In accordance with Treaty Article 159, every three years the Commission evaluates the status of cohesion policy and the contribution of other Community policies.
On 30 May 2007, the Commission adopted the Fourth Report on Cohesion that presents an update on the progress made towards achieving economic, social and territorial cohesion and on the manner in which Member State and Community policies have contributed to it.
This Fourth Report presents useful statistics, although it is not always clear whether the figures concern the EU of 15, 25 or 27. It presents a preliminary appraisal of cohesion programmes for 2000 to 2006 and provides new information confirming and strengthening the usefulness of cohesion policy in the EU.
2. THE DEBATE INITIATED BY THE COMMISSION
At the Fourth European Cohesion Forum, held on 27 and 28 September 2007 in Brussels, the Commission initiated a consultation on how the EU cohesion policy should adapt to new challenges and how its delivery can be improved.
As the new programming period 2007-2013 begins, following the reform of the Structural Funds, we consider it a priority for the Commission to present an assessment of implementation of the strategic approach that characterises the new programming. More specifically, there should be an analysis of the follow-up given to the priorities listed in the Community Strategic Guidelines adopted by the EU Council on 6 October 2006.
In any case, this Resolution constitutes the ETUC's contribution to the debate launched by the Commission.
First of all, the ETUC wants to stress once again the need for a strengthening of Community structural policies in the enlarged Europe, to the extent that the principles of cohesion and solidarity are written into the Treaty and constitute two of the most important vehicles for the integration of peoples and territories.
There is no escaping the fact that the last two enlargements have widened the economic development gap, shifted disparities geographically eastward and made the employment situation more difficult. It is thus essential to continue the territorial cooperation by strengthening the support at different levels : transnational, interregional and cross border.
In addition to the challenge of reducing disparities between the regions, it is obvious that cohesion policy will also have to take up the new challenges identified by the Commission, namely the need for restructuring and modernisation as a result of globalisation, climate change, higher energy prices and demographic changes.
However, we consider that two aspects are not sufficiently taken into account: on the one hand, the role of the social partners and implementation of the partnership principle; on the other, the connection with implementation of the Lisbon Strategy, since the March 2005 European Council declared that the Structural Funds are the financial instruments of the revised Lisbon Strategy.
3. OUR PRIORITES
The partnership principle
The ETUC is convinced that partnership is a fundamental principle in guaranteeing the delivery of Structural Fund interventions. The drive to establish quality partnerships must be continued by involving the social partners at every phase of Fund interventions.
Since the new Structural Fund Regulation does not clearly define the principles of partnership but once again leave it to national rules and practices, we repeat our demand for a clearer definition of these principles.
The ETUC also regrets that the European Social Fund is the only fund that relies on the active participation of the social partners within its European Committee. In our view, this participation represents considerable added value.
The European Social Fund}}
The new ESF Regulation encourages good governance and partnership, stating in particular that the Member States must ensure the participation of the social partners during preparation, implementation and follow-up of ESF support.
It is essential in this context that an "appropriate" volume of ESF resources is indeed allocated under the Convergence objective to capacity building, which includes training, networking actions, strengthening of social dialogue and activities undertaken jointly by the social partners, as the latter state in their joint analysis of the key challenges facing the European labour market.
The ESF can play a growing role in meeting identified challenges, in particular the necessity of investing more in people and taking measures to facilitate geographical and professional mobility.
The ESF is and must remain the Community instrument of choice for implementation of the European Employment Strategy.
The European Employment Strategy – the quality of employment
The report states that 400,000 jobs were created during the period under review, but fails to state what type of jobs. It is clear that as a result of revision of the Lisbon Strategy, in the framework of the Integrated Guidelines, the employment pillar has been left on the sidelines compared to the competitiveness objectives. The European Employment Strategy must be placed back at the heart of the Union's priorities and more funds must be released to create more and better jobs. "Quality employment", which is one of the three mandatory objectives of the EES, must be placed at the centre of the strategy, notably through the reintroduction of the objective of reducing the number of low-wage workers, the working poor and of people working in other types of precarious work.
For the ETUC, the creation of more and better jobs, support for the adaptation and modernisation of education and vocational training systems with a view to lifelong learning and the creation of a knowledge-based society, the promotion of social inclusion, the fight against unemployment and the promotion of equal opportunity and gender equality are key conditions for attainment of the Lisbon objectives.
4. MEETING THE CHALLENGES}}
Cohesion policy must respond to the challenges at hand and, in doing so, help reduce disparities between regions and promote a society of full employment, equal opportunity and social inclusion and cohesion.
Cohesion policy must contribute to the creation of a genuine European labour market, primarily through the promotion of solidarity between regions and mobility.
