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Poll: 71% of Americans Believe Iran has Nuclear Weapons

A disturbing new poll shows that 71% of Americans apparently believe that Iran has nuclear weapons . This is just plain ridiculous. This is proof that the media’s widespread campaign of misinformation about Iran has succeeded. They lied to us so many times that we believed it.

Meanwhile, even our own intelligence reports say that Iran is not only not in possession of nuclear weapons, but also say that there is no evidence to suggest that they are even pursuing the production of nuclear weapons.

If the USA goes into an unnecessary war with another country that was incorrectly believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons, against all available evidence, it will have officially ceded any right to the pretention of moral high ground in a global context. The lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians is not acceptable collateral damage. Wasting hundreds of billions of our dollars on unnecessary military conflicts is economically unacceptable. And putting the lives of our troops in danger because of a campaign of misinformation is just plain wrong.

They’re trying to scare us into another war we don’t need, and right now, it looks like they may just be succeeding.

Don’t get me wrong: Iran has a terrible, repressive, despotic regime that masquerades as a democracy while functioning as a dictatorial theocracy, and regime change in Iran is extremely desirable. If America proved anything in Afghanistan and Iraq, however, it’s that we are incapable of effecting regime change, especially in the middle east. Our inability to create legitimate governments in occupied countries should be unsurprising; we send young people with guns to far-off lands without the ability to speak the indigenous languages, without any understanding of indigenous cultures, and we end up shooting people for bad reasons far too frequently. However we may think of ourselves, we would not be viewed as ‘liberators’ to the people of Iran, especially given the historical context. We will be viewed as foreign oppressors, and rightly so. The last time the US created regime change in Iran, we put the despotic Shah in power for purely economic and anti-communist reasons, undoing decades of democratic reforms within the country. What reason have we given them to expect anything different this time around?

The war hawks and war profiteers in our country have discovered that fear-mongering and misinformation are very effective ways to get Americans to support doing things that are very obviously not in our national interest, and we are letting them take advantage of our own irrationality for political and monetary gain. We cannot allow ourselves to bankroll the unnecessary slaughter of even more civilians around the world.

Meanwhile, the self-same ‘deficit hawks’ who ran the second half of Obama’s first term into the ground in the name of faux-austerity are now talking tough on Iran. The Republican presidential nominees are at the head of the pack, feeding the fire, contesting each others hostility towards Iran in an absurdist show of ignorance. You can’t have it both ways, folks. It is ridiculous for them to pretend that they are concerned with the government’s debt while simultaneously trumping up the need to go spend hundred of billions more on another unnecessary, unfunded war in a country that poses almost no proven threat to the US.

http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/02/19/cnn-poll-american-believe-iran-has-nuclear-weapons/

Infant Mortality Rates

Some people, of a certain political persuasion, claim that the US has the best health care system in the world, a health care system so incomparably perfect that the very notion of trying to improve it is not only unpatriotic, but offensive to their sensibilities.

Meanwhile, our infant mortality rate hovers around twice that of some other developed nations. Our babies are dying twice as fast, yet many would try to convince you that our health care system is beyond reproach.

To be fair, I must make a distinction. I believe that it is entirely possible that the quality of care, doctors, hospitals, medical technology and medications available in the United States could very well be among the best in the world. What people need to realize, however, is that our manner of distributing the vast medical resources at our disposal is not only obviously inefficient, but genuinely flawed. If we are to claim that our healthcare system is unparalleled in the world, we must not only ensure that our quality of care is better, but also ensure that the availability of care is better. In the battle against changing our healthcare industry, American infants have become collateral damage, and that is simply unacceptable.

Some people, frequently the same group of people that vehemently defend our obviously inefficient healthcare system, are frequently also, coincidentally, the people that claim that the existence of any legal justification for abortion represent a grievous moral attack upon their religious liberties. They are taking the political stance of being the defenders of unborn children, even as they actively perpetuate the policies ensuring that more children – Children with parents that actually want them – will die. I know this is a callous-sounding distinction, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Apparently the only time when they consider it acceptable to defend the lives of children is before they are legally children, before they are even born.

Once they’re born, however, I guess they need to just fend for themselves. Apparently the very notion that we should try to keep more of our babies alive after their birth is a gross attack upon their American values.

