It's a little strange - given that we are only in 2008 - that Europe is already in the early stages of preparing for Cohesion Policy after 2013. Actually, it's very strange, if we consider the speed Europe normally moves at. Who says the Lisbon Treaty is needed to avoid everything bogging down?
Of course, the reason for starting so early is that the whole process is going to be an almighty ding-dong, and is going to take most of the next 6 years. Cohesion Policy is only one (big) piece of the overall puzzle, and the upcoming "budget review" is likely to see the first shots fired in a pretty bitter round of in-fighting. There'll be the French, defending agriculture spending for all they are worth; the new Member States trying to ramp up Cohesion spending as high as possible; Spain trying to explain why she should still qualify for huge amounts of infrastructure spending despite being much richer than the new Member States; and of course the UK, trying to cut spending on everything at every opportunity. and consequently making no friends and gaining no influence whatsoever (from this perspective, it's almost like having John Major back in number 10.)
But enough of this big picture nonsense - what does it all mean for Co-operation policy? Well, it's all rather positive so far. The Commission's 5th Cohesion progress report, released in June (see http://tinyurl.com/67cecf) was rather effusive about the future of co-operation, stressing the positive reactions to the recent public consultation and noting the need for strengthening the policy (which is basic EU code for "give it more money").
The report also notes the need for more interregional co-operation (given the current enormous mismatch in the EU funding for INTERREG IV C and the level of interest in the programme, this is a no-brainer); and also points to the need to bolster co-operation across the EU's external borders. This is an important point, since the EU has been making a pig's ear of this co-operation recently - long-standing and carefully crafted co-operation on borders like Finland-Russia has simply stopped in the last year or so, as the countries try to get to grips with the complexities created by the EU's new ENPI cross-border instrument for such borders.
We have to remember that things looked quite promising for co-operation back in 2003 as well, but Member States ended up slashing the planned budget back to its current total of EUR 9 billion over 7 years (you would simply not believe how many Member States still moan about this reduction in funding, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was their finance ministries who did the deed.) Nevertheless, co-operation seems to have more friends in high places than ever before - when I read the positive comments by Germany on co-operation in their reply to the public consultation on the future, I nearly fell off my chair (see http://tinyurl.com/6sbykw).
Watch this space.