2013—goes to research and innovation funding.

At the Open Days event in Brussels on 10 October, Mercedes Bresso, president of the EU Committee of the Regions, said the measure could prompt a referral to the Court of Justice.

Elisabeth Schroedter, a Green MEP from Germany, also criticised the proposals. “While the Commission has overall taken a balanced approach to reforming EU structural and cohesion funds, the package is undermined by suggestions to cut funding for member states with high budget deficits as a punitive measure,” she said in a statement.

But Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for regional policy, argued that this so-called “ex-ante” conditionality would make regional funding programmes to be more effective.

“I want to see funds spent where the regulatory and physical contexts are right, where the effectiveness of the investments is not going to be undermined by known bottlenecks,” he said at the same event.

In addition, the Commission proposes “ex-post” conditionality, meaning that 5 per cent of EU regional funding will be allocated to the programmes that perform best.

“This is not about programmes competing with one another—it is about making sure that programmes are on track to meet their targets and objectives, and rewarding good performance,” Hahn commented.

The Commission’s proposals will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.