I mean, hey, the babies who die are probably poor, right? Infant mortality is concentrated among the poor. I mean, it’s obvious: the poor babies are the babies that die because they have no healthcare. What’s more American than watching poor children die in squalor?

On Content Distribution

If the RIAA and MPAA really wanted us to stop pirating, maybe they could make their content distribution systems suck just a little less.

I hate that I have to illegally download music that I’ve already legally purchased on iTunes just so I can play it on my phone.

I hate that I have to illegally download movies that I already own DVDs of because the DVD’s got scratched and I never illegally burned them onto my computer.

The RIAA and MPAA have deliberately made it more inconvenient to acquire their material legally than illegally. We, the customers, should not have to go out of our way for the ‘privilege’ of giving them our money, money that they will spend on a systematic campaign to impinge on our rights. That’s just ridiculous.

If they spent as much time and money creating a new, genuinely convenient content distribution system as they did lobbying for draconian new censorship laws and suing people who illegally acquire their material, maybe the public would consider buying more of their crap.

It’s a completely asinine business model; instead of spending their profits on better serving their customers, they’re spending it to rig the game against the public. They’ve created a system wherein buying their products is the equivalent of bankrolling attacks upon free speech. As a customer, I find this to be both insulting and morally objectionable.

Taxation without Representation? Welcome to Washington, DC!

When looking at the long-overlooked issue of the underrepresentation, or, more accurately, absence of representation of Washington DC citizens in the Federal Government, an immediate democratic deficit becomes apparent quite quickly. This problem is best illustrated by one simple graph:

The fact of the matter is, the population of Washington DC is significantly higher than that of the entire state of Wyoming. Wyoming, being the least populated state in the nation, has a population of just over 544,000 as compared to DC’s population of approximately 599,000. This is a very significant obstacle to the notion that America is a true democracy. I’ve already argued as to the illegitimacy of the US Senate as a ‘democratic’ governing body, especially with regards to the filibuster, but nothing more effectively communicates the democratic deficit than the contrast between the representation of the populations of our national capital and the state of Wyoming.

Because it has the smallest population of any state, Wyoming citizens are subsequently the most overrepresented citizens in the country, with the representation of each individual Wyoming voter being equal to 67 California voters in the senate and four times the impact of California voters in presidential elections.

Washington DC has a larger population than the state of Wyoming, but lacks any representation at all in the Federal government, while Wyoming is, conversely, the most overrepresented state in the union because of its comparatively tiny population.

We have a electoral status quo that obviously and arbitrarily creates first- and second-class citizens for no rational or defensible reason.

Either DC should have representation or Wyoming should not. It’s that simple. And, in the very least, if there’s going to be representation for one and not the other, the larger population should be afforded the votes. From any logical, utilitarian standpoint, this is simply a nonsensical policy, and its continuity is unacceptable.

http://www.google.ca/publicdata/explore?ds=kf7tgg1uo9ude_&met_y=population&idim=state:11000&dl=en&hl=en&q=population+of+washington+dc#ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=population&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=state&idim=state:11000:56000&ifdim=state&hl=en&dl=en

Hypocrisy and the Anti-Tax Pledge

When Democrats attempted to increase taxes on a few billionaires, the Republicans all signed an anti-tax pledge and decided to throw a gargantuan hissy fit. They go along the whole time, condescendingly informing anybody who will listen that we can’t hurt the so-called “job creators” or the economy will hit the fan. Now that the Democrats try to lower the taxes on more than half of Americans, however, Republicans are breaking their own anti-tax pledge left and right to shoot down the Democrats’ tax cut extension, apparently for no reason other than political brinksmanship. This is not what good governance looks like.

When Obama and the Democrats wanted a one-year extension for the payroll tax cut that would be partially financed by a tax increase on the wealthy with broad public support, the House Republican Leadership steadfastly refused to cooperate with such a bill. The Democrats removed the tax increase on the wealthy, and still the Republicans hung them out to dry. The Democrats finally lowered their aim from a 1-year extension to a mere 60-day tax cut extension, a tax cut extension that would lower the taxes for some 160 million Americans, which passed the Senate 89-10. House Republican leadership has since accused both the Senate and the Democratic party of ‘kicking the can down the road,’ and claimed that it was they, the House Republican party, that wanted to do the responsible thing and extend the tax cuts for the full year. As an American, I am offended by this blatant obfuscation of the truth, at their willingness to change their story at every turn.

