Regional policy must support innovation as well as solidarity, says Hübner
'While regional policy has always been our main instrument for reducing social and economic disparities across the regions of the Union, it is now also recognised as a key pillar of the strategy to promote growth, jobs and competitiveness,' said EU Regional Policy Commissioner...
Policy making and guidelines
'While regional policy has always been our main instrument for reducing social and economic disparities across the regions of the Union, it is now also recognised as a key pillar of the strategy to promote growth, jobs and competitiveness,' said EU Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner on a visit to the UK on 17 November.
Regional policy still has a role to play in promoting solidarity throughout the EU, 'an essential characteristic of the process of European integration' according to Ms Hübner. But in the face of globalisation and its inherent challenges, regional policy must now also support competitiveness and innovation, said the Commissioner.
'In order to benefit, we must have the flexibility to adapt to the changing world around us. We must raise our level of competitiveness to be able to seize the opportunities. And given that the benefits are not always evenly spread across the economy, we must put in place policies which ensure they are,' Ms Hübner told an audience at the University of Leeds.
The Commissioner outlined three important policy responses to globalisation: increased emphasis on research, development and innovation; unlocking the business potential of small companies and entrepreneurs; and investing more in education and training.
She then turned to the contribution that regional policy should make to these issues. The Commission has introduced a new, more strategic approach, she said. 'This aims to integrate growth strategies at European, national and regional level - to put in place an effective multi-level partnership which adds legitimacy to public policy implementation.'
Member States have agreed on strategic guidelines dictating three priorities for future investments: improving the attractiveness of Member States, regions and cities by improving accessibility and the quality and level of services; encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship and growth through, for example, research; and creating more and better jobs by attracting people into employment and entrepreneurial activity, improving workers' adaptability and increasing investment in human capital.
The Commission has also sought to instigate regional partnerships so as to identify problems and solutions more effectively, and to involve financial institutions in the design and implementation of EU regional policy. 'The aim is to support Member States in developing financial instruments - such as risk and venture capital, or micro-credits. Improving access to such instruments is essential because small enterprises are a key source of innovation and of job creation, and too often they are starved of the funds to finance their ideas,' said Ms Hübner. The new generation of regional policy will also place greater emphasis on urban areas.
Cohesion policy will receive over €360 million from the EU budget between 2007 and 2013 - a figure likely to be boosted to €500 million when contributions from the Member States are taken into account. 'This is our largest investment programme ever. It is a tremendous opportunity to contribute significantly to the growth and competitiveness of the European Union,' said the Commissioner.