Fitto’s move to impose cohesion reform on the regions

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The European Commissioner for Regional Policies, Elisa Ferreira, insists on the territorial nature of cohesion policy and the role of the regions in the management of European structural funds. After the meeting on Thursday evening with Minister Raffaele Fitto who “shared” with her the national reform plan for cohesion policy included in the “new” Pnrr, the commissioner issued a short note: «We agreed on the need for synergies between the funds – he stated, referring to structural funds such as the ERDF and the ESF and the Pnrr – on measures based on the territory, on the strengthening of administrative capacity, on local ownership and partnership”.

Distant positions between the minister and Commissioner Ferreira

The meeting was defined as “constructive” by Ferreira, who however did not use the word “reform” but insisted on the “place-based” character of cohesion policy, implicitly revealing the distance from the words and positions of Fitto, the which effectively bypassed the commissioner and DG Regio through the Pnrr on which the commissioner has no say. After the meeting, Fitto explained to the agencies that he had “shared” the path for starting the cohesion reform with the commissioner. One would have expected him to “present” it, but instead the green light had already been decided elsewhere, evidently at a higher level, directly with the Presidency of the Commission.

The meeting point on which Fitto and Ferreira “agreed” the other evening is the implicit territorial nature of regional cohesion policy. But it is a very weak meeting point and therefore remains to be verified, since Fitto’s declared objective is a decisive centralization of this policy at a national level.

Fitto forcing and the external constraint

In practice, by inserting the “milestone” on the reform into the revision of the Pnrr, Fitto has added a European constraint on which to leverage to force the regions to accept it. A forcing that would allow him not to have to modify the 2021-2027 Partnership Agreement on which last February he had already received a warning from the Portuguese commissioner himself.

The reform decree, expected by January, would concentrate resources on essential services (transport, water resources, waste management, hydrogeological instability) especially for the southern regions. One of the strong points should be the provision of a sanction for regions that they will not complete projects by deadlines. The sanction would obviously be limited to the national co-financing quota. It is no coincidence that in the first cohesion agreements signed by the regions (in particular that of Liguria) it is foreseen that the resources of the Development and Cohesion Fund not spent by a given region will be reallocated. For now it is not known by what mechanism.

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