In a world where the public discourse is dictated by conglomerated media, a lie told enough times can quickly become widely regarded as truth. It is the responsibility of the citizenry to verify the legitimacy of the information they are given, but it is a responsibility that the citizenry has shirked for far too long. Apathy and inaction have become the status quo, but it is a status quo that is unsustainable.

There is a huge problem at the core of our political system that is actually quite easy to understand. The Democrats, with all their bombast and grand rhetoric, seldom pass any significant legislation that has not been thoroughly vetted by their campaign sponsors and fleets full of lobbyists. Meanwhile, the Republicans refuse to let Democrats pass any piece of legislation, even an extension of a tax cut that they themselves have signed pledges to support, purely on the basis that the Democrats want to pass it. The House Republican Party has become the political incarnation of bad governance. We have a governing party that actively wants the government itself to fail. The GOP would rather have a government that ignores its obligations to the American people than a government that succeeds under the leadership of Barack Obama. This is a reprehensibly irresponsible way to run the most powerful country in the world.

The saddest part of the equation is that the Republican scheme is working. The Republican Party is adhering to a political tactic that is designed to stop the government from doing what government should be doing, because they know that when the government fails to live up to it’s obligations, the people will blame Obama for it’s failures. They consistently accuse Obama of a lack of leadership while steadfastly refusing to make any concessions, regardless of how reasonable, to the Democrats’ policy plans. There is literally nothing Obama could do that the Republicans would not attack him for, purely on the basis that they want him to look bad. Meanwhile, Obama’s approval ratings continue to drop.

Tactic successful?

Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not the Democratic Party’s biggest fan. The Democrats’ primary problem is that they apparently have a deficiency of vision, communication, and leadership. The Democrats seem to be characterized by timidity in the face of adversity, be that adversity from the Republican Party or the corporate lobbyists that are so vital in getting them reelected. In a widespread effort to contrast themselves from the Republicans, they seem to have forgotten that, once in a while, taking a principled stand on an issue can be a good thing. In a political environment where President Obama and the Democrats in general begin every single policy negotiation by trying to meet the obstinate Republicans half-way, one would think it less than surprising that they end up with the policy equivalent of the scraps at the table.

We need a government full of people who actually want the government to work for the people. Right now we have but two parties: the party of appeasement and the party of no. We have created a political environment that is inhospitable to reason and practicality, where showmanship is prized over practical value and politics are prized over policy. The American public needs to wake up and send a resounding message to our elected officials:

“No more bullshit.”

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/house-republicans-intent-on-killing-senate-payroll-tax-cut-deal/2011/12/19/gIQApBDa5O_story.html

PBS Coverage: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/july-dec11/congress_12-19.html (At the 8:45 mark, Utah Rep. Jason Cheffetz comes on and tries to defend the House GOP’s decision. I kind of want to punch him in the face.)

On Population Control

The concept of population control has been considered taboo in political conversation for a long time, for a variety of reasons. At this point in human development, however, it is impossible to deny that the direction that our species is currently headed in is at least moderately, if not completely, unsustainable. There are a variety of possible ways to go about enacting policies geared towards both population control and reduction in consumption, but the most important aspect of going about implementing such policies would be finding a way to make such policy palatable to the public.

It must also be recognized, however that population control on any state level is simply not a large enough step; for any action to prove effective, it will have to be carried out on a supranational level. The only current supranational body that has a mission statement with anything even resembling a population control agenda is the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The UNFPA’s objectives, however, are too broad to allow the fund to effectively serve as a tool for population control. Population control itself has never been a primary facet of the fund’s mission statement, which is more related to gender equality and safe reproductive practices than to population control or issues of overconsumption. Ultimately, it will become discernable that the best available option to confront what is quickly becoming an overpopulation crisis is to create a supranational body that deals solely with the expansion of population control policies.

That is not to say that such a body could not have many cooperative efforts with organizations such as the UNFPA, because the UNFPA’s goals of reproductive safety and gender equality are widely compatible with the objectives of population control. The United Nations estimates that approximately 200 million women worldwide have an unmet need for effective and safe contraception, resulting in an estimated 80 million unwanted pregnancies every year.

