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"Mr President, as all the previous speakers have done, I should like in turn to thank Mr Berend and congratulate him on the quality of his report. Just like the previous report, this extremely competent and precise analysis, the recommendations it supports and your own comments, ladies and gentlemen, shall prove useful to the Commission in general and to the Commissioner responsible for regional policy in particular at this time when we are involved with the programming of appropriations for 2000-2006. In any event, I have taken note of your wish to see the following points included in the report: the definition, compilation and analysis of representative indicators for the region and for all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe; a chapter on the islands and most remote regions which several of you mentioned, particularly Mrs Sudre and Mr Fruteau; analyses on the competitiveness of the regions in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This will constitute a great challenge to us all, for you and for the Commission, in the next few years. And finally, there are the cross-border aspects. I shall endeavour to comply with your recommendations on all these points. Finally, I should like to mention a few political conclusions which you are, in any case, familiar with, but whose main elements I should like to reiterate. Ladies and gentlemen, considerable progress has been made on the road to real convergence, particularly for the four cohesion countries, but also frankly, Mr Pohjamo, for the Objective 2 regions which had suffered some delays in terms of development, especially regarding infrastructure. This is my first point regarding the policy. My second point regarding the policy is as follows: the Structural Funds have made, and continue to make, a significant contribution to the convergence process. All the macroeconomic models we are working on show that, over the last decade, more than one third of the convergence achieved in the regions whose development is lagging behind would not have taken place without the Structural Funds. I have, however, taken note, particularly with regard to the most remote regions, Mrs Sudre, Mr Fruteau, and Mr Nogueira Román too, that your observation is that there is still much to do – and this is my third point regarding the policy – in terms of improving employment take-up aspects, the fight against social exclusion, which is particularly serious and intolerable in many of our regions, and the integration of women and young people into the labour market. Now to my fourth point regarding the policy; enlargement of the Union, the great political and humanist project of the coming years for our institutions, the major challenge, too, for the European policy on cohesion, a point which Mr van Dam highlighted. I shall say that something is already taking shape in Berlin and in the financial instruments available to us which may be a policy on cohesion for the first countries who are going to join us. I am thinking in particular of the pre-accession structural instrument, which I shall be responsible for implementing in the next few weeks. You see, ladies and gentlemen, we have only just initiated the new programming and we are already considering together the impact of the Union’s enlargement on our structural policy. This sixth periodic report which you assessed as positive on the whole, Mr Berend, is a good basis for our thinking, for us all and for myself. I should therefore like to thank you most sincerely for your contribution to the thinking which we are already engaged in with regard to the forthcoming guidelines, as well as for the proper application of the guidelines for the period 2000-2006. I should also like to make a few comments, firstly, Mr Berend, regarding the assessment you have made of this sixth periodic report. You pointed out the quality of the report and you even wrote, if I am not mistaken, that it marked a real improvement in comparison with previous reports. On behalf of all the officials of the Commission and my predecessor, Mrs Wulf-Mathies, I must inform you that we were very alert to the evaluation made by this House and by yourself. The Commission was certainly very anxious to ensure, Mr Berend, that this sixth periodic report should show that progress had been made and a threshold crossed in terms of the quality of the analysis submitted to you. I am thinking in particular of the contents of chapter 2.1 of this report, where the Commission examined in greater detail the economic definitions of regional competitiveness and attempted to analyse the extent to which this competitiveness may be supported, improved and influenced by factors which some of you – Mr Markov, just now, and Mrs Raschhofer – stressed very forcefully. I am thinking of technological research and development, infrastructure provision and quality, human resources potential, small and medium-sized businesses and direct investment from abroad. So much for the quality. I do not wish to spend time right now, Mr Berend, going into details regarding my opinion of the general points which your House has already endorsed. Let me just itemise them: the first point concerns the usefulness of the conclusions of this report in drawing up the priorities of the new regional policy, particularly for the negotiation of programming documents with the Member States. Secondly, partnership, a subject which a number of you stressed, the role of local and regional authorities, the private sector, both sides of industry, associations and local community action groups. Regarding this problem of partnership, I shall be extremely attentive to ensuring that the terms of the Structural Funds regulations are applied properly. Thirdly, the need to develop the employment side of growth, even though I am aware, as Mr van Dam just said, that the prime responsibility is that of the Member States, and that, when we speak of the responsibility of Member States, and indeed of the usefulness or effectiveness of this regional policy, we must clearly establish what sort of period we are working in. Mr Fruteau stated just now that the fruits of growth were distributed inequitably. Mr Fruteau, we at least need to recognise that there is growth, and that we are not working in a period of stagnation or recession, as has been the case in the past. You will tell me that situations of growth or shortage do not affect everyone alike. I agree with your analysis. When there is growth, it must be better distributed, but a matter that is even more difficult and which more seriously affects the regions handicapped by their remoteness, be they the most remote or island regions, is the lack of growth which generally characterised the last two decades. Fourthly, a point which Mrs Hedkvist Petersen stressed just now, the promotion of an equal opportunities policy for women and young people. Fifthly, the importance and role of small and medium-sized businesses. Mr Vatanen expressed this most forcefully just now. Finally, the positive effects on national administrations of the system of management of the Structural Funds, the motives of officials in managing these funds, even if it is occasionally complicated, and the importance of once again making improvements to the procedures for the evaluation, follow-up and supervision of the Commission. In relation to this, I must inform the European Parliament of my intention to organise halfway through the year 2000 a seminar with national and regional authorities on this question of the evaluation of procedures for the exchange of good practice in the management of Structural Funds. I should like to mention a few specific points. Mr Berend, you expressed a wish that zoning should be implemented quickly. Well, we are coming to an end of the zoning phase. Tomorrow, the Commission is to decide on the matter for four more countries and very soon, I hope, it will be Italy’s turn. You may therefore be satisfied on this point, since zoning will have been completed for all the countries affected by Objective 2. Regarding the informal economy you mention in your report, I am well aware that the analysis and production of statistics on this subject are dependent on the reliability of data and, as Mr Cocilovo mentioned, there is clearly a problem with the reliability of this data. To a certain extent, they are taken into account in the statistics on GDP and labour force surveys and, in any case, I wish to point out the efforts which Eurostat is making and shall continue to make in order to improve the quality of the statistics. Mr Berend, you also mentioned, as did Mr Aparicio Sánchez, the lack of reform in the fisheries sector. On this point which is of personal interest to me, let me remind you that the small scale of this sector – and this does not necessarily mean that it is an insignificant area – and its concentration in a limited number of regions do not make it easy to analyse in a regional context. This type of sectoral analysis pertains rather to the practice and competence of the Directorate General for Fisheries, under Commissioner Fischler. Nonetheless, I must assure you that the Commission will make every effort to include an analysis of this type in the second report on cohesion which, no doubt, will respond better to these concerns. Several of you mentioned points which must be included in the second report on cohesion, and your rapporteur mentioned some of these. I wish to assure you, firstly, that the merging of the periodic reports and the report on cohesion should not entail any loss of information or loss of interest as regards the content of the report on cohesion which is, as far as I am concerned, Mr Berend, an extremely important instrument, not only to provide information on what has been achieved in a transparent and rigorous manner, so that future guidelines may be examined or evaluated, but also to create a public debate involving the citizens of Europe and, furthermore, with the elected representatives, i.e. yourselves, on the subject of this regional policy and what might one day be a European regional planning policy."@en1

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