The common regional policy has grown in importance since the Treaty made it an essential instrument of economic and social cohesion, itself necessary for the progress of economic and monetary union, implying the convergence of the Member States' economies. Indeed, the regional policy of the Union promotes the concept of European solidarity by completing and guiding the action of the Member States in view of a balanced European integration, profitable not only to the poor regions, but also to the rest of the Union.
In view of the new objective of economic and monetary union that it set, the Treaty of Maastricht provided both a frame of reference and support for the common regional policy, notably by establishing economic and social cohesion as a fundamental objective of the Union, creating the Cohesion Fund, setting up the Committee of the Regions and promoting trans-European infrastructure networks. By signing and ratifying this Treaty, the Member States acknowledged that the objectives of the EMU and of economic and social cohesion should be pursued in parallel. As seen in the Chapter on economic and monetary union, such union, implying the abandonment of the use of exchange rate adjustment as a means of rebalancing the national economy, would not be feasible without an efficient regional policy revolving around sufficient capital transfers from the richer to the poorer regions of the EU [see sections 7.2.3 and 7.4]. The problem for the least-favoured regions is, in particular, to ensure that the effort to stabilise the budget does not choke off the investment in basic infrastructure, education and training which those regions require.
This problem was exacerbated since 2009. As a consequence of the world financial and economic crisis, Ireland, Greece and other countries of southern Europe arrived at the brink of bankruptcy and the other countries of the Eurozone were forced to support them in order to buttress the euro [see sections 7.3.3 and 7.4]. However the strict budgetary conditions imposed on the countries of the Eurozone periphery by Germany and other central countries in order to give them financial aid choke the development of these countries and, in particular, that of their poorest regions. The crisis showed not only the defects of the economic and monetary union, but also those of the single market and of the single currency. It became clear that the single market and the strong euro work in favour of the richest countries and regions of the Eurozone. These are the countries that suffered less from the global crisis and even increased their exports to their poor partners. By contrast, the debts and the budgetary deficits of the latter swelled and the financial markets, led by the credit rating agencies, closed financing possibilities to them. The financial assistance of the rich partners and the International Monetary Fund came belatedly and with strict conditions for deficit reductions, which means that the development of the feeble rings of the Eurozone was postponed until better and faraway times. The structural funds and the general regional policy of the Union proved to be inadequate to counterbalance the gains of the rich regions. It is now clear that the European Stability Mechanism [see section 7.3] should be associated with a generous increase of the resources of the structural funds, capable of rescuing the poorest regions of the EU from default, unemployment and underdevelopment. This will not be charity for the poor, but a good investment of the rich, since at least 40% of all funding that flows into the poorest Member States returns to the richer ones in the form of purchase of goods, know-how and capital equipment.