One of the population fund’s primary policy programs is designed to encourage proliferation of family planning. If the UNFPA hypothetically succeeded in providing universal family planning opportunities, it would result in a hypothetical decrease in global births of up to 61 million per year (after one deducts the estimated 19 million abortions from the estmated 80 million unwanted pregnancies). Such a decrease would be incredibly helpful for any population control efforts, especially insofar as most of the areas that have limited access to family planning and contraceptives are third world countries that are already suffering from ailments related to overpopulation.

The expansion of availability of contraception should be the first, and most vital, step in population control; the easiest and most humane way to slow population growth is to prevent the pregnancies that are unwanted in the first place. Universal access to contraception was a very popular idea for international developmental aid in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but suffered because of rumors and scandals related to methods of coercion in India and China. The UNFPA also encountered difficulties in its relations with the United States because of the complexities of politics relating to abortion, and ultimately had its US funding cut off. Since taking office, President Obama has reinstated US aid to the population fund, which raises hopes for future initiatives.

In many third world countries, however, family planning and population control is often portrayed as a tool of the West in subjugating the third world. This portrayal is compelling to many people, since the history of population control includes a veritable plethora of unseemly ties to racist policies and eugenics. The modern incarnation of population control, however, should not be condemned based on the concept’s failings in the past, but should be investigated in its own right for its merits and flaws. In order to counter some of these misconceptions, the global presentation of any new population control efforts must dissociate it as much as possible from its own ethically dubious history, but the re-branding of the efforts themselves are of secondary importance in comparison to the need for the expansion of simple sexual education that many third world countries direly need.

The western efforts to distribute contraceptives in the ‘60s and ‘70s provide a vital understanding of what tactics do and do not work. Simply distributing contraceptives is not enough to effectively curtail the exorbitant birth rates of many impoverished countries. In the words of New York Times editorialist Nicholas Kristof, “Planners always assumed their programs would lower fertility. The reality, however, was more nuanced. Evidence from careful, randomized studies suggests that well-designed, intensive birth control programs can reduce fertility somewhat, but that simply shoveling pills or condoms at peasants has little or no impact. Poor and uneducated people often want lots of children, so to be successful, family planning has to focus as much on reducing desired family size as on curbing ovulation.” It is a common misconception in the developing world that having more progeny will lead to more financial and social security in old age, which translates directly to the population explosion we are seeing in some parts of the world today.

Don’t get me wrong, the policies of the ‘60s and ‘70s also had some other, less favorable results. Ultimately, the desire to maintain a low-cost structure for the proliferation of contraceptives resulted in an overabundance of health problems involving IUDs (intrauterine devices) that were either improperly inserted or lacked sufficient follow-up procedures. While from a utilitarian perspective it could be argued that these complications were less common and less severe than those that can come with pregnancy, such an argument does not make such policies acceptable by any ethical standards.

With a projected world population of over 9 billion people by the year 2050, there is little time for dawdling at this point in the game. In spite of its many historical faux pas, population control is vital for both its humanitarian benefits and for its contribution to the sustainability of our planet. The incredible importance of this issue is underscored by its continually increasing political support in the developed world, support that has been garnered in spite of what are often strong social taboos on the subject. Jonathan Porritt, chair of the United Kingdom’s Sustainable Development Commission, claims that population control efforts should also be at the core of attempts to combat global warming, going so far as to say that couples that have more than two children are “irresponsible,” goin on to explain that he is “unapologetic about asking people to connect up their own responsibility for their total environmental footprint and how they decide to procreate and how many children they think are appropriate.” By refusing to address the problem of population growth, Porritt says, lawmakers are betraying the interests of their own constituents.

According to Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University and author of The Population Bomb, the average global fertility rate is currently about 2.6 children per mother, and for the world to return to its sustainable carrying capacity that number will need to reduce to about 1.6 children per mother. Not surprisingly, the number of children per mother in developed countries is substantively lower than in developing countries. Ehrlich also provides a very appealing angle from which to approach population control:

“Population control doesn’t mean somebody saying: ‘You personally have to do this.’ What population control consists of is having policies that encourage proper birth rates and proper death rates — trying to keep children alive once they’re born.”

As Ehrlich elucidates, keeping children alive is a key part of furthering the population control agenda; the more likely a child is to survive, the less inclination that child’s family is to continue having children.