New indicators must also be developed to measure regional development, for example, the unemployment rate.
Training and qualifications}}
From the angle of social cohesion, we consider training and qualifications for employment and active citizenship to be the two sides of the same coin.
All young people should have basic qualifications upon completing compulsory education. Nowadays, basic qualifications represent a broader concept than in the past, and include IT skills enabling people to be active in an information society. That means that in Europe all children should complete school and all young people should have access to secondary studies after completing compulsory education. Occupational skills are also necessary since there will be greater requirements in the future. Access to initial and continuing vocational training should be guaranteed to ensure that young people acquire the skills needed by the labour market and thus can have a job.
The European labour force reserve is found among unskilled adults and the jobless. It is consequently crucial to develop their skills. They need basic qualifications, beginning with reading and writing. They also need vocational qualifications and skills to find their place in a changing labour market. Besides, they need tailor-made measures that answer to their specific needs.
In addition, active workers need continuing training throughout their career. This is a shared responsibility of the employer, the public authorities and the worker/citizen. The social partners must provide support through collective bargaining and/or social dialogue. In their Joint Work Programme 2006-2008, the European Social Partners include education and lifelong learning as one of the possible issues for the negotiation of an autonomous agreement.
It is consequently important to promote, also by means of the ESF, the active participation of adults in continuing education and training, while encouraging openness between vocational education and training and other forms of education, including higher education, and supporting measures for the recognition and validation of formal and informal qualifications and skills.
It is clear that ongoing and a growing number of structural problems, unexpected shocks, processes of industrial restructuring or economic diversification and company mergers in a number of EU regions require increased support for these problem areas.
For the ETUC, it is essential to develop regional development programmes that help the regions to anticipate and promote economic change while reinforcing their competitiveness and attractiveness, along with programmes developed at the suitable territorial level to help people to prepare for and adapt to economic change.
With regard to the proposal concerning economic restructuring, the ETUC supports stepped-up introduction of permanent surveillance systems involving the social partners, companies and local authorities, whose role is to review economic and social changes at regional and local level, and to anticipate future developments in the economy and the labour market.
The ETUC considers that a positive response to the challenges arising from demographic changes requires an integrated approach within the framework of implementation of an anticipation strategy. There must be multiple instruments, policies and actors.
Active and inclusive labour market policies for the benefit of young people and older workers must be defined in close collaboration with the social partners. This requires the definition of an enhanced career-long policy and in connection with lifelong learning. The aim is to develop active policies that attract young people to the labour market and that allow, on a voluntary basis, a phased-in and active retirement of older workers as well as policies that make the reconciliation of family and professional life easier.
The ETUC considers that measures must be taken to improve the quality of youth employment while combating its precarious nature. These measures must include the promotion of more secure jobs for youth, improvement of health and safety standards and equal access to social security to prevent young people from slipping into the informal economy.
A positive programme must be developed to increase not only the rate of labour market participation of women but also the quality of work for women, to create the conditions enabling older workers to work until retirement age and the people furthest away from the labour market to have access to it.
The ETUC also considers that immigration can represent only part of the solution to Europe's demographic problems. The main challenge will be to develop a more proactive immigration policy, geared towards management rather than prevention of immigration, and to secure the support of the European population for such a policy.
Tying cohesion policy more security to other national and Community policies
For the ETUC, it is essential to ensure greater complementarity between the Union's cohesion policies and other Community policy areas, in particular macroeconomics, transport and other services including social infrastructures that create a favourable public environment, ensuring that all Union policies include the crucial aspects of economic and social cohesion and the development of quality employment. This coordination of Community policies must take account first and foremost of the commitments made as part of the European strategy for sustainable development and must be matched with the coordination of fiscal policies so as to avoid social and fiscal dumping.
5. FINANCIAL RESOURCES
As the report points out, cohesion policy now accounts for around one third of total EU expenditure and will amount to some 54.2 billion euro in 2013. However, in spite of the challenges posed by the two recent enlargements of the EU, the volume of Funds is declining in relation to the Union's GDP. In 2013, it will represent only 0.35% of GDP, compared to a scant 0.4% in 2004, which is a return to its level of the 1990s.
It is consequently essential to tie the debate on the future guidelines for cohesion policy to the review of the EU budget in 2008/2009. In this context, existing funds such as the Solidarity Fund and the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund should be increased. Similarly, the scope of the enlarged ESF and the new challenges it will have to take up in the future (mobility, demographic change), as the social partners point out in their joint analysis of European labour markets, require an adequate financial response at European level. For the ETUC, adequate financing – which makes it possible to take up the challenges identified by the Commission and which is needed at European level – is a fundamental condition for meeting the challenge of implementing the Lisbon Strategy and respecting the EU's commitments in other areas.