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How to enhance economic and social cohesion in Europe after 2006?

Synthesis of a seminar organised by the European Policy Centre and Notre Europe with the support of the Fondation Roi Baudouin in Brussels.



Questions concerning the reform of the Structural Funds are divisive. The impact of the forthcoming enlargement, the weight of acquired interests and the incapacity of our current analytical tools to question these have, up until now, led the Commission and the Member States to maintain the status quo through to 2006. However, as with the Common Agricultural Policy, this cautious approach must not lead to a self satisfying opposition to change that outlaws all adaptations to the realities of the present and the foreseeable requirements of the future.

Beyond these political and tactical considerations, beyond even the necessity to prepare ourselves to welcome new members before 2006, there is another way to address European cohesion policy. One can analyse this policy in relation to economic and social transformations and question whether the current tools, which have certainly shown their effectiveness – the attachment of the current beneficiaries is the best proof of this – albeit in a different context, need to be adapted.

It is this second problematic that Notre Europe and the European Policy Centre sought to address by uniting some fifteen experts at this seminar.

The conclusion drawn from this undertaking is unambiguous. Since the mid 1980s, the development model of our economies has changed considerably. The ever increasing importance of non-material factors of production has altered the conditions for the accumulation of wealth and is also the source of new forms of disparities both between the regions and social groups. The current tools of cohesion policy have not sufficiently kept track of these mutations. They run the risk of becoming inappropriate and incapable of obtaining their objective, having failed to address the new causes of inequality that cannot be measured with the help of classic economic criteria, and due to the fact that interventions either take place at an inappropriate geographic level or privilege the development of material infrastructure.

It is necessary, therefore, to reform both the nature of our analysis and interventions. But how? It is here that opinions diverge: for some, we must continue to try and bridge directly the economic and social gaps, while placing the accent on the social and cultural aspects of development and on the endowment of publics goods, the definition of which also has to be revisited. For others, it is necessary to go further through a co-ordination of European interventions and national redistribution policies, with regard to both public goods and individual income, and by providing for a “right to sustainable development for all”. The remarkable work of this group of experts brings to a close this dilemma, opening the door for other analyses.

For our part, we shall satisfy ourselves with stressing the principle lesson of this exercise: resistance to change cannot be permitted unless one wishes to let cohesion policy, which is one of the most noble characteristics of European integration, fall obsolete. We do not have to wait until 2006, not to reinvent but, to adapt this policy to the economic and social evolution of Europe’s regions. If this study can initiate a movement in this direction, it will have obtained its objective.

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