Needless to say, that population control has such a long and controversial history will ultimately prove a major setback for any ongoing efforts towards that goal. Thus far, I have made many claims as to our need to enact population control, but I have provided no in-depth explanation as to why these policies are necessary.

It essentially comes down to the fact that every human being inevitably uses a certain amount of resources in their lifetime. For the purposes of this investigation, we must distinguish the resources that a given person uses from the resources that that person needs: we will call the difference between these two quantities supplementary spending. With few exceptions, citizens of more developed countries use many more resources, because their increase in relative wealth provides for a much higher amount of supplementary spending. Unnecessarily high amounts of supplementary spending create overconsumption.

Overpopulation is only a problem because there are a finite number of resources to go around- competition for global resources is a zero-sum game. When a person engages in supplementary spending (that is to say, purchases any product that would be considered nonessential), they are then expending resources that could otherwise go towards the needs of another person. Overpopulation only becomes a problem when there are not enough resources to go around. It could be argued that there is no global resource deficit by necessity, a recent World Bank study showed that a full 1.4 billion people in the world live on $1.25 or less per day. Overpopulation and overconsumption are problems that come hand in hand, as they both ultimately contribute to the depletion of resources.

The shortage in resources creates a division between the developed world and the developing world. The developing world would obviously be inclined to think that the shortage is due to the overconsumption of the first world, while the developed countries would be inclined to view the shortage as due to the overpopulation of the developing countries. The true source of the blame comes from both constituencies, although it is difficult to accurately allocate the blame for the problem. The bottom line, however, comes down to one overarching fact: the world has too many people using too much stuff.

It is with this idea in mind that Paul Ehrlich founded the Population Connection, the preeminent population control lobbying group in the United States. The Population Connection’s political actions, in addition to curbing the US’ population growth and resource consumption, also have a secondary effect of leading by example. In the words of Ehrlich, “Until the U.S. had a population policy, we didn’t have any reason to preach to others.” As a result of enacting population control-friendly policy initiatives in the US, our advocacy for similar programs abroad would be given far more weight. The enactment of population control policy on the national level in the United States both aids in curbing US consumption and is vital in providing the basis for more vigorous and compelling advocacy when we engage in diplomatic discussions with other nations that are considering adopting, or allowing, such policies. But what are the specific policies that we should be advocating?

There are a wide variety of ways to pursue population control on a global scale, but it is necessary to walk the fine line between violating people’s inalienable rights and doing too little. Through population control’s brief history many measures have been tried, from alleged forced abortions to mass sterilizations to the previously mentioned expansions of contraceptive and family planning clinic availability. With the sole exception of China’s controversial one-child policy, there are very few comprehensive bases on which to judge the effectiveness of any given technique. However, in addition to such potentially oppressive tactics as have been used in the past, technology and globalization are creating a significant amount of room for innovation in how to deal with this resource shortage crisis.

Since the mid-1970’s China has espoused a one-child policy, with a few exceptions that allow for families to have two children. The one-child policy is an incredibly ambitious population control program, employing propaganda, social pressure, and even, in some cases, coercion to further its objectives. The one-child program was also unique in that it associated reduced reproduction with long-term economic benefit (CountryStudies.us). While use of these tactics did provide significant results, the Chinese method of approaching these policies should be viewed with a degree of wariness because of the many inhumane acts that have allegedly occurred as a result of the China’s policy position. In certain rural areas in China, dubious family planning practices often resulted in the compulsory sterilization of couples that had more than one child. Compulsory sterilization ought be approached as a last case resort, as it is an ethically dubious practice even in theory, and in practice it could certainly be widely misused.

The policies used in urban China require a more serious investigation. In many Chinese urban centers the government used an incentivized approach to family planning. Couples with only one child were given a “one-child certificate” that entitled them to benefits like cash bonuses, extended maternity leave, and preferential housing assignments. Such incentive-based systems of population should be viewed as a valuable option, as it manages to sidestep some of the moral questions raised by any obligatory policy actions. While still controversial, many of the humanitarian concerns would be assuaged at least to some degree were an incentive-based system to be adopted. The origins of the funding for the incentives, however, is another issue entirely, and not one that will be investigated here.

