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Making the Most of Regional Funding Post 2013

Submitted by on 25 Nov 2013 – 11:11

By Derek Vaughan MEP, Substitute Member of the EP Committee for Regional Development

In his State of the Union address last week in Strasbourg, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso highlighted the importance of EU funding. As he pointed out, some regions lack the resources for public investment and are almost completely reliant on the EU budget as the only source of funding in the area.

Today’s difficult economic climate, with member states facing serious challenges and regional economies struggling, means that EU investment through structural funding is more important than ever.

We should seize the opportunity invest these funds in infrastructure, jobs, skills training and businesses to help member states and regions overcome the economic and social challenges they face.

Since 2007, the €347 billion investment in the 27 member states has made a huge impact in some areas. However, despite progress being made towards EU convergence over recent years, disparities still exist between EU regions and the future round of EU funding will bring critical investment to many regions in need of economic and social regeneration.

European institutions reached political agreement on the 2014-2020 MFF before the summer and it is imperative that once it is formally endorsed by the Parliament and Council programmes get underway on the 1st of January 2014.

Raising the performance of the funds, with visible and tangible results for citizens is the cornerstone of the next round of structural funding. In order to achieve this and boost recovery in regions, member states and regions must be well prepared for post 2013 funding.

I am rapporteur of an Own Initiative Report in the Parliament’s Regional Development Committee that looks at how member states are progressing in the preparations for the next round of Structural Funding.

Member states are currently drafting Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes and some have presented their drafts to the Commission for comment. It is clear that member states are at very different stages of preparation; while some are making good progress others are further behind.

Adjusting to the new proposals in the regulations could cause a certain amount of interruption for national, regional and local governments and it will be interesting to see the different approaches taken by the member states to the new regulations.

The lessons that they have learnt from the 2007-2013 period will be crucial in shaping their investment priorities and strategic direction for the next round and, with this in mind, collaboration at regional, local and national level is imperative. Some of the most important proposals in the new regulations will encourage more contribution from regional and local actors in the preparation, development and implementation of cohesion policy funding. Ensuring that local and regional representatives, those closest to the level of the citizen, are fully involved in the process will hopefully make sure that projects are focused on a region’s specific needs.

Also key to success for the next round of structural funding will be how the new elements of the 2014-2020 regulatory framework will be put into practice. The way in which member states and regions adapt to programming changes, to the thematic concentration, the increased focus on performance and the new coherent approach to territorial development will give an indication of the success of the next seven years of funding.

The Common Provisions Regulations (CPR) aims to ensure better co-ordination and integration of funding programmes so that funds have a greater impact. Important proposals within the CPR, such as simplification, a results-led approach, multi-level governance and a greater use of financial instruments, will contribute to creating a much needed streamline approach to European funding.

As I mentioned in my Own Initiative Report for the Regional Development committee on the subject of territorial development at the beginning of the year, this will be important when it comes to making the CPR funds more accessible to applicants. It also opens up the possibility of aligning CPR funds with other funding programmes, such as Horizon 2020, which would maximise the use of EU funds, improve visibility and use structural funds in an innovative way.

I am pleased that my region of Wales, which is often referred to as having an excellent record of allocating and implementing EU funded projects, is taking a proactive approach to the new CPR proposals.

The portal will combine the application procedure with the payments, monitoring and evaluation process for all CPR funds. The proposed creation of a single portal in Wales to allow access to information on all funds covered by the CPR will allow potential synergies and integration between funding streams to be identified centrally, creating a harmonised and simplified process.

It is initiatives and ideas like this that I hope will encourage investment and increase the impact of EU funds on the ground.

A recent overview presented by the European Commission shows how EU investments under the ERDF, ESF and Cohesion Fund from 2007-2013 led to progress and improvement for many citizens. Now we must build on this in the next round of funding to ensure that money is effectively spent on projects that will bring direct results and improve the lives of citizens.