ESIF Legislation and Guidance

The 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) are governed by European Union (EU) regulations.  Regulations are binding legislative acts that have full and immediate effect in all Member States.

The Common Provision Regulation, the European Regional Development Fund Regulation and the European Social Fund Regulation make up the 2014-2020 legal framework for the shift from institutional care to community based living for all.

In this page you will find:

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ESI Funds Legislation:

Further information sources

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EU Treaty law basis of the ESI Funds Regulations

The Treaties of the EU lay the ground rules for all EU action including the ESI Funds.  

Articles 174 and 175 of The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) are the basis for the ESI Funds Regulations.

Current treaties in force of equal legal value and known as primary EU law are:

The EU Treaty basis of the European Regional Development Fund can be found in Article 174 and Article 176 of the TFEU.  

The EU Treaty basis of the European Social Fund can be found in Article 162 and Article 174 of the TFEU.

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International Agreements

Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities

The EU has ratified or technically ‘confirmed’ the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD) 2010/48/EC.

In the EU legal hierarchy, International agreements are below Treaty law but above EU legislative