India is now also beginning a long-overdue look into means of population control as well, and is considering some unorthodox but very interesting means of slowing population growth. One such technique is the expansion of electricity and television access into poor slums and remote communities. Indian politicians are considering the possibility that the access to such media will provide a much-needed alternative social activity to procreation for the poor throughout the country. For India, already in the throes of its own overpopulation crisis, this effort alone is obviously a case of too-little-too-late. That said, the expansion of television could certainly help in decreasing India’s per capita birth rate, and this idea is certainly a great example of recent innovation in population control policy.

Ultimately, there are a variety of ways that population control can be implemented and presented to the global public, but any options must be, first and foremost, transparent and humane. China’s one-child policy and the international contraceptive aid programs of the past have served as a crash course in the dos and don’ts of how to approach this issue, and, while there may be far more don’ts than dos in the ranks of those lessons, there is certainly a lot we could learn from careful study of those policies’ continued effects. The continued proliferation of contraceptive devices and knowledge, while incredibly important in and of itself, is not sufficient to entirely deal with the problem. It has become necessary for us to think outside the box and introduce innovation in how to handle and replenish the constantly diminishing resources we have at our disposal. Problems of soil erosion and potable drinking water are just the beginning of the severe societal issues that could be brought about by continued population growth and overconsumption. Inaction is not an option.

Sources:
Krebs, Michael. “Late-night TV considered as population control tool in India.” Digital Journal. 2 Aug. 2009. Web. 14 Aug. 2009. .
Kristof, Nicholas D. “Birth Control for Others.(Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population)(Book review).” The New York Times Book Review (March 23, 2008): 14(L). Academic OneFile. Gale.
Kristof, Nicholas. “Pregnant (Again) and Poor.” New York Times [New York, NY] Op-Ed sec. Print.
Mieszkowski, Katharine. “Do we need population control?” Salon.com. Salon Media Group, 2009.
Mission Statement. “UNFPA, The United Nations Population Fund.” UNFPA.org.
“Population Control Programs.” CountryStudies.US. Source: Library of Congress.
Templeton, Sarah-Kate. “Two children should be limit, says green guru.” Times Online. The Sunday Times, 1 Feb. 2009.

Regional Funding of the European Union: A Policy Analysis

When analyzing the effects of the Regional Policy of the European Union, it is important to look at a number of issues concerning the implementation and objectives of the programs that are in place. European Regional Policy is, at its core, a policy aimed at promoting solidarity within the EU. It aims to improve the competitiveness of the territories by meeting the objectives defined in the Lisbon strategy, while respecting the preservation of the environment for future generations. Although the EU is one of the most prosperous economic zones in the world, economic and social disparities among the member states and regions weaken the overall dynamism of the Union, and the disparities continue to grow as the EU continues to expand. Any thorough investigation should ultimately show that, while EU Cohesion Policy is somewhat effective as a catalyst for the development of domestic economies throughout the Union, it is far from perfect. Regional Policy serves primarily as a facilitator for domestic modernization processes, but cannot currently come close to guaranteeing that a given country will catch up to the economic status quo of the Union. As a result, there are two main questions that sit at the core of the effort to reform Cohesion Policy. The first question is simple: what works? The second question subsequently becomes apparent: how do we fix what doesn’t work? To find the answers to these questions, we must garner a deeper understanding of how the policy is implemented.

Part I: Who Controls Regional Funding?

Regional Policy allocates more than a third of the budget of the EU, with €347 billion at its disposal. These expenditures are dispersed in order to fulfill three main objectives: ‘Convergence’, ‘Regional Competitiveness and Employment’, and ‘European Territorial Cooperation.’ These objectives are met primarily through the involvement of three EU funds: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), and the Cohesion Fund.

The ‘Convergence’ objective commands the vast majority of the funding, with €282.8 of the €347 billion. It aims to speed of the economic ‘Convergence’ of the least-developed regions. ‘Convergence’ funds are supplied to regions with a per capita GDP that is less than 75% of the community average, regions with a GDP only slightly above that due to the statistical shifts caused by the enlargement of the EU (these regions are referred to as ‘phasing out’), the outermost regions. Funding can also be given to member states whose gross national income is below 90% of the EU average through the Cohesion Fund.

