Original publication: July 2019
Author: Jürgen PUCHER, Haris MARTINOS, Serafin PAZOS-VIDAL, Jasmin HAIDER
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2Sifb8E
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Background

The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009. It introduced a number of significant changes which in the case of the European Parliament (EP) include co-decision (also known as ‘ordinary legislative procedure’) for all the regulations of cohesion policy (CP), making Parliament a co-legislator on an equal footing with the Council. After nearly 10 years of continuous operation under the Treaty of Lisbon, it is now opportune to examine the evolution of the EP’s role in the context of cohesion policy, and offer a snapshot of the current state of play and a forward-looking perspective.

Cohesion policy: The European Parliament’s role since the Treaty of Lisbon

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Aim

The aim of this study is to provide an overview and critical analysis of the role of the EP in framing the cohesion policy as co-legislator in the period between the entering into force of the Treaty of Lisbon and the end of the 2014-2019 parliamentary term, and to offer forward-looking conclusions and recommendations.

Context

‘EU cohesion policy’ is the shorthand for the large package of policies and policy instruments used by the EU in pursuing the objective of ‘economic, social and territorial cohesion’ since the 1980s. Its core principles and key features have been consolidated over time: covering all EU regions, multiannual programming, strategic orientation of investments and the involvement of regional and local partners. In the 2014-2020 period, the CP reached a high point with a budget of €350 billion – nearly one-third of the total EU budget, a package of five funds under the umbrella of a Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), and close integration within the EU’s 2020 strategy. However, in recent years the CP has been challenged by shifting EU priorities and new policy initiatives espousing alternative forms of operation.

Although its legislative role was limited prior to the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament had exercised an active advocacy role in cohesion policy, rallying a significant policy community around it. The enhancement of its powers to full ‘co-decision’ in all CP regulations, has allowed it to play a full role as co-legislator. However, Parliament faces a number of challenges deriving largely from the changes that are confronting the cohesion policy. There are also limitations around financial aspects, since the Treaty of Lisbon has introduced the ‘consent’ (rather than ‘co-decision’) procedure in the case of the Multiannual Financial Frameworks (MFF) with which CP is closely linked as a policy with a very large budget.

EP legislative role in practice – The 2014-2020 cohesion policy package

This was the first CP legislative package in which the EP had full co-decision powers as conferred upon it by the Treaty of Lisbon. The EP’s REGI Committee launched extensive preparatory activities prior to the start of the legislative process including the setting up of a Working Party on the Future of Cohesion Policy; the mobilisation of a variety of institutions and organisations, a position paper on post-2013 cohesion policy adopted by Parliament in October 2010, and a set of five ‘own initiative reports’. Lengthy interinstitutional negotiations, from July 2012 to November 2013, involved more than 100 ‘trilogues’, two-thirds of which concerned the CPR. They were complemented by political preparatory meetings on the EP side, and numerous technical meetings.

The EP was crucial in advancing some aspects of CP, such as strategic approach and programming, the partnership principle, thematic concentration and common strategic framework, the integrated territorial approach including urban earmarking, support for transition regions, and innovation and smart specialisation. Areas of lesser EP influence were the macro-economic conditionalities, the performance framework and financial issues.

The study found that it is generally recognised that the EP managed in a very short space of time after the Treaty of Lisbon to play a full role as co-legislator, and through it to help confirm and strengthen the comprehensive and multi-sectoral nature of CP as the EU’s investment policy for all regions.

Ongoing role of European Parliament

There were various ongoing REGI activities between the 2014-2020 and 2021-2027 legislative packages. Legislative activity based on the ordinary legislative procedure was sporadic, centred on amending the existing CP regulations. However, some of the acts were very important, such as the ‘Omnibus regulation’, which introduced extensive simplification and the Commission proposals for structural reform support measures. They both involved controversial provisions regarding CP, which were strongly contested by REGI.  By contrast, scrutiny of delegated and implementing acts was of a lesser importance.

The ‘own initiative reports’ represent the most important strand of non-legislative work by REGI. Some are in response to implementation or forward-looking reports by the Commission, notably the ‘Cohesion Reports’, and play a valuable role in REGI’s policy oversight function. Other reports are entirely new initiatives of REGI and together with other non-legislative activities, such as studies, briefings, hearings and debates, were the initial steps in the development of EP’s positions for the 2021-2027 legislative package.

Current legislative activity – The 2021-2027 cohesion policy package

As in the 2014-2020 package, REGI carried out substantial pre-legislative work, including a landmark own initiative report on building blocks for a post-2020 EU cohesion policy. This allowed three ambitious mandates to be developed by REGI in a short space of time on the CPR, ERDF/CF and ETC regulations, and adopted by the EP before the May 2019 elections. There was intensive interaction with other institutions and organisations, including numerous suggestions of draft amendments. A start was made in interinstitutional negotiations with a small number of ‘trilogues’ on the CPR before the end of Parliament’s 2014-2019 session.

The EP has again embarked on a full role as co-legislator, promoting a well-funded cohesion policy and defending its fundamental principles. Consequently, some of the positions within its mandates have gone against key positions of the Commission (such as EAFRD moving away from the CPR) or the Council (such as a weaker partnership principle).

However, there are key challenges confronting Parliament in the remaining stages, not least the fact that budgetary negotiations are a separate strand, which is not subject to ‘co-decision’. Moreover, when ‘trilogues’ resume in the autumn, possibly with significant changes in the internal composition of EP bodies, there will be greater time pressure to reach a timely agreement and avoid excessive delays to the start of the new CP programmes.

Conclusions and recommendations

The EP has played an increasingly assertive role, using the powers that have been conferred upon it by the Treaty of Lisbon in defending and advocating its policy positions on CP, more and more at odds with those espoused by the other EU institutions. 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 on CP.

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 focussing 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.

To this end, the following recommendations have been put forward:

  • Setting-up of a CP-wide ‘steering committee’ as a vehicle for exploring and agreeing positions across political groups and CP-relevant committees, supported by a ‘task force’ inside the EP Secretariat that would be linked to an external ‘technical support group’ drawing upon the CP policy community.
  • Establishing an ambitious forward-looking and proactive policy cycle. This should encompass an active internal/external research programme into forward-looking policy issues, aiming to give Parliament an edge over the Commission’s legislative initiative and the more advantaged role of Council in the MFF. Its outputs should help REGI reports go into greater technical depth and they should be timely within the broader policy timetable of cohesion policy, and not only the seven-year legislative cycle of MFF.

Link to the full publication: http://bit.ly/629-195

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