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Conditionality, Flexibility, Unanimity: The Embedded 2013 Reform of EU Cohesion Policy

Wolfgang Petzold

For the fifth time since 1988, EU cohesion policy and its secondary legal provisions have been reviewed by a reform, which will launch the implementation of about 320 national and regional programmes in the 28 Member States worth about € 325 billion of EU funding. This article looks at the starting points of the reform process, the positions and key issues during the debate between the EU institutions and the result as established by cohesion policy regulations for the period 2014-2020. It will be argued that despite the continued questioning of the policy’s impact, it has been capable of maintaining its key principles and introducing some significant changes and has been less affected by budget cuts than other EU policies. While the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU provided that the European Parliament had for the first time full co-decision rights over all cohesion policy regulations, some of the financial and procedural issues remained part of the negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework and hence subject to unanimous agreement in the Council, with limited Parliament influence. This has contributed to a result, which combines the policy’s path-dependent development with some new elements aiming at better delivery of the Europe 2020 strategy and economic and financial governance. Finally, the article puts forward some questions and ideas for debate on the EU cohesion policy’s future.


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