European Parliament Committee on Regional Development exchange views with Commissioner Corina Cretu 14/01/16

14thJan2016
Commissioner Corina Cretu for Regional Policy

Video streaming of this meeting is available here. Start time at 1:01:06.

The European Commission adopted a CommunicationInvesting in Growth and Jobs – maximising the contribution of European Structural and Investment Funds’ December 2015 pursuant to Article 16 of the Common Provision Regulation 1303/2013.  

14th
Chair of the Committee on Regional Development Ms. Iskra Mihailova

 

The Committee on Regional Development organised an exchange of views with Commissioner Cretu on 14th January 2016, which was an opportunity for Members to go into deeper detail on all aspects of the contribution of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds) to the Europe 2020 Strategy, the Investment Plan and the Commission’s priorities over the next decade. The Communication includes the outcomes of negotiations with all Member States on Partnership Agreements and programmes, and the key challenges per country – one of the key points of interest for members of the Committee on Regional Development.

The expected achievements of the ESI Funds contribution to social inclusion can be found on page 13-14 of the Communication.

The Communication was accompanied by four important Annexes;

ANNEX I: European Territorial Cooperation/Interreg (second goal of Cohesion Policy)

ANNEX II: Country fiches – overview of each Member State including economic and social challenges in the context of ESI Funding, the main priorities and expected results, the use of financial instruments and territorial tools, number of programmes and amount of funding, fulfilment of ex ante conditionalities, management of ESI Funding and simplification for beneficiaries.

ANNEX III and ANNEX IV: Overall assessment of additionality and the Timing of submission and adoption of partnership agreements and programmes.

Commissioner Crețu summarised the Communication highlighting these key points;

  • The Communication is the first time the Commission has been able to state how much money is to be invested and what achievements are expected as a result of the increased focus on results and performance contained in the new legislative framework.
  • 75%  of ex ante conditionalities are fulfilled.
  • 750 Action Plans have been launched to make sure all Member States are in full compliance with the ex ante conditionalities by the end of 2016.

Key challenges from Commissioner Crețu perspective include;

  • keeping a strong focus on results
  • the need to assist Member States fulfill all ex ante conditionalities,
  • to increase the use of financial instruments and reinforce simplification of access to the funds for beneficiaries
  • the need to continue adapting cohesion policy to changing circumstances

Key issues raised by Committee Members during the question and answer session;

Cap on Cohesion Policy; Major consideration during discussions in the run up to the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) review

– The European Parliament (EP) is opposed to placing a Cap on Cohesion Policy,

– The EC have started preparatory work for the mid term review (Spring) and end 2016 report on the functioning of the MFF – Cap’s will be discussed during these preparations.

Simplification; Issue highlighted that some Member States have requirements for projects that are not in the EU Regulations i.e. the need to have 30 or more individuals to sign off on projects – The EC hope to have the  High level Group on Simplification first draft study Spring 2016 covering these issues.

Implementation concerns;

– Political will : a lot of advise and support is available to Member States however outcomes and results are questionable as Member States must request this support.

-Administrative Capacity – ability of Member States to manage funds: Reported waste of resources from previous funding period – better coordination and capacity needed;

– The Task Force for Better Implementation will play an important role in assisting Member State implementation of the 2014-2020 Funds, the Task Force covers 8 Member States that include Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

For information please see the European Court of Auditors Special report ‘Efforts to address problems with public procurement in EU cohesion expenditure should be intensified’ here.

The report details serious errors in the awarding of €349 billion of EU public funds over the period 2007-2013 which meant that contracts were given to undeserving companies in tendering processes that were not competitive.  The Court of Auditors called on the European Commission to suspend payments and impose financial corrections on those member states which failed to properly follow public procurement rules when disbursing EU cohesion policy money.  The money was allocated through the European Regional Development Fund, the Cohesion Fund, and the European Social Fund.

European Court of Auditors Press release on 15 Sept 2015 “Tackling public procurement problems: still a long way to go” here

“The Auditors noted that, at the beginning of 2015, the Commission had assessed that a number of Member States had not yet fulfilled the conditions laid down for the use of European Structural and Investment Funds for public procurement in the spending period 2014 to 2020. These conditions are regarded as necessary prerequisites for effective and efficient use of EU support. The Auditors recommend that, if these conditions are not being fulfilled by the end of 2016, the Commission should suspend 2014-2020 payments to the Member States concerned, until they have rectified the shortcomings.” 

Top down influence on programming; previous issues with territorial differences and political preferences for projects – Commissioner Cretu advised this should no longer be of issue with the new legislative framework stating that;

“Regional policy is beyond politics it is for the people”.

Refugee crisis: Only Italy has asked for re-programming in order to adapt to the crisis  – Commissioner Cretu advised that housing in particular for asylum seekers can be provided by the Funds and with help from the EIB.

-Vice chair of the Committee Mr. Younous Omarjee raised the issue of mechanisms to ensure European values and Fundamental Rights are respected so Member States do not call these values into question stating that;

 “The European Union project is its values”

Criticism of the EC Communication: A Committee member raised a criticism of the Communication content stating that it lacks qualitative information with no real evaluation or detail on the Partnership Agreement negotiations.  The quantitative information and overview provided fell short of Committee Member expectation.

Extraordinary measures for Greece: The Greek authorities are to ring fence funds for beneficiaries of 2007-2013 Operations.  The Commissioner reported that the Directorate-General for Regional Policy has maintained daily contact with the Greek authorities over high risk areas and projects, the emphasis now turning to the authorities to implement plans.

EC Proposal for a Structural Reform Support Programme: Budget €143 billion;

Committee concerns include the potential overlap with other support initiatives including technical assistance already provided by the Commission, the will of Member States who must requested this support and the follow through of such a Programme given that structural reforms on evidence take longer than 4 years.

The Commissioner advised the Structural Reform Support Programme is to support major structural reforms broader than that of administrative capacity such as judicial reform and would be decided jointly with Member States and the Commission based on country specific need.

2014-2020 Programming delays: due to the late adoption of the Regulations the Commission is concerned as not all Member States have notified the Commission of the existence of certified regulatory bodies and institutions.  The Commission cannot make payments until these bodies are confirmed therefore the programming period will be delayed.  Commissioner Cretu advised that hopefully by Summer 2016 all Member States will have the relevant bodies and institutions set up.  There is therefore pressure on the Member States to finish the 2007-2013 programming period and start, or rather catch up to, the 2014-2020 period.

Synergies between funds: The Committee highlighted that Member States should be encouraged to cross finance, the new regulations emphasis such synergy for example between the ESI Funds, the European Investment Bank (EIB), Horizon 2020, LIFE+, Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, COSME, Erasmus+ and the Connecting Europe Facility.

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