Improving how funds are invested and managed
The Commission provides support to Member States in order to help them make the best use of Cohesion Policy funding, and to address problems experienced by Member States with implementation.
This support has been reinforced for the 2014-2020 funding period through several Commission initiatives:
- Boosting administrative capacity
- TAIEX REGIO PEER 2 PEER: exchanges of regional experts
- Integrity Pacts
- Task Force for Better Implementation
- Training on rules and regulations
- State Aid in the management of the ESI Funds
- Action Plan on public procurement
- Lagging Regions initiative
- Regio Community of Practitioners
- DG Regional Studies on implementation
Boosting administrative capacity
The capacity of Member States to manage European Structural and Investment Funds effectively is one of the key factors contributing to the success of Cohesion Policy. The Commission helps to strengthen the administrative capacity of national and regional administrations, through improvements to structures, human resources, systems and tools. As well as investing in capacity to manage the Funds, Cohesion Policy funding in 2014-2020 supports efficient public administration more generally through funding for institutional capacity-building and reform.
Note: EU Cohesion Policy funding invests in institutional capacity building and reforms under “Thematic Objective 11” (for the full list of the 11 thematic objectives for the 2014-2020 funding period, see here) and under Technical Assistance for strengthening the administrative capacity for the management of the funds (Article 59 and 119 CPR).
TAIEX REGIO PEER 2 PEER: exchanges of regional experts
The TAIEX REGIO PEER 2 PEER expert exchange system is a tool to match needs with expertise in different countries. This demand-driven tool responds directly to specific requests by national or regional authorities managing the funds through expert missions, study visits and specific workshops.
Who can participate? – Public institutions involved in the management of the ERDF or Cohesion Fund can request support:
- Managing authorities
- Intermediate bodies
- Coordinating authorities
- Audit authorities
- Certifying authorities
- Joint secretariats for European territorial cooperation programmes
- Other bodies (where justified)
Officials willing to share their expertise register with the Experts Database: To be eligible to register in the expert database you must be working in a public or semi-public administration or institution in an EU Member State.
Integrity Pacts were developed by NGO Transparency International to support governments, businesses and civil society to improve trust and transparency in public procurement. The Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy of the European Commission is committed to look for and test new ways of safeguarding EU funds from the risks of mismanagement, fraud and corruption and increasing transparency in how the funds are used. As one of the initiatives in this field, we have launched a pilot project “Integrity Pacts – Civil Control Mechanism for Safeguarding EU Funds Against Fraud and Corruption“. The project is implemented in co-operation with Transparency International and seeks to pilot Integrity Pacts in a number of projects co-financed by the EU Structural and Cohesion Funds in the Member States.
An Integrity Pact for the Cohesion Policy funds will be a legally binding agreement between the Managing Authority and companies bidding for public contracts that they will follow a transparent and efficient procurement process. To ensure greater accountability, the Integrity Pacts will include a monitoring system led by a selected civil society organisation.
Task Force for Better Implementation
The Commission has created a Task Force for Better Implementation to provide tailored support to eight Member States that are facing particular challenges linked to the implementation of Cohesion Policy Funds (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania)
Two stage operation:
- Tailor made action teams for the 8 Member States whose rate of absorption of 2007-2013 funding was below the EU average and therefore fell risk of ‘decommitment’ – the loss of allocated funding. Undertook a stock take and country-by-country analysis leading to a tailored action plan being drawn up for each at risk Programme. Paved the road for the smooth transition of 2014-2020 programming period.
low absorption of funding means; limited financial, administrative and macroeconomic capacity rendering States unable to effectively and efficiently spend their allocation of funding.
- Building administrative capacity in Member States and regions for the 2014-2020 programmes, through the second phase of the Task Force and through a variety of measures such as sharing of skills, exchange of experts, training and technical assistance
Training on rules and regulations
As the new legislative framework introduces several changes in comparison to the previous programming periods, the Commission provides training in order to support the Member States interpret and apply the new regulatory framework. A series of training events have been organised targeting the national and regional authorities responsible for the management of cohesion policy funding (ERDF, ESF and CF).
