Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes
In my Oral Statement to Members (4 October 2011) on the future of European Programmes in Wales, I promised to make a Written Statement following publication of the draft regulations from the European Commission. The draft package of Cohesion Policy regulations was published on 6 October and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) regulations have now been published.
As widely expected, the draft regulations prepare the ground for the Commission to be able to insist upon a sharper focus by Member States on interventions aimed at delivering the ‘Europe 2020’ objectives of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The Commission’s policy emphasis, set out in ‘Europe 2020’, is to be generally welcomed as it complements many of our own policies and actions, as set out in our recently published “Programme for Government”.
The emphasis and content of the Commission’s draft regulations therefore provides a good starting point for the negotiations, which are about to commence, and which need to be satisfactorily concluded before any future programmes can be agreed and subsequently implemented. Successfully concluding these negotiations, together with those associated with agreement of the draft EU budget for 2014-2012, will be hugely important if we are to be ready to commence the implementation of new programmes and key strategic projects from early in 2014.
In this context, I particularly welcome the Commission’s emphasis on better integration of the Structural Funds (ESF, ERDF, Cohesion Fund) with the rural (EAFRD) and fisheries (EMFF) funds through a Common Strategic Framework. If done well, this will offer opportunities to simplify access to funding and also to enhance the delivery of programmes, through closer collaboration and cooperation. The Commission’s proposals also offer some encouraging signs in terms of simplification and the harmonisation of eligibility rules. In turn, more proportionate management and control systems will help promote more flexible delivery mechanisms. I am also particularly interested in, and am encouraged by the Commission’s drive towards the increased use of ‘Financial Engineering Instruments’ and I look forward to exploring how we can maximise the value of such repayable investments – a couple of which we have successfully pioneered in Wales over the past few years.
Two of my key priorities for future programmes remain seeking maximum flexibility, to allow us to tailor programmes to our specific needs in Wales, and also greater programme simplification: on simplification, whilst the Commission has proposed new measures aimed fairly and squarely at simplifying current arrangements and processes, these are counterbalanced by a number of additional requirements where I am yet to be convinced that added-value will result. For example, Commission proposals for a ‘performance framework’ could lead to some regions implementing programmes that focus on “easy wins” rather than programmes that address the most serious issues faced in those regions. Additionally, it is not clear how the Commission’s proposed macro-economic conditionalities would improve performance, with a risk that they could penalise those regions and Member States that need the funding the most.
Partnership working across Europe, the UK, and within Wales will be key to the successful development and delivery of future programmes. Therefore, in addition to working closely with key players at EU and UK level, I have also established a European Programmes Partnership Forum, through which our key strategic partners in Wales will help us to consider the future direction, management and content of any new programmes in Wales. It has already held its first meeting and next month I will be launching a reflection exercise to provide all of our Welsh partners with an opportunity to have their say on the future strategy and the most important priorities for Wales. I will also be listening to the views of Assembly Members and I am committed to facilitating a Plenary debate on the subject early in the New Year.
Once both Members and our Partners have helped fashion the future strategic direction for European programmes, we will need to develop new draft programmes, and it is proposed that these will be the subject of full public consultation towards the end of 2012 before we commence negotiations on the detail with the Commission
I am determined that we negotiate the best possible programmes for Wales: programmes which will help deliver on our ambitious Programme for Government. The successful implementation of these programmes will, in turn, make a significant contribution to attainment of the goals set out in ‘Europe 2020’. By developing and delivering programmes in genuine and meaningful partnership across Wales my aim is for these to be distinctly Welsh programmes, delivering for the whole of Wales.