16/06/2011 Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid answers readers’ questions about territorial cooperation

Toute l’Europe invited MEP Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid (EPP) to answer readers’ questions on her report – “Objective 3: A challenge for territorial cooperation – the future agenda for cross-border, transnational and interregional cooperation” – that will soon be voted on in the European Parliament.

Questions about the report

Christian B.: You wrote a report for the French government in 2010 on territorial cooperation. Why are you interested in this subject?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Hello Christian. Cross-border cooperation is close to my heart for several reasons. Firstly, I come from Perpignan on the border between France and Spain where I was a deputy mayor for 17 years. In Perpignan, cooperation with Spain and the region of Catalonia in particular is an ongoing issue.

What’s more, in Europe 196 million people live in border areas and these areas often suffer from a lack of competitiveness and reduced access to infrastructure which needs to be addressed. Also, cross-border cooperation seems to me to represent what Europe is really about in the daily life of its citizens.

Sophie C.: How were you nominated as rapporteur for this text?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Dear Sophie, I was given the honour of writing this report because my political group, the EPP which is the Parliament’s biggest group, decided to entrust it to me. The EPP wanted this report to be written by one of its members. I gave them my reasons for being interested in the dossier – my background in a cross-border region and the experience I gained in cross-border policies when I led a parliamentary mission on cross-border policy at the request of French Prime Minister François Fillon.

Sceptique: Do MEPs gain financially from becoming rapporteur of a text?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Hello. There is no financial gain from being a rapporteur for any parliamentary text. All that is needed is a willingness to invest in the legislative process, to share your knowledge of the subject, to contribute and try to defend your beliefs and ideas.  A rapporteur does however influence the content of the text and the writing of compromise amendments although the final outcome depends on the vote of all MEPs.

Michel M.: How long have you been preparing this report?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: I was nominated rapporteur in July 2010. I first of all prepared a working document in which I explained my working plan and listed the questions that Parliament had to answer in order to design the future Objective 3. I presented this working document (of October 27th 2010) for a first exchange of views with my REGI committee colleagues. Then, I developed a draft report that was discussed on February 14th 2011 which led to 134 amendments and 6 compromise amendments. Finally, the vote in the REGI committee took place on March 22nd 2011 and the plenary vote will be on June 23rd. During this process, I met several stakeholders with an interest in territorial cooperation and received many contributions.

Paul T.: Are you in contact with the relevant European Commissioner?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Hi Paul. Last January, I met Mr. Johannes Hahn, Austrian Commissioner in charge of Regional Development, to discuss the issues that I had chosen to concentrate on. Furthermore, on several occasions I met members of the European Commission responsible for these issues to gain from their expertise and to present my proposals.

Nimbus: Did your draft receive the consensus of the European Parliament or was there tension within your committee over particular points in the report?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Hello. When I presented my proposals, some of my colleagues said I was ‘revolutionary’ due to certain proposals regarding fundamentally changing how territorial cohesion is managed (Objective 3 of the cohesion policy). I wanted European funds to be allocated directly for border problems and for these funds to be no longer subject to the arbitrage of Member States. Furthermore, I wanted greater flexibility in certain domains such as the geographical limits of cooperation, without diluting the field of action. Following a compromise that does not betray the main points of my report, the vote in committee was largely consensus based. I hope that the same thing will happen at the plenary session.

Questions on the content of the report

Christophe J.: Your report mentions “territorial cooperation”, what does that mean?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Hello Christophe. “Territorial cooperation” is the name given to the third political cohesion objective for the period 2007-2013 which receives 2.5% of the total budget and which serves to finance three types of cooperation: “cross-border” cooperation meaning cooperation along the border areas, “transnational” cooperation meaning cooperation between States and regions on a larger territorial scale (such as the Baltic Sea, the Danube and the Atlantic Arc). Lastly, “interregional” cooperation enables regions, independent of their geographical location, to launch common projects (for example, the regions of Rhone-Alpes, Lombardy, Catalonia, Baden-Wurttemberg).

Fédéralo: Can we have true territorial cooperation if the borders are re-established through Schengen?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Hello Fédéralo. Firstly, the borders were not ‘re-established’ during the recent debates; what happened was that temporary controls in certain circumstances were permitted. Furthermore, territorial cooperation existed before Schengen and is currently benefitting regions all over Europe regardless of whether they are part of the Schengen Area or not and this type of cooperation is also benefitting regions on the external borders. Nonetheless, you are right to highlight the differences in maturity of the various types of cooperation. Some regions have been working together for a long time and have been able to develop close ties due, in particular, to their membership of Schengen. Others however do not have this level of integration so we should guide and help them.

