On 12 July 2012 the UK’s Coalition Government committed itself to audit the balance of the EU’s competences, whether exclusive, shared or supporting, in order to assess how these affect the UK’s national interest. The primary result of this commitment was an unprecedented exercise which offers the most comprehensive assessment to date of the EU, known as the ‘Balance of Competences Review’. In short, the Review, which comprises 32 volumes and 3,000 pages of evidence submitted by over 1,500 sources, queries whether the competences of the EU are adequate or excessive. Each Review is a reflection and analysis of the evidence provided by experts, non-governmental organisations, business representatives, Members of Parliament and other interested parties, including CCBS.
The Review’s report on the EU’s Cohesion Policy reflects a mixed picture of evidence ranging from condemnation to defence of the policy. Notably, the regional authorities of the UK which responded to this Review strongly defended the existence of EU cohesion programmes. The Welsh government, for example, argued that the strong redistributive role of the EU was necessary, given the absence of any robust national policy. Likewise, local authorities in GB expressed reasonable doubt as to whether, if cohesion policy was discontinued, central Government would spend the money saved from existing contributions to support the lagging devolved regions to an equal extent.
Despite the reality that the European Union has supported Northern Ireland with more than £2.5 billion in funding over the past two decades, which has provided real value added to local communities, unlike their counterparts in Scotland and Wales, the Northern Ireland Executive did not provide written or oral evidence to the Review of cohesion policy.
Any proposals to scrap cohesion funds would undoubtedly have significant impacts upon Northern Ireland and in particular upon the border region. Here the Centre for Cross Border Studies fulfilled the role of informing the Review of the constructive impact the EU has had, in particular citing the PEACE programme as ‘an exemplary case for the objective of the reduction of social and economic disparities between European Regions; its exposure to these sources of European funding has proved pivotal in addressing its particular social and economic needs’. Moreover, CCBS emphasised to the Review that the evident effectiveness of cohesion policy ‘can […] be seen most noticeably in marginalised or isolated regions […] such as Northern Ireland, where the lack of effective transport connections hampers the growth of the local economy’.
Overall, given that the UK at present participates in multiple cross-border and transnational EU programmes, which deliver tangible impacts to Northern Ireland, the realities of any proposals to remove cohesion funds deserves to be given due attention and full understanding in London. As this case demonstrates, CCBS intends to contribute to this vital conversation by informing policy-makers and the general public of the realities of Northern Ireland’s place in Europe, while providing the region with a voice.
The full report is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/355455/BIS_14_981__Review_of_the_Balance_of_Competences_between_the_United_Kingdom_and_the_European_Union.pdf