27 November 2019
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Report on the 7th Master Class on EU Cohesion Policy

Image - Report on the 7th Master Class on EU Cohesion Policy

Written by Yapeng Ou, Mediterranea University of Reggio Calabria, Italy

The 7th Master Class on EU Cohesion Policy was held as part of the 17th European Week of Regions and Cities -#EURegionsWeek in Brussels from 6th October to 10th 2019. The Master Class was a joint event organised by the European Commission’s DG Regio, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR), the Regional Studies Association (RSA Europe), the European Regional Science Association (ERSA), the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) and the European Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS). Overall, the Master Class was attended by 30 PhD students and early stage researchers from 13 EU Member States and two non-EU countries. The 2019 edition has focused on EU Cohesion Policy’s governance, its territorial aspects and its effectiveness, and its reform for the period 2021-2027.

Highlights and Key Discussions
All in all, the 7th Master Class has proved an excellent platform for PhD students, researchers and young professionals to 1) get familiarised with new trends in regional and urban development research, 2) improve understanding of and research on EU Cohesion Policy, 3) gain insight into the research potential in the field of EU Cohesion Policy, 4) meet and discuss with with policy-makers, EU officials and senior academics, 5) network with other students, researchers and professionals, 6) and get insightful feedback on their own research from policy makers and peers. Various scientific and social events, ranging from city walk tour to paper presentations, lectures and panel debates, have made the Master Class an unforgettable, enriching experience. The week started with a walking tour in the historic center of Brussels with Wolfgang Petzold (CoR), during which participants got to know each other and discover the urban landscape of the city. The master class was officially opened with a welcome session offered by the representatives of the organising institutions, including Agnès Monfret (DG REGIO), Peter Berkowitz (DG REGIO), Wolfgang Petzold (CoR), Sally Hardy (RSA Europe), André Torre (INRA, ERSA) and Giancarlo Cotella (POLITO, AESOP). The following two days were dedicated to paper presentation sessions, where each participant presented his/her research in a short presentation followed by an insightful discussion by a designated senior academic or EU official. Besides the activities organised by the Master Class, participants had the opportunity to  attend two sessions of their choice of a great variety of sessions on EU regional policy making at the #EURegionsWeek. They also had the chance to attend the official opening of the #EURegionsWeek conference, and the RegioStars Awards Ceremony.

The 7th Master Class highlighted the importance of the EU Cohesion Policy in reducing regional disparities across the EU to promote solidarity and integration within the EU. In a session, two high-level officials of the European Commission’s Directorate Generals in charge, Eric von Breska of DG Regional and Urban Policy and Andriana Sukova of DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, presented the background and most recent developments of EU Cohesion Policy. Major discussions were focused on the reforms, narratives and impact of EU Cohesion Policy, background of the ESF and the the current reform of the ESF+, and EU budget 2021-2027. In a workshop chaired by Sally Hardy (CEO of RSA), Sabine Weck (ILS Dortmund), Marcin Dabrowski (Delft University of Technology) and Leaza McSorley (University of Sunderland) brought an academic perspective to the current development and challenges across Europe, presenting their findings from recent research and discuss avenues for future regional and urban development studies. It suggested that in peripheral regions where distributional justice and procedural justice tend to be questionable, which will undermine the EU integration process. Digitalisation at social and institutional levels has an important role to play to promote spatial justice. It is also found that multistakeholder governance in the form of peri-urban living labs is critical to drive transitions towards a circular economy to achieve urban sustainability.

The Master Class’ events provided an excellent opportunity to debate and reflect on the reform agenda of the EU Cohesion Policy in the post-2020 programming period. The participants had a precious opportunity to listen to and interact with the high-level representatives. In the panel debate chaired by John Bachtler (University of Strathclyde/EPRC Glasgow), participants were able to dialogue with Marc Lemaître (Director-General, European Commission, DG REGIO), Thomas Wobben (Director, European Committee of the Regions) and Petri Haapalainen (Ministerial Adviser at Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland). They therefore gained a better understanding of the dynamics of the negotiations, the influence of different actors and the role of evidence and research in the context of the reform of EU cohesion policy. An insight into the dynamics of the negotiations between the three EU institutions in shaping and determining EU regional policies suggests that different perspectives need to be taken into consideration and possibly balanced. The European Commission and the European Council may take a more technocratic approach. The European Parliament, by contrast, is more connected to the regions and often takes a political stance into account. All the three panelists pointed out the important challenges and concerns raised on the imminent post-2020 reform of Cohesion Policy. They emphasised that more common ground was needed between European Parliament and European Council so as to reduce political trilogues and put more focus on technical issues. Besides, facing various challenges due to strong socio-economic transition, EU institutions must tap into public opinion to deliver more tailored policies. Therefore, more and effective citizen involvement is needed. Equally stressed was the key role that regions play in helping reinforcing cohesion by promoting a more effective implementation of EU policies and more place-sensitive allocation of structural funds. Above all, cohesion is not only about programming, but more importantly the “kit” to address real-world problems. In this regard, some participants argued for stronger linkages not only between the EU institutions, Member States and regions, but also a stronger multilevel coordination mechanism, as well as an improved feedback mechanism between the EU institutions, regional and local authorities.

This panel debate has shown to the participants that EU institutions, as top policy-makers, are taking seriously into account the real-world challenges faced by EU and strive for delivering evidence-based and place-sensitive policies. It has also demonstrated their determination to work collectively for a stronger, more inclusive, sustainable and prosperous EU. Undoubtedly, the Master Class has inspired the career design of most participants, in stimulating and guiding them to align their research or professional work with the mission of the EU in designing and implementing the post-2020 Cohesion Policy.

Personal Views
For Yapeng, the 7th Master Class has been an engaging and enriching opportunity for young researchers and professionals focused on policy and regional development. This is because it is an excellent platform to not only directly interact with high-level policymakers and EU officials, but gain insightful feedback on their research and work from senior academics and network with other international researchers and professionals of various background. This experience has high impact and has paved the way for post-Master Class collaboration among participants.

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