The ‘Regional Competitiveness and Employment’ objective aims to use Cohesion Policy to strengthen the attractiveness to competition and employment. Only the ESF and ERDF are used to fulfill this objective. The regions that fit under this objective, which commands €54.96 billion of the Regional Policy budget, include any regions not covered by the ‘‘Convergence’’ objective, any regions that are lagging behind in development but who are no longer eligible due to economic progress already achieved, which are referred to as ‘phasing-in’.

The last objective, ‘European Territorial Cooperation’, receives only €8.72 billion of the budget, and is implemented primarily through the ERDF. Regions eligible for this objective include regions lying along internal land borders and some sea borders, some trans-national zones. Some level of funding is available for the entirety of the EU territory.

Understanding how Regional Policy affects domestic development in the member countries requires understanding how the funds operate. The ERDF aims to strengthen the economic and social cohesion within the Union by correcting imbalances between the regions, financing infrastructure, job creation, investment, local development projects and aid for small firms, and is capable of intervening in all three objectives. The ESF sets out to improve employment and job opportunities in the EU through the promotion of the return of unemployed and disadvantaged groups to the workforce by financing training measures and systems of recruitment assistance, and can intervene within the framework of the ‘Convergence’ objective and the ‘Regional Competitiveness and Employment’ objective. The Cohesion fund is aimed primarily at member states whose per capita gross national income (GNI) is less than 90% of the community average.

In addition to the funds, there are also three joint initiatives that use international financial institutions and the financial sector to provide additional financing and technical expertise in the implementation of funding. These initiatives are called Financial Engineering Instruments (FEIs). These FEIs are JASPERS, which advances large infrastructure projects through aid to national and regional authorities of the ‘Convergence’ regions, JEREMIE, which aims to improve access to small to medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, and JESSICA, which provides solutions to the financial problems of urban renewal projects and development through a combination of grants and loans.

The structural funds, the ESF and ERDF, can fund a veritable plethora of projects with a number of objectives in mind. Such projects can range from improving access to broadband infrastructures to companies in rural areas to promoting the use of new building materials that are more environmentally friendly to expansion of public transportation to rural areas. The Funds, however, outsource the management of most of their financial resources to national and regional authorities, which control 76% of the Regional Policy budget. Only 22% of the funding is controlled directly by the European Commission in Brussels, and third countries and international organizations control the remaining two percent.

Part II: How Effective is EU Regional Policy?

It is necessary to point out that EU Regional Policy has gone through a radical shift with the accession of 10 countries in 2004. Such a drastic expansion of the Union’ s population brought on the need to rapidly expand the means of dispersion for the funding, and this has been at best a rocky process. Some of the countries that have acceded have displayed a deficiency in their ability to account for funds or guarantee their effective and fair dispersal. Furthermore, the recession has put unprecedented strain on the mechanisms of Cohesion Policy. As a result of the ever-shifting political landscape, the objectives and means of the policy’s implementation must be continuously reassessed in order to assure optimal efficiency.

A 2008 budget review concluded that radical reform was necessary in a number of areas to assure the efficiency of Regional Policy. According to the European Policies Research Centre (EPRC), one of the most important conclusions to come out of the budget review is a shift in priorities in favor of competitiveness, environment, and energy. The Directorate General of Regional Policy (DG REGIO) has developed a set of key principles in light of the budget review’s analysis, which includes, amongst other things, the simplification and strengthening of funding delivery mechanisms and a greater focus on results. Should DG REGIO follow through by implementing shifts centered around these two principles, it would hopefully result in a far more efficient and accountable distribution system for regional and Cohesion Policy funding.

One of the largest debates in Regional Policy is that concerning the funding received by the wealthier states in the union; some states wish to end such funding, which they claim to be wasteful, while others believe that it is of vital importance that all member states see some benefits in order to maintain political viability. While the latter argument seems compelling from a political perspective, it seems that any regional funding that goes to such wealthier states or regions serves a primarily redistributive capacity, since those regions tend not to lack the kind of infrastructure that Cohesion Policy serves to advance. Members of European Parliament (MEPs) from wealthier states desire the ability to return to their districts and show them money that has been received by their district from the structural funds, and compliance of the parliament is essential in any reform of the distributive capacities of Regional Policy. While such funding may be unnecessary from an efficiency-oriented perspective of the matter, political hurdles may prove difficult to overcome.

