Adopted on Tuesday, the European Parliament’s report on the basic principles behind post-2020 cohesion policy comes just in time to counter the expressly un-European voices in Brussels that advocate the misuse of structural and investment (cohesion) funds. These voices see them as an opportunity to blackmail Member States into giving up their right to decide whom they wish to let into their own countries. Using cohesion funds to further a political agenda is fundamentally at odds with the purpose of the funds. Here are two concerns that need to be addressed.
On one hand, the EP’s overwhelming majority fortunately still understands the principles of cohesion policy. The report recognizes the cohesion funds’ importance and argues in favor of maintaining the current level of funding for the post-2020 period. The key to the success of cohesion policy lies in the way that it has promoted tangible projects that have an impact on the lives of our citizens. That’s why it’s vital that the cohesion funds’ budget be maintained so that it can continue to serve effectively the purposes laid out in the Treaties, namely, economic, social and territorial cohesion. Unfortunately, while the report affirms cohesion policy, it also creates a major problem.
The report includes certain proposals suggesting that cohesion funds be used to support the reception of migrants and their socio-economic inclusion. This is pure nonsense.
We strongly oppose anything that falls far from the goals previously laid down in the Treaties. Every cent that isn’t used for those purposes will lead to a decreased rate of convergence within the Member States. In other words, we would take this money from Europeans and give it to non-Europeans. As we see it, there is a good chance that we will witness this soon enough if the EU doesn’t stop mixing apples and oranges.
On the other hand, it is still outrageous that some EU leaders – most recently German SPD leader Martin Schultz – propose to link cohesion funds with settling illegal migrants within our borders.
What these voices are getting wrong is that cohesion funds are not a form of humanitarian aid or charity to the less fortunate member states. It is an important tool to overcome differences in economic development for the sake of the whole European Union. Also, the big picture is more complex than the ‘net contributor’ and ‘net recipient’ dichotomy would suggest.
“Budgetary policy shouldn’t be used to impose political penalties. The structural funds are for making weak regions more competitive” – German EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources Günther Oettinger said in an interview with Handelsblatt. As weaker regions strengthen, they spend their increased budgets on the ‘net contributor’s’ market, herewith balancing the equation and creating a situation when we can say that “from an economic perspective, Germany [for example] isn’t a net contributor but a net recipient”.
The Hungarian Government’s position is crystal clear, as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said earlier this week: “not even the European Commission can take the right away from the Member States to decide whom they wish to let into their own countries” and Hungary “will not yield to the blackmail of the European Commission which extends substantially beyond its powers,” he added.
Dear European Union, please keep in mind that playing with cohesion funds and using them for the wrong purposes may easily backfire.