The differences at the heart of Europe have been thrown into sharp relief by the economic crisis.
On a regional level, some gaps have even widened. What can the EU do to close them?
Europe is one of the richest continents in the world. But within its member states, on a local, micro level, there are huge disparities in wealth. Some have been exacerbated by the current economic crisis.
Policy within the bloc has always been aimed at narrowing these differences via a transfer of resources from the wealthier regions to those less well-off.
“Our regional policy has always been about investment. We are using european money to invest in the 271 regions across Europe, to give concrete results and ensure economic growth, particularly in these uncertain times,” said Ton Van Lierop, the EU Regional Policy spokesman.
The Regional Policy represents 36 percent of the EU’s total budget between 2007 to 2013. In money terms, this means 350 billion euros for research programmes, general infrastructure, jobs and the environment.
Over the last 20 years, Greece, Spain, Ireland and Portugal were the countries that most benefited from this regional aid, to help develop some of their poorest regions.
But today, the focus is on the new member states from the fringe of central Europe. Between 2007 and 2013, they stand to benefit from 51% of the aid budget.
“The member states must come up with some projects, some concrete ideas that we can help finance. Generally it is 50 percent for some things and we run to 75 percent or a bit more for others. The EU pays that and the country pays what is left,” added Mr Van Lierop.
The entire European Union can benefit from this scheme.
In Sofia, for example, part of the new metro system is being built with European funds. A French company won the contract at tender and is taking part in the construction.
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