Corina Crețu, European Commissioner for Regional Policy: "The Energy Union is one of the top priorities of this Commission"
As she explains, the Energy Union is one of the top priorities of this Commission which will help decrease energy imports, diversify our energy sources, tackle energy poverty and cut emissions.
With regard to green growth, the EU will invest more than EUR 38bn in the low-carbon economy, twice the amount spent during the previous funding period. What are the expected outcomes?
Now, 40 years since the creation of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), Regional Policy is a fully-fledged investment policy and one of the pillars of the EU's growth and jobs agenda. We invest in key, growth-generating sectors: research and innovation, support to SMEs, digital technologies and the low-carbon economy. Over EUR 38bn will be invested in the latter in 2014-2020 in order to reach energy efficiency targets in all Member States, which is double the allocated amount for this objective in the previous funding period.
Over the next few years, thanks to Regional Policy investments, we expect to see 875,000 households benefit from thermal renovation work, more than 57,000 companies operating with improved energy efficiency and 3.3 million additional energy users connected to smart grids.
Overall, Regional Policy programs will contribute to a decrease in estimated annual greenhouse gas emissions of around 30 million tons of CO2 and will support the production of more than 7,500 MW of additional renewable energy capacity - almost equal to the total electricity capacity of Slovenia and Croatia combined.
These investments will, at the same time, benefit regional development and economic competitiveness, while also tackling energy poverty and lowering electricity bills for EU citizens.
How do EU Structural and Investment Funds help in establishing the European Energy Union and what implications does this have in terms of EU energy security and competitiveness?
The Energy Union is one of the top priorities of this Commission. Its ambitious strategy is to boost our energy security by integrating all our national energy markets into one which is rich in renewables and new technologies and which is highly energy efficient, making use of the latest research and innovation.
In line with this strategy, EU investments will help decrease energy imports, diversify our energy sources, tackle energy poverty and cut emissions.
The EUR 38bn earmarked for investments in the low-carbon economy will help Member States, regions, local governments and cities implement much needed investments in energy efficiency in buildings, renewable energy, smart grids or sustainable urban transport.
I hope that our investments will help change mentalities and behaviours. For example, motivating people in cities to switch from cars to public transport requires investment into efficient and modern public transport systems and here, the ESI funds play a key role.
Which financial instruments has the European Commission recently adopted for the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds to facilitate access to funding for young businesses and urban development project promoters?
Over EUR 20bn from the ESI Funds for 2014-2020 are expected to be used through financial instruments in investment areas ranging from SME support, energy and resource efficiency, information and communication technologies, sustainable transport, research and development, and innovation. Financial instruments, with their multiplier effect, have best proven their ability to boost the impact of EU investments.
This is the reason why I encourage Slovenia to join the SME initiative, alongside Spain, Malta, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy and Finland. Improving access to finance is crucial to SMEs as it is the lifeblood of entrepreneurship. This initiative is especially designed to provide fresh lending to businesses.
To further help small businesses, we have created five, ready-to-use financial instruments called "off-the-shelf". Already compliant with state-aid rules and ESI fund regulations, they are designed to increase the take-up of such innovative instruments across Europe.
These instruments also aim to provide SMEs with better access to finance. We have designed a risk-sharing loan based on the sharing of risks between public and private resources, a capped guarantee instrument where public money acts as the guarantee against default, and a co-investment facility to provide funding to startups and SMEs. Other instruments support energy efficiency projects in residential buildings and urban development projects.
Finally, I want to emphasise the huge benefits that could be gained by combining the ESI Funds with the European Fund for Strategic Investments, the heart of the Investment Plan.
How will EU regional policy change after Brexit and how will the effect of funding regional and cohesion policy be adjusted as the UK is one of the largest EU budgetary items?
It is far too early to speculate on this as on any other question related to the impact of the outcome of the referendum. These will be addressed in due course, once negotiations with the UK begin on its withdrawal agreement as well as on the agreement concerning its future relationship with the EU. For the time being, the UK remains a Member State of the EU with the same rights and obligations as the others.
The number of refugees and asylum-seekers looking for a job in the EU is getting larger while the employment possibilities in Europe are not very strong. Many of these people are also focused on a particular country (e.g. Germany). How does the EU approach this?
I believe we can turn the migration challenge, one of the biggest challenges we have ever had to face as a union, into an opportunity. Integrating third-country nationals, who have a right to stay in the EU, as soon as possible is economically beneficial for all of us. Investing resources and energy in to integration policies today will contribute to making Europe a more prosperous, cohesive and inclusive society in the long run.
For this, it is essential to speed up the administrative procedures, to allow fast access to the labour market and to provide the basic preconditions such as housing, healthcare and language training. Existing qualifications and skills should be evaluated and recognised as far as possible.
It is well-known that migration is largely an urban reality. Every day, cities are confronted with concrete challenges involving migration. Whether it is housing, education or employment; cities are at the forefront of the EU response to these challenges which is why I have launched a direct dialogue with the mayors of major European capitals in order to see how we could strengthen the integration of migrants in cities.
You recently said about EU social integration, "It is important to avoid ghettos and segregation. Social inclusion is not only for migrants, but it is now the most important issue". What is the plan to execute this?
Social inclusion is indeed not only for migrants and it is clear that integrating migrants should not be at the expense of other vulnerable groups in our societies, but in complementarity: we want to make the EU in its entirety stronger and more cohesive. What I meant was that the cost of not integrating migrants will be far greater than the resources dedicated to their social and professional integration. Segregation should be avoided at all costs.
We can help these people find their place in society and give them a future in Europe. Cohesion Policy plays a crucial role here as we have already co-funded thousands of social inclusion projects. We are ready to further promote integration by financing projects in social and educational infrastructure, housing, childcare, health, but also business startups, language courses and professional training.
The Cohesion Policy also invests in the regeneration of deprived urban areas and in measures to reduce spatial and educational isolation. Where desired by local authorities, these investments could even be packaged into an integrated urban development program.
Finally, let me mention that under the 2014-2020 Cohesion Policy framework, EUR 15bn from the ERDF will be directly handled by cities. One of the objectives of the direct dialogue that I set with the mayors was also to help them fully exploit the potential of the funds for quality projects that will contribute to a smart and inclusive growth in our cities.