Cohesion and Regional Policies in the European Union

  • Robert Leonardi


In 2004 the European Union’s cohesion policy entered into its fifteenth year of existence. Since its inception in 1989, the policy has covered a significant part of the European Union (EU) member states’ territory and population. What distinguishes the EU’s cohesion policy from regional development policies undertaken by national governments in Europe and the regional policy implemented by the Community before 1989 is that it represents a revolutionary change in the way development policies are conceived and carried out. While previous regional policy concentrated extensively on the role of the national administrative system or specialized development agencies in the implementation of projects, the present approach is characterized by an extensive involvement of different administrative levels and socio-economic groups in the formulation and implementation of the policy. The other elements that distinguish EU cohesion policy are the planning and implementation components that have been part of the policy from the very beginning, such as, quantified objectives (reducing regional disparities, restructuring regional economies, creating jobs, and stimulating private investment), a legal European framework,1 a specific policy structure (multi-annual planning documents and operational programmes), multi-annual budgets, five specific financial instruments (four Structural Funds2 and the Cohesion Fund) and a multi-level and multi-subject form of interaction in the formulation of decisions and implementation of programmes and projects.


European Union Member State Regional Policy Policy Process Structural Fund 
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  1. 1.
    The legal basis for the cohesion policy is provided by the contents of the Treaties, and the formal rules and procedures for the conduct of the policy are stipulated in the Regulations governing the four Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund. See European Commission, Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund 1994–99: Regulations and commentary, Luxembourg, 1996 and Structural Actions 2000–2006: Commentary and Regulations, Luxembourg, 2000.Google Scholar
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    We would disagree with the conclusion reported by Lisbet Hooghe and Gary Marks, op. cit., 2001, pp. 105–118 that in the second cycle, 1994–1999, there was a substantial weakening of the Commission’s position in running cohesion policy vis-à-vis the resurgence of national government intervention. The justification of this position is usually based on the decline in the amount of funds allocated to Community Initiatives vis-à-vis CSF allocations. Such an argument places the emphasis on the responsibility for the management of financial resources rather than on the control of the “rules of the game” and “purse”. During the second CSF cycle those rules were tightened to give the Commission more oversight on expenditures and evaluation. Also, this argument ignores the role of Community Initiatives as experimental programmes. Once the experiment takes place and it has shown to be effective, the tendency is to bring the new approach directly into the management of the CSFs or other programmes. Such has been the case with, for example, URBAN, LEADER, and INTERREG. The source of this misunderstanding may be attributed to the inability to distinguish the designation of areas qualifying for Objective 1 and 2 which was carried out using the criteria supplied by the Commission and the areas qualifying for regional subsidies (referred in the literature as “state aids”) by the member states that was based on national criteria. Yes, the European Commission has tried in the past to coordinate these two designations, but it has not always been successful. But this lack of complete accord on state aids cannot be taken as the equivalent to the weakening of the Commission’s role in determining the selection of areas to be covered by the EU’s cohesion policy. For a detailed discussion of the Community-member state conflict over the designation of state aids areas, see F.G. Wishlade, “Achieving Cohesion in the European Community: Approaches to Area Designation”, Regional Studies, Vol. 28, No. 1, 1994, pp. 79–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Robert Leonardi 2005

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  • Robert Leonardi

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