Speech by President von der Leyen at the 9th Cohesion Forum, via video message

Distinguished guests,

Welcome to the 9th Cohesion Forum in Brussels! And welcome to everyone who is joining from across Europe.

Territorial, social, and economic cohesion is a promise – the promise that all Europeans are equal. The commitment that all European regions can give their citizens equal opportunities. That all Member States can thrive in the prosperity of our Single Market. And that Europe acts in solidarity.

This is what Cohesion Policy is designed for – long-term investments in the connectivity, the resilience, and the social fabric of Europe's regions. Like the Port Tunnel in Dublin, which handles half of Ireland's trade. Or the Alqueva Dam in Portugal, the largest strategic water reserve in Western Europe. Or the new Data and Supercomputer Centre in Greece, powered by solar energy.

It brings new jobs and investment to regions formerly dependent on coal mining or other industries in transition. It helps lift people out of poverty and provides training to keep skills up to date. Each year, over 10 % of government investment in the European Union is Cohesion Funding. In Member States that are catching up with the European average, Cohesion Funds represent over half of their public investment.

And we see the results.

The income per person in the countries that joined our Union in 2004 has grown, from about half of the EU average to almost 80% of it today. Jobs were created, families are better off. In Poland, for example, European funds have recently opened over 1000 new childcare place. Supporting the promise of equality also for working parents.  

Cohesion Policy has adapted to new circumstances, with solidarity. And this is especially true in the last four years. This is my second point.

Together, we have faced a pandemic, a war, and an energy crisis. Each of these challenges was asymmetrical. Some Member States and regions were hit harder than others. The capacity to respond was varied. But each time, the built-in flexibility of Cohesion Policy, and historic innovations like NextGenerationEU allowed us to respond decisively.

When European regions were hit by COVID-19, we bundled our resources and pulled each other up. Thanks to the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion, and our powerful NextGenerationEU, Europe's economy bounced back quickly.

When Russia's brutal invasion tore millions of Ukrainian women and children from their homes, we again came with quick and workable solutions.

Our CARE-programme supported European regions and cities to help up to 5 million Ukrainians get shelter in Europe.

And when Putin tried to blackmail us with fossil fuels, because we stood up for Ukraine's freedom, we did not feel the cold. And our SAFE programme helped the most vulnerable families and companies in Europe to overcome the energy shock. 

Today, homegrown and affordable renewable energy is booming, also thanks to the hard work of regional and local officials across Europe. Our Union gives regions and cities the extra boost they need to pull themselves up.

This solidarity gives me confidence in the future of our Union. Now is the moment to reflect on how we can fortify our growth model and build an even more inclusive Europe. How we can modernise and reinforce cohesion in our Union.

That's why I am grateful that a reflection on the future of cohesion policy has already begun. In February, a High-Level Group has published its views. At least 20 Member States have organised debates. And European institutions, including the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, have adopted opinions.

Some ideas are already emerging: For example, the need to involve partners on the ground, to accelerate delivery, and to link reforms to investments. In a nutshell, how to reduce administrative burden and maximise impact. Because we have all seen how the demands are increasing.

But if we keep innovating, modernising, and pulling each other up, we Europeans will continue to realise the promise of a more equal Union.

I wish you a successful forum! And I look forward to continuing our work together.

Thank you.