In this paper we take a critical look at current European regional policies. First, we document the motivation for such policies, that is, the large income disparities across the regions of the EU15. Large disparities are certainly present. Second, we illustrate the various instruments adopted and discuss their underpinnings in established economic theories. Next, we look at available data, searching for three kinds of evidence: (1) if disparities are either growing or decreasing, we conclude they are neither; (2) which are the major factors explaining such disparities and, in particular, if they are the factors predicted by the economic models adopted by the Commission to justify current policies, we conclude this is most certainly not the case; (3) if there are clear signs that EU policies, as opposed to other social and economic factors, are actually reducing such disparities, we cannot find any clear sign of such desired impact. Our conclusion is that regional and structural policies serve mostly a redistributional purpose, motivated by the nature of the political equilibria upon which the European Union is built. They have little relationship with fostering economic growth. This casts a serious doubt on their social value and, furthermore, strongly questions extending such policies to future members of the European Union. A successful EU enlargement, in our view, calls for an immediate and drastic revision of regional economic policies.

— Michele Boldrin and Fabio Canova