In November 2019, a study trip of the Sino-German Legal Cooperation Programme on “Structural and Regional Development” led a delegation of the research department of the Legal Affairs Commission (LAC) of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress headed by Ms Jia Hongmei to Germany and Spain. The rapid economic development of the last 40 years has created a large development and prosperity gap between the booming eastern part of the country on the one hand and central and western China on the other. In addition, first signs of imminent structural change can be seen in the heavily industrialized areas of northeast China. The Chinese government therefore intends to establish a modern structural and regional development system over the next few years as well as the necessary legal framework. Europe, and due to its particularly rich experience, not least to Germany, serve as role models.
The research department of the Legal Affairs Commission undertakes basic research and preparatory work for the legislative work of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Six officials of the Research Department took part in the study trip, which began at the Representation of the European Commission in Berlin. Nora Hesse, Senior Economic Advisor of the European Commission in Germany, explained why structural and regional development in the European Union depends on European regulations. The European Union’s cohesion policy and the related legal acts lay the foundations for the implementation of corresponding measures in the Member States and coordinate national programmes. In addition to the rules, also the funds come from Brussels – in the current funding period 2014-2020 these account for around one third of the total EU budget. The delegation was particularly interested in the EU’s mechanisms ensuring funds are used effectively and according to the rules.
Afterwards, two divisions at the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi) took time to explain the German Federal Government’s approaches in regional and structural policy and their legal implementation. Karin Scheffel, Head of Division E A 3 (Coordination of EU Cohesion and Structural Policy) and her desk officer Ulrike Schreckenberger presented BMWi’s role in negotiating the partnership agreements between the European Commission and Germany which implements European Cohesion Policy. In addition, the division represents Germany in the Council’s Structural Policy Working Group. This is where the negotiations on the relevant regulations for the funding periods of the cohesion policy take place. Afterwards, Dr. Julian Donaubauer (Division I B 3, Regional Economic Policy) explained the national regional policy. Its aim is to work towards creating similar – not necessarily equal – living conditions throughout the country by supporting less favoured regions in Germany. The experiences of the past decades, which Dr. Donaubauer was able to share with the delegation, have led to all programmes being strictly rule-based: There are fixed criteria for the allocation of funds, which are established at the very beginning, thus promoting planning reliability and rolling back undue political influence. In addition, the federal government provides only half of the necessary funds, ensuring that only meaningful projects are funded and that local responsibility is taken. Regular evaluations by external experts further ensure that funds are used properly.
The delegation visited Düsseldorf and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitisation and Energy of North Rhine-Westphalia next. With representatives of the administrative authority for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) the delegation discussed focusing on the perspective of the federal state on the implementation of regional development. The German experts explained the interaction between businesses and authorities as well as the allocation of funds, accountability and evaluation. Further, discussion touched upon the distribution of funds agreed between the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the European Commission for the current funding period: 40 % of funds are reserved for innovation, 15 % for the promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises, 25 % must benefit climate protection, and 20 % serve urban development. The conclusion of the discussion round offered – in addition to the spectacular view over Düsseldorf and the Rhine – a further outlook. For the next funding period beginning in 2021, discussions are currently underway with all participants, stakeholders and interested parties on how the programme for the years 2021 to 2028 should look. Public participation is particularly important here.
In Duisburg – the twin city of the Chinese city of Wuhan – the delegation first took a tour of the Innenhafen, a successful project of structural change implemented with regional development funds. Afterwards, at Duisburg’s historic town hall, Andree Haack, the Deputy Mayor for Economy and Structural Development welcomed the delegation. Together with the head of the Lower Rhine Regional Agency, Gabriel Spitzner, he presented the regional and local perspective on regional and structural development. The discussion focused on the significance of regional development for a city particularly affected by structural change, the regulations for the city’s participation in regional development projects and the requirement to provide evidence of funds being used properly and sustainably.
The delegation was then able to look at structural and regional funding from a completely different perspective. At the University of Duisburg-Essen, Prof. Dr. Tobias Seidel presented the scientific perspective. He traced back the political necessity of regional policy to the urbanisation, a trend existing since prehistoric times: cities and agglomerations offer people additional benefits, which basically grow with their size and attract additional people. The scientific monitoring of regional policy has shown that not all measures are effective and sensible. Initial funding, such as investment in infrastructure linking surrounding areas and regional centres as well as locating public institutions (universities, authorities) in an area, thus creating jobs and attracting new residents, works relatively well.
The last day in Germany began with a visit to the Regionalverband Ruhr. Mr Michael Bongartz explained how regional and structural funding requirements affect regional planning. He highlighted the necessity to transfer the political guidelines into actual planning. This process is determined by numerous regulations and specified procedures. The participation of the public is particularly important. This led to 5,000 comments and over 10,000 arguments regarding Ruhr Regional Plan currently being drawn up. It is the Regionalverband’s task to deal with all of them. Any mistake may lead to legal action, protecting the rights and interests of stakeholders and citizens. Such legal action may result in the entire procedure having to been repeated, eliminating any mistakes.
Finally, the delegation visited the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, a world cultural heritage site, to see another example of successful structural change. Once a colliery and coking plant, the listed site is now a place for museums, for businesses and culture.
The delegation then travelled on from Germany to Spain, where two further meetings awaited. First, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Spanish Ministry of Finance, Mr. César Veloso, welcomed the delegation. Together with his colleagues, he presented the Spanish Government’s view of the European Union’s regional development instruments and the implementation of structural and regional development by the Spanish central government and the regions. Finally the delegation met Prof. Dr. Francisco Velasco, who researches and teaches at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid was awarded his doctorate in Germany and is therefore familiar with both countries. He and the delegation discussed the legal background of the rules for structural and regional of both countries in a lively and detailed manner.