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Rethinking social and regional cohesion: the need for a renewed policy

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The EU has long set itself the task of ensuring 'economic and social cohesion' among member states – it was first mentioned in the 1957 Treaty of Rome - but the most recent enlargement has given new relevance to this objective. For instance, Luxembourg is seven times richer than Romania, in terms of per-capita income, illustrating huge economic disparity between member states. Even more pronounced differences are evident at a regional level, with the richest region being central London (290% of the EU27’s per-capita income) and the poorest region being north-east Romania (23% of the EU-27’s per-capita income). In addition to regional disparities, social inequalities have also deepened in the enlarged EU, and problems related to growing internal and cultural diversity have become more apparent. The entry of 12 new countries into the EU, all rather ethnically diverse, has reinforced the need for the inclusion and protection of often vulnerable minority groups. The next section starts by surveying today’s frame of reference for “cohesion” in the EU, highlighting the regional emphasis of the EU cohesion policy, as well as the prioritisation of economic inequality at the expense of social cohesion. The paper then narrows its focus on European provisions for minority protection, a necessary step to ensure social cohesion in EU27. Practices of minority protection vary greatly among member states, but the EU has yet to adopt a comprehensive minority policy. This lack of EU standards has arguably undermined the promotion of minority rights in new member states during the accession process. The conclusion of the paper stresses the need for the EU to include minority groups within its approach to economic and social cohesion, and formulates recommendations for the adoption of EU instruments of minority protection.

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