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In praise of dedicated budgets 27 June 2009

Posted by cooperatoby in EU.
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It is rare for policy-makers to confess their errors, so some honest rueful contrition makes a welcome change. Speaking at a meeting of QeC-ERAN: 20 Years of European Urban Policy in the Halles St-Géry in Brussels on 24th June, Dirk Ahner , Director General of the European Commission’s Regional Policy DG, did just such a thing. He explained that the rationale behind mainstreaming was to make more money available for the sort of integrated development projects that the URBAN Community Initiative had supported. These were projects that:
– tackled exclusion and disadvantage
– combined hard and soft measures
– achieved social, economic and environmental goals
– were based on community ownership and local partnerships with the private sector

But instead, as it has turned out in the wash, local government is disjointed. ERDF programmes are in the hands of individual ministries which have gone back to promoting sectoral projects in areas such as transport and the environment, denying cities a voice. The learning of URBAN has been largely forgotten.

There is now probably €30 bn being invested in urban development – a vast improvement on URBAN’s €700m budget – but much of it is not being applied in the way the optimists intended.

By the way I’m still puzzled by the way the Sixth R&D Framework Programme’s problem-oriented structure was abandoned when it came to FP7. FP6 had a Key Action called The City of Tomorrow which seemed to be going in exactly the right direction, but evidently joined-up thinking is as hard to do in the lab as it is on the ground.

I suppose that there will always be a pendulum swing between phases of integration and targeting – after a period of multiple initiatives, these were slimmed down to two (EQUAL & URBAN) and now none. At a moment when the operational programmes for the 2007-2013 programming period are taking shape, it’s salutary to be reminded of the dangers of mainstreaming. You can mainstream good things out of existence too.

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