Anonymous: How much funding does Europe provide for this type of investment? Does France receive much of it?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: European funds are allocated according to ‘programme’ periods that last seven years. Currently, for the 2007-2013 period, the “territorial cooperation” objective represents 2.5% of the cohesion policy budget equivalent to €8.5 billion. The amount each country receives depends on the size of the population living in the regions in question. France receives €859 million. The money given by Europe requires a French investment also: this is known as the principle of co-financing. This principle ensures leveraging of European funds and requires national and local authorities to make financial commitments to projects. For example, for cross-border cooperation between France and Spain, Europe gave €168 million for the seven-year period and the Member States contributed €88 million.

Bernard M.: You mention EGTCs in your report. Is this going to be another administrative layer that will cost more than it is worth?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Dear Bernard, European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTCs) are not a new administrative level but rather a legal European instrument available to local, regional and national authorities to enable better cooperation. They provide a structure and a framework for territorial cooperation in order to simplify the implementation of projects and ensure administrative and financial stability on both sides of a given border.

Sylvie A.: Does “territorial cooperation” only concern regions that have borders with other countries?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Hi Sylvie. The “territorial cooperation” objective which is the subject of my report has three sections. The first section, the “cross-border” section, receives most of the funding and is mainly concentrated on the border territories. However, the “transnational” section (which receives 20% of the funds) relates to much larger geographical areas where all the regions of these areas are eligible. Lastly, the “interregional” section allows any regions to cooperate with each other regardless of their geographical location.

Christian B.: Could you give us an example of successful cooperation?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: In my region, near Perpignan, there is a very interesting project that was named among the top five projects in Europe. It is for the joint construction of a cross-border hospital on the French-Spanish border in Puigcerda (Spain). Europe has contributed €18 million. The hospital means that residents along the border have access to healthcare without having to spend hours travelling to find the nearest French or Spanish hospital. In this way, it is guaranteeing optimal access to health services at border territory level.

Europeus: Member States do not seem ready to contribute more money to European construction so how are you going to finance future territorial cooperation?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Hello Europeus. You are quite right to mention this problem. The budgetary crisis hitting all parts of Europe has caused some Member States to be hesitant about investing more in Europe. However, the European Parliament is fighting hard to ensure that the EU has the means to finance its ambitions. An increased budget for territorial cooperation is one of my main objectives. As an experiment in European construction, this objective is fundamental to Europe and also European investment which brings the most added value!  

Questions about European Parliament activity

N.M.: Your report will be voted on at European level but do you have contact with your national colleagues?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: One of the priorities of the Lisbon Treaty was to create better cooperation between the European Parliament and the national parliaments. In France’s National Assembly, there is a European Affairs committee which provides an institutional link to Europe. On a personal level, during this parliamentary mission and the writing of the report, I worked with Etienne Blanc (MP in Ain) and Michel Delebarre (MP in Nord) who are very involved in these issues.

François D.: Are you in favour of a single seat for the European Parliament or are you in favour of wasting taxpayers’ money on two seats?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid: Dear François, I think that in the current context, we should look at this issue of seats of Parliament but it should be integrated into a wider approach. What Europe do we want? Do we want a centralised Europe in Brussels that cuts all ties with its traditions and history by abandoning Strasbourg? We could ask the same question of many European agencies that have been decentralised to other Member States for no historical or legal reasons. The Strasbourg seat has both historical and legal justification. We could try to find political and pragmatic ways to save money without losing the Parliament’s original seat in Strasbourg.

Martine R.: You and your colleagues are only ever interviewed when you are talking about national issues (Dati, Hortefeux, Désir and co.). Why don’t MEPs talk to the newspapers more often?

Marie-Thérèse Sanchez-Schmid:  Dear Martine, this issue of the “democratic deficit”, the absence of reporting on European Parliament action in the media, has been dogging MEPs for a long time. This ‘silence’ has several causes that I am trying to dispel. Firstly, a certain complexity in how the European institutions work makes it difficult to explain its actions. Also, the French media for example are not very interested in the Parliament’s activity. Lastly, Europe’s elected representatives are partly responsible and need to improve their communication strategies. I strive to inform the media and citizens about what I am doing through press releases, my website, social networks and newsletters. Toute l’Europe has today given me an opportunity to explain my work and I want to thank all of you for the interest you have shown.

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