This time it should work. The Committee of Permanent Representatives (Coreper), meeting on 29 October, agreed a compromise on the EU's future cohesion policy. It was approved by qualified majority since the United Kingdom does not support it. The rules that will apply to the 325 billion in Structural Funds for the years 2014 to 2020 are now known. Parliament saves face on macro-conditionality: it will be involved in the procedure - but without being able to block anything - and different economic and social criteria can decrease the amount of aid that can be suspended.

Does this mark the finish line? Not yet. Parliament's negotiating team had to make huge concessions on extremely sensitive issues like macro-conditionality and the performance reserve, two mechanisms it vigorously rejected. The team will now have to get the troops to accept its concessions, which is not necessarily going to be easy. "We are hopeful that a final agreement can be reached but we aren't certain," said a source close to the negotiations. A degree of suspense remains and the denouement will not come until the vote in plenary, on 20 November, even though the opinion of the Committee on Regional Development (REGI, date not set yet) will already serve as a barometer.

The mechanism for macro-conditionality contains preventive and remedial components, both of which may lead to the suspension of funding. Roughly, by way of prevention, the Commission can ask a state receiving EU financial assistance to change its investment priorities to maximise the funds' impact on growth. If the state fails to react, the Commission can propose to suspend payments. The remedial measure comes into play if a state does not meet its economic governance obligations. In that case, the Commission must propose to suspend payments and/or commitments. In both cases, the Council has the last word.

All that Parliament was able to obtain on its participation in the procedure was to be informed and be able to submit comments. That is already quite a lot, the Council seems to maintain. The fact is, though, that on macro-conditionality, Parliament sank deeper and deeper into disillusionment. Its initial flat-out rejection evolved into a rejection of the suspension of payments and then into the demand to be involved in the procedure under co-decision, all of which failed. In the end, it was agreed that Parliament would be involved in a procedure of "structured dialogue": before a procedure is opened...

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