Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.
A Strategy for a Growing Europe
What has 28 countries, over four million kilometers of land, and more than 503 million inhabitants? What is continually growing and facing new challenges? What is always working hard to improve its quality of life, educational system, business world, and environment? If you answered 'the European Union' to any or all of these questions, you're right!
The European Union is dedicated to helping all its members grow. In fact, its Europe 2020 strategy has set some pretty impressive goals that are designed to help the Union's members work and develop together. For example, by 2020, the European Union is shooting for a 75% employment rate among people ages 20-64; is striving to make sure that 40% or more of people ages 30-34 have completed post-secondary education; and is hoping to raise more than 20 million people out of poverty.
A Tool to Help Europe Grow
The European Union has a very important tool to help it reach these goals and others. It's called the Regional Policy, and it is designed to invest in Europe's future by providing funds for economic growth, a better quality of life, job creation, and continuous development. The Regional Policy focuses its main efforts on areas of Europe that are less developed or struggling economically and socially. It aims to channel funds into these regions to raise them up and shrink the disparities that still exist throughout the European Union.
Regional Policy History
The Regional Policy dates all the way back to the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which founded the organization that would become the European Union. The next year, the Policy's first funding instrument was created, and by 1968, the Regional Policy had its very own Directorate-General in the European Commission. As the years passed, more funds were established to support the Policy's work.
In 1986, the Policy reached a major milestone when the Single European Act gave it a clearer definition and a firmer legal basis, making regional development and social and economic unity a priority throughout Europe. Increased funding quickly followed, and the Regional Policy's finances more than doubled over the next few years. The Regional Policy has, in fact, made a real difference in the lives of European citizens. In 2007-2012, for instance, the Policy's funding:
- Created about 594,000 jobs
- Supported 61,000 research projects
- Helped start up 77,800 new businesses
- Aided 198,000 small or mid-sized businesses
- Improved water and transportation systems for more than 3.2 million citizens
- Provided high speed Internet for nearly five million citizens
How the Regional Policy Works
How does the Regional Policy do all these things? Every seven years, the Policy is regenerated and carried out by the combined efforts of the European Commission and national and regional governments. The process happens in three stages:
- The European Commission proposes a budget for approval by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers.
- The Commission and Union member nations work together to identify needs and priorities for the Regional Policy to address. Together they build operational programs that lay out goals and areas for Policy action.
- Union member nations and regions carry out the operational programs by selecting and organizing specific projects, channeling funds, and monitoring progress. The Commission makes funds available on an annual basis and periodically audits the work of nations and regions to make sure that everything is operating smoothly.
Money for the Regional Policy's activities comes from three primary funds:
- The European Regional Development Fund, which supports job creation and business growth throughout the European Union.
- The European Social Fund, which assists in job training and employment efforts, combats discrimination, and helps public agencies with educational, employment, and social programs.
- The Cohesion Fund, which promotes environmental protection and energy efficiency and funds transportation networks in several member nations.
All together, these funds provide 351 billion Euros to support the Regional Policy's projects over a seven-year period.
Four Focal Points for Today
The 2014-2020 Regional Policy focuses on four major points to draw Europe together, support disadvantaged regions, and increase prosperity throughout the Union:
- Research and Innovation - The Regional Policy provides funds to keep Europe at the top of its game in research and innovation. It supports research projects, researcher training, and networking throughout Europe. A researcher in Romania, for instance, can receive funding for her medical research project. Who knows? She might someday find a cure for cancer.
- Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) - The Regional Policy aims to help businesses and individuals productively and efficiently use the latest technology. It increases accessibility to high-speed Internet and promotes e-business, e-learning, e-skills, e-health, and e-government projects. A student in Poland, for example, has access to high-speed Internet for the first time and can take an online college class.
- Support for SMEs - SMEs, small to medium enterprises, look to the Regional Policy for start-up help, loans, and other financial assistance. A baker in the Czech Republic, for instance, can start her own shop thanks to a start-up loan.
- Low-Carbon Economy - The Regional Policy is committed to protecting Europe's environment, so it supports projects designed to decrease carbon emissions and save energy in businesses, homes, public buildings, and transportation networks. A shipping business in Latvia, for example, receives funding to upgrade its vehicles to make them more energy efficient.
To remember these four focal points, just remember the word RISE: 'R' for research; 'I' for information; 'S' for SMEs, and 'E' for economy of the low-carbon variety. Together these four will make Europe rise to new heights.
Let's review. The European Union's Europe 2020 strategy has set goals that are designed to help the Union's members work and develop together. It uses the Regional Policy as a tool to help meet those goals by providing funds for economic growth, a better quality of life, job creation, and continuous development. The Regional Policy focuses its main efforts on areas of Europe that are less developed or struggling economically and socially.
The Regional Policy got its start in 1957 and has only grown since then as its funds increased and its project base expanded. Every seven years, the Policy is regenerated and carried out by the combined efforts of the European Commission and national and regional governments. In a three-stage process the European Commission proposes the Policy's budget, the Commission and Union member nations work together to identify needs and priorities and build operational programs, and Union member nations and regions carry out the operational programs with funds and audits from the Commission.
Three primary funds, the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, and the Cohesion Fund, provide the Policy's money, which is channeled into four focal areas: research and innovation, information and communication technologies, support for SMEs, and low-carbon economy. Indeed, the Regional Policy helps the European Union's 28 countries, over four million kilometers of land, and more than 503 million inhabitants grow and achieve a better life.
After this lesson, you should have the ability to:
- Identify the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy
- Describe how the Regional Policy was designed to help meet those goals
- List positive impacts made through the Policy's funding
- Explain how the Regional Policy works and its three primary funds
- Summarize the Policy's four current focal points
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