 Managing, Certifying and Audit Authorities, Intermediate Bodies and Coordinating Authorities.
State Aid in the management of the ESI Funds
The European Commission has initiated a state aid action plan containing a number of actions focusing on awareness raising, training relevant actors and building administrative capacity of bodies managing the ESI Funds both at national and local level to reduce the risk of irregularities. This initiative is in cooperation between DG Regional and Urban Policy and DG Competition and aims to proactively support the Member States and regions in the correct application of state aid rules for the 2014-2020 programming period.
- Identification and dissemination of good practice
The objective is to develop an inventory of effective tools existing in various Member States in the area of application of state aid rules linked to the management of the ESI Funds, and to identify good practices as well as general recommendations.
- Country specific seminars
The first seminars were organised in 2015 in Member States (Croatia, Romania, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria) which do not fulfil the ex-ante conditionalities in the area of State Aid defined by the European Commission as a prerequisite for the implementation of the operational programmes in the 2014-2020 period.
- Thematic (sector) seminars
The seminars are dedicated to different areas and sectors where application of state aid is particularly relevant and challenging. The objective of these seminars is to disseminate knowledge to sector specialists dealing also with the issues of state aid.
First seminar was held on 27th January 2016 concerning state aid in Research, Development and Innovation projects. Documents and agenda available here.
Action Plan on public procurement
The Commission’s Action Plan on Public Procurement sets out a series of initiatives aimed at helping Member States to improve the performance of both administrations and beneficiaries in applying public procurement for EU investments during the 2014-2020 programming period.
Key actions of the plan include:
- Comprehensive reform plans for countries non-compliant with the public procurement ex-ante conditionality in order to redress structural weaknesses.
- A stock-taking study on administrative capacity in the field of public procurement with country-specific information and recommendations.
- Guidance for practitioners on the avoidance of the most common errors in public procurement of projects and supporting the adoption of best practice.
- Piloting Integrity Pacts in a number of EU-funded projects.
- A new index for rating contracting authorities according to their performance.
- Analysis of data and interoperability of public procurement databases.
- Training courses for Managing Authorities of the EU funds or seminars on error rates.
- Targeted support to specific Member States and exchange of good practices, e.g. through the Peer 2 Peer platform
All the actions, the relevant actors, outputs and deadlines are summarised in a table, last updated December 2015.
 European Commission DG for Regional and Urban Policy ‘Stock-taking of administrative capacity, systems and practices across the EU to ensure the compliance and quality of public procurement involving European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds’ (2016) Final Report: Country Profiles, ISBN: 978-92-79-57754-3 available on EU Bookshop (bookshop.europa.eu)
 European Commission, DG for Regional and Urban Policy ‘Guidance for practitioners on the avoidance of the most common errors in public procurement of projects funded by the European Structural and Investment Funds’ (Luxembourg, 2015)
Lagging Regions initiative
The European Commission launched an initiative in order to help less developed regions who have not been able to fully grasp the advantages of EU investment opportunities to catch up. The Lagging Regions Initiative aims to analyse what holds back growth in less developed regions and to provide recommendations and assistance on how to unlock their growth potential. Less developed regions will be helped to better identify and respond to concrete needs and maximise the impact of the investment on the ground. The European Commission will work hand in hand with the national and regional authorities making available scientific knowledge and practical expertise available to overcome obstacles to sustainable economic development, infrastructure and innovation. Another crucial asset of this initiative is the active involvement of all regional actors including universities and schools, employment organisations and trade unions, small to medium enterprises (SMEs), investors, national and regional administrations and NGOs.
