Ireland maps out plan to keep funding

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Series Details Vol.4, No.23, 11.6.98, p4
Publication Date 11/06/1998
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Date: 11/06/1998

By Myles Neligan

DUBLIN is considering redrawing Ireland's regional boundaries in the hope that some newly created sub-regions will qualify for more generous EU financial aid than the rest of the country.

Last week's announcement by Irish junior Finance Minister Martin Cullen makes Ireland the third member state after the UK and Finland to indicate that it may opt for a radical overhaul of its regional map in a bid to maintain its share of Union funding after reform of the EU's structural funds.

The Dublin government has identified three rural sub-regions in the west, midlands and border areas of Ireland where the average gross domestic product per head of population is expected, in contrast to the rest of the country, to remain below 75% of the EU average after the year 2000.

Irish officials are hoping the European Commission will allow these regions to retain Objective 1 status, making them eligible for the most generous level of financial support, when EU spending decisions for the period from 2000 to 2006 are made.

The Commission, which has up until now treated Ireland as an undifferentiated Objective 1 region, has already indicated that the country's soaring national GDP per capita will make it difficult to justify maintaining its present high level of EU financial assistance during the next spending round.

Regional Affairs Commissioner Monika Wulf-Mathies has explicitly discouraged national governments from creating new sub-regions which meet the criteria for Objective 1 status, arguing that such artificial districts would not correspond with the database of regional economic statistics on which the Commission bases its structural fund spending decisions.

"Sub-regions of this kind would at the very least have to be fully functioning administrative districts before they could be recognised," said one Commission official.

Irish officials stress that no firm decision to submit a new regional map to the Commission for approval has been made, but say Dublin is under pressure from local authorities in the regions concerned to do so.

"We would have to weigh up the possible benefits of gaining privileged treatment for a limited number of areas against the possible impact that this might have on the transitional arrangements for winding down structural fund spending in the rest of the country," said one.

Another factor which may dissuade the Irish government from redrawing its regional map is that the three hypothetical new regions which stand to benefit most cover just 27% of the population, and involve what one official described as "amazing contortions of geography".

Countries / Regions