Any analysis of future goals for Regional Policy must also be given some level of flexibility within the system. Over the past year, the primary task of the EU has been responding to the economic crisis, and Cohesion Policy has played a significant part in the European recovery package. Understanding of the gravity and length of the crisis are still hazy at best, and the distribution of its regional impacts is still uncertain. The relative rigidity of the framework that dictates funding expenditures has proven to be a liability in times of unforeseen economic hardship, and it has become apparent that the formation of a more efficient crisis response mechanism would be a crucial part of any budgetary reform measures.

Part III: How to Reform the System?

There is certainly no shortage in suggestions for how to reform the system to make it more efficient and effective. Amongst the reforms suggested by the EPRC are included the expansion of the portion of the budget that is allocated to research and development and radical administrative reform. They also strongly recommend that policy be applied on a case-by-case basis, avoiding any “one-size fits all” approach that has proven less than ideal in the recent past.

A further reform option posited by Alina-Stefania Ujupan of the Bureau of European Policy Advisers is that the EU should cut the “pork barrel policy” that assures “something for everyone” out of the budget, because it “contravenes the rational purpose of regional assistance to help poorer regions catch up with the more developed ones.” Ujupan also aptly discusses the need to gain some measure of the relative importance of solidarity and equity, two of the primary goals of Regional Policy. The case for reducing or eliminating funding to wealthier states has a very straightforward logical explanation, although certain wealthy member states still have poorer regions within them that are perfectly viable recipients of funds under some of the objectives. Moreover, as pointed out by the EPRC report, “legitimacy could be lost if the focus was on poorer Member States alone,” even though “the case for supporting lesser developed regions in richer Member States is weak.”

The shift in favor of research and development proposed by the EPRC is one of the best proposals for reform available, although they fail to go into much detail as to how to go about making such a shift. Increased research and development funding, however, would help to provide a solid basis for long-term growth in the poorer countries that so desperately need it. The ERDF is in charge of this category of expenditures, which falls under the ‘Convergence’ objective of Cohesion Policy. Absent any major policy shifts with regards to research and development, the ERDF should at least look into increasing its expenditures in that area.

The Barca Report, an independent report specifically commissioned by former commissioner Danuta Hübner, further suggests that all reforms be made with three criteria in mind; issues must have EU-wide relevance; projects must be approached in a “place-based nature” to avoid inefficiency and social exclusion problems; and projects must demonstrate more verifiability. The Barca Report also refers to evident weaknesses that indicate the need for reform, which include “a deficit in strategic planning and in developing the policy concept,” “methodological and operational problems that have prevented… a satisfactory analysis of ‘what works’ in terms of policy impact,” and “A remarkable lack of political and policy debate on results in terms of the well being of people… most of the attention [is] being focused on financial absorption and irregularities.” The Barca Report gives a clear-cut critical analysis of the problems confronting Regional Policy today, as well as a variety of possible approaches and perspectives that prove very helpful in the reform process.

Reform is a slow process, but a variety of sources have laid forth a very reasonable and realistic path for it to take. While the three funds have constructed a very elaborate dispensation process for regional aid funding, it is apparent that their process needs significant streamlining and needs to adopt more flexible standards of application. Streamlining the process would allow more transparency and accountability, which would, in turn, create a greater capacity for effective analysis that would spur more effective reforms. While Regional Policy may not currently perform as an optimal tool of modernization for the less-developed states in the EU, it remains too valuable a tool to discount. As such, it ought to be evident that extensive reform of the funding distribution process is by far the most viable option.

Sources:

“Roundtable on Regional Policy.” OECD Observer. Web. 01 Apr. 2010.
“Regional Policy Inforegio – Key Objectives.” EUROPA – European Commission – Homepage.
“Regional Policy Inforegio – European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).” EUROPA – European Commission – Homepage.
“Challenges, Consultations and Concepts: Preparing for the Cohesion Policy Debate.” European Policies Research Centre, Feb. 2010.
“Regional Policy Inforegio.” EUROPA – European Commission – Homepage.
“Reform Perspectives for Cohesion Policy in the Budget Review Process.” AllAcademic Research.
“Barca Report.” EUROPA – European Commission – Homepage.
“Regional Policy Inforegio – European Social Fund (ESF).” EUROPA – European Commission – Homepage.
“Regional Policy Inforegio – Cohesion Fund.” EUROPA – European Commission – Homepage.