Romania and Poland are the first countries to pilot this initiative with two regions each, respectively the North-West and the North-East and Swietokrzyskie and Podkarpackie. Based on the results of the pilot projects, this model of cooperation of EU, national and regional actors will then be transferred to other European regions facing similar challenges. Together with the Task Force for Better Implementation, the Lagging Regions initiative is part of the broader action launched by Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Creţu to help Member States and regions improve the way they invest and manage Cohesion Policy funds. It also reflects the new philosophy of the reformed cohesion policy shifting the focus from quantitative absorption towards qualitative achievements of results for EU investments, in line with the Commission’s political priorities.
Regio Community of Practitioners
Practitioners implementing ESIF in Member States have raised the following questions on many occasions: Whom do we contact on specific topics? How were similair problems solved in other Member States? What are the common problems and what are the proposed solutions? How to approach specific quidelines from the Commission?
The Commission has adopted a policy lab approach to help, with the aim of shaping communities of practitioners working in Managing Authorities/Intermediate Bodies for exchange of practices and experiences.
What does this mean?
A policy lab is a physical space used for the co-design and co-creation of innovative solutions to identified challenges or problems. It uses design thinking approaches, and it is a safe space for experimentations. Users’ needs are better taken into account with this working method and costly ineffective solutions thus tend to be avoided.
We assume that by learning from experience of peers, the quality and compliance of ESIF investments can be improved, and the administrative burden for beneficiaries can potentially be lowered. The communities of practitioners would work on the basis of mutual trust, be focused on concrete topics and be owned by its participants.
DG Regional studies on implementation
- The use of new provisions during the programming phase of the European Structural and Investment Funds
The new programming approach succeeded to make the strategy behind the allocation of resources, the links between means and results more specific and transparent than before. However, the presentation of programmes became rather complicated. The wide range of needs addressed suggests an apparent demand for integrated territorial approach. At the same time, the scope for applying the integrated instruments in all sectors and types of areas has not yet been exhausted.
Implementation-related new provisions were among the less controversial elements of the nineteen new provisions analyzed, and in general, Member States did comply with new requirements in this area. This provides a good basis for further developing implementation capacity
“This report provides a synthesis covering the manner in which the provisions relating to the PF and the performance reserve are reflected in all Partnership Agreements (PA), operational programmes (OP) under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Goal (IGJ) financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF), including multi-fund programmes co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF), and the European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) programmes financed by the ERDF…The findings show that the PF is overall helpful in focussing programmes and contributing to a results-oriented approach. However, while there are clear benefits from the PF, there are also a number of caveats and challenges emerging from the analysis.” (Source: the paper)
- The implementation of the provisions in relation to the ex ante conditionalities during the programming phase of the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds
The study reviews the implementation of the ex-ante conditionalities that were introduced in the Regulations of the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds and were assessed through the Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes developed to deliver those funds. The research findings highlight the value of ex-ante conditionalities, in encouraging the fulfilment of EU regulatory requirements faster than might have been the case in their absence and reinforcing effectiveness through associated strategies in the policy areas supported by ESI Funds.
Timing, costs and the extent of actions required to fulfil some of the conditionalities have generally exceeded the original estimates or required more resources than was envisaged, by both the Commission and Member States.
- Implementation of the partnership principle and multi-level governance during the 2014-2020 ESI Funds
The aim of this study is to review the establishment of the partnership principle and the application of the CoC in the Partnership Agreements and programmes financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF), including European Territorial Cooperation (ETC) programmes and multi-fund programmes co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF). The study analyses data collected by document analysis, web-survey and interviews.
The partnership principle has been satisfactorily respected in a wide range of countries and programmes. However, there are still challenges across a broad range of countries concerning the mobilisation of partners. Generally the modified legal framework was perceived as positive as it increased awareness and visibility of the partnership principle. The level of stakeholder involvement has improved since the 2007-2013 programming period, although there are sometimes differences between the content of the programming documents and the perception of stakeholders. Overall, the partnership principle adds value to the implementation of European public policies.
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