In the context of crises that have stretched policymaking and budgetary resources of the EU to their limit, the focus of the past year has been on recovery from the effects of the pandemic, and future resilience – an objective dramatically increased in importance by the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war. As a major part of the EU response, Cohesion Policy has deployed, with remarkable effectiveness, an unprecedented set of measures. However, the use of Cohesion Policy ‘stabilisers’ to cope with the shocks of the pandemic and now the Ukraine crisis has implications for the debate on the future development of EU economic governance and the role of Cohesion Policy. In particular, the 8th Cohesion Report emphasises the need for a clear focus on the longer term structural challenges for cohesion in Europe: demographic ageing, weak productivity growth, globally lagging educational and innovation performance, and the climate transition.
With respect to implementation of the policy in the 2021-27 period, progress with the programming and adoption of the Partnership Agreements and programmes has advanced considerably during 2022, albeit with considerable delays relative to previous periods. The evidence to date shows significant continuity in the programme architecture of most PAs in terms of the balance between national and regional programmes. The 2021-27 period programmes are concentrating support on a more competitive and smarter Europe (policy objective – PO1) and as greener, low-Europe (PO2). In itself, thematic concentration has mixed implications for Member States. There are concerns about diminished flexibility to address needs on the ground. Among the specific negotiation challenges, the territorial coverage of the JTF has been a salient negotiation issue with many Member States calling for changes to the territories proposed by the Commission.
A new requirement for 2021-27 is to identify complementarity and synergy between Cohesion Policy funds and the NRRPs. Member States are exploring how strategic frameworks, governance systems and implementation arrangements can be adapted to pursue synergies and complementarities and avoid overlaps.
Finally, early work is underway on the post-2027 reform of Cohesion Policy. Key issues include the degree to which other EU policies support cohesion objectives; the balance between the policy’s use in crises and its focus on longer-term goals; the future governance of the policy; where and how its effectiveness can be improved; and the continued need to develop institutional capacity.