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Most vunerable in society must benefit from European policy

13 October, 2005


Bairbre de Brún to address conference for European Week of Regions and Cities

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún will later this afternoon deliver a speech at the closing session of the 'Open Days on Regional Development in the EU'. Ms de Brún said she would speak as someone "who comes from a country which has benefited from the regional and cohesion policy of the EU through the standard programmes as well as through the special PEACE programmes and the EU's contribution to the International Fund for Ireland".

During the European Week of Regions and Cities, 110 regional offices from throughout the EU organised workshops. The Commissioner for Regional Development Danuta Hubner will today deliver the opening address at the final session in which Ms de Brún is speaking.

Speaking before the conference Ms de Brún said:

"Regional and cohesion policy for Europe is a necessity in the Europe of the twentieth-first century, a Europe in which sixty-eight million people live in poverty in spite of the EU's overall level of prosperity.

"The millions of people in Europe who deal with the realities of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion on a daily basis need a cohesion policy which operates on the basis of need, not one managed with competition as the overarching and unquestioned guiding principle. Any such policy would further disadvantage the already disadvantaged and exacerbate the huge gap in income and opportunities which a true cohesion policy would minimise.

"I will be speaking at the conference as someone who comes from a country which has benefited from the regional and cohesion policy of the EU through the standard programmes as well as through the special PEACE programmes and the EU's contribution to the International Fund for Ireland. The use of EU funds to aid economic growth has undoubtedly been a success story in my own country Ireland but achieving parity in the distribution of wealth has been far less successful. Should this trend be mirrored on a European scale we will see overall growth but at the expense of the weakest or least developed, who will not manage to compete and will end up further marginalised." ENDS

Text of speech:

I speak today as somebody who comes from a country which has benefited from the regional and cohesion policy of the EU through the standard programmes as well as through the special PEACE programmes and the EU's contribution to the International Fund for Ireland.

I also speak as somebody who believes passionately in a Europe of Equals.

Regional and cohesion policy for Europe is a necessity in the Europe of the twentieth-first century, a Europe in which sixty-eight million people live in poverty in spite of the EU's overall level of prosperity. It is an essential counterweight to those in the EU who have made social cohesion and environmental protection secondary priorities to the primacy of the free market and of concerns about our ability to export. In many cases the drive to complete the internal market has been at the expense of those regions throughout Europe and those sectors of society which are now most in need of an adequate and balanced cohesion policy.

This policy must therefore continue to be supported sufficiently in a way that ensures that the less well developed regions and the most vulnerable in society continue to benefit. Successes under cohesion policy have come from the level of resources available but also critically because it has operated as a genuinely balanced policy. The overarching social character which has been the motivation and intention of regional policy must be emphasised and protected in the future.

It is this overarching social character which is in danger because the entire focus of the "New Start for the Lisbon Strategy" (Communication from the European Commission to the European Council) is on growth and jobs. Everything that the EU does is to be subjugated to these necessities. Environmental legislation will undergo impact assessments to ensure it does not have a negative impact on competitiveness. Employment and Social Affairs legislation will be assessed to ensure it does not decrease the competitiveness of business and industry.

The "New Start for the Lisbon Strategy" will benchmark progress against the US and emerging economies in Asia. If environmental protection or social rights and entitlements need to be undermined in order to achieve comparable growth rates to these places then so be it.

It is in this context that we look at today‚s theme of "REGIONAL AND COHESION POLICY, AN EFFECTIVE TOOL FOR DELIVERING THE REVISED LISBON AGENDA GOALS"

Regional and cohesion policy must not become just another tool used to improve competitiveness above all else. The use of EU funds to aid economic growth has undoubtedly been a success story in my own country Ireland but achieving parity in the distribution of wealth has been far less successful. Should this trend be mirrored on a European scale we will see overall growth but at the expense of the weakest or least developed, who will not manage to compete and will end up further marginalised.

In Ireland, there is a common expression which sums up the belief that competitiveness and headline-figure economic growth are accurate indicators of development. The saying goes that "a rising tide lifts all boats".

The same rising tide often leaves the vulnerable in society inundated, adrift and marginalised. This same unquestioning faith in competitiveness is now unfortunately seeping into the stream of cohesion policy. This seepage must be staunched if cohesion policy is to deliver true, balanced regional development.

When we speak of the Lisbon goals, we must include all aspects of Lisbon not just the economic aspects. The notion of making regional and cohesion policy a tool for delivering the revised Lisbon goals must take this into account as it must take account of the conclusions of the Gothenburg council meeting, otherwise the environment will end up completely impoverished.

The millions of people in Europe who deal with the realities of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion on a daily basis need a cohesion policy which operates on the basis of need, not one managed with competition as the overarching and unquestioned guiding principle. Any such policy would further disadvantage the already disadvantaged and exacerbate the huge gap in income and opportunities which a true cohesion policy would minimise.

Above all else regional and cohesion policy must remain an effective tool of sustainable development. The 'New Start for the Lisbon Strategy' cannot and must not be used to negate the basic principle of effective, balanced and genuine regional development or to neglects the value of the social economy or of environmental development.

Regional and cohesion policy stimulates and sustains development in many ways- trying to force each of these ways into a single aim of increased competitiveness is impossible and foolhardy.

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