Our workshop with Emilia-Romagna Region: the challenges of communicating Cohesion Policy
What Local Managing Authorities and regional stakeholders had to say about our project findings in Emilia-Romagna Region? We had one of our first workshops to receive feedback from the practice. Read further to find out more!
What works better? Cohesion Policy Governance
Multilevel governance and partnership are two of the key-principles that characterise Cohesion Policy. In addition, cooperation between different levels of government and flexibility towards citizens’ needs (the so-called principle of subsidiarity) are usually considered positive aspects of this policy. In the past years, Emilia-Romagna Region has been characterized by political stability and a type of government based on cooperation among local actors. This pre-existing feature reinforced both the vertical and horizontal management of Cohesion Policy, whose relevance for the territory became apparent during the economic crisis and the earthquake. The results of our research were confirmed during the workshop: participants highlighted pros and cons of the model, but it is still considered a good practice focused on a participatory approach with intermediate bodies.
The main topic in the section dedicated to governance was the choice between regional vs. national management, which is now at the centre of the debate on the future of Cohesion Policy. To this regard, Emilia-Romagna region clearly positioned itself in favour of more decentralization of policy implementation. In fact, the region has recently signed an agreement with the Italian Government to gain further autonomy in areas such as education and vocational training, research and innovation, labour policies. Participants motivated the position claiming that in presence of institutional capacity and good responsiveness and involvement of stakeholders, a decentralized institutional setting will emphasize the role of the regions as main actors of Cohesion Policy.
What do citizens think of Cohesion Policy in the region?
In the second section, PERCEIVE researchers presented the survey at the citizens level on the identification with Europe and Cohesion Policy awareness and support. We can't yet fully disclose the results but participants had very strong opinions on the position of their region. For example, one of the findings showed that, when asked if they know about Cohesion Policy, the percentage of positive answers in the region was lower than the one at the national level. Even though Emilia-Romagna region is usually considered a best practice in the implementation of Cohesion Policy, citizens in the region are not as aware of it as one could expect. Participants motivated this result by the fact that in regions that comply with competitiveness criteria the actual impacts of Cohesion Policy are less visible because they involve intangible benefits, unlike in Convergence regions, where the support coming from Structural Funds is used to build infrastructures.
The discussion led immediately to the issue of generalised lack of trust in the institutions by Italian citizens and the role of communication in the management of the funds. Another aspect that emerged was the sensationalism of media and how the press is often more interested in bad news on the EU (for example, scandals) rather than in the improvements and successful investments brought by the funds. Regional press releases, too, are sometimes ineffective because not all the information about a project are eventually included in the news. Most often, the excluded part is the most relevant, as they fail to mention that the financial support comes from the EU.
Communication: a hot topic!
Therefore, communication naturally came up as the most debated topic during the workshop. How to better communicate the use of European funds when citizens distrust the institutions? Emilia-Romagna has recently launched a campaign that focuses on the beneficiaries' point of view. The LMA asked all the region's beneficiaries (around 1,700) to take a video of 90 seconds where they talk about the project and how it improved their and other people life. This initiative revealed also the importance of recognizing the responsibilities that come with the use of public funds. It was mentioned by the participants how it should be more stressed the duty to communicate how and with what results the funds are spent on the projects.
The idea of presenting the point of view of beneficiaries, according to the attendees, might also show the institutions as less distant from their citizens. If stories of entrepreneurs, researchers and workers, from different industries and with diverse backgrounds, if examples of ordinary people that were successful thanks to the EU support reach a broader public then maybe citizens, it was claimed, will better acknowledge the role of the EU at the local level.
All in all, Emilia-Romagna region and other regional stakeholders vividly engaged with our team and expressed genuine interest in the research. The relevance of the topics for their work and the objectives of the project were named as something that could really help them improve the current implementation and communication of Cohesion Policy. For us, it was an extremely fruitful exchange and certainly an important contribution to our future steps in the project.
Are you interested in future updates on our workshops? Go to the dedicated page here.
Are you a Local Managing Authority? Visit the page we created for you here.
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This contributes gives highlights on what is the work in progress of PERCEIVE Project research. By the end of the project, in August 2019, policy implementation and communication guidelines will be finalized as recommendations for policy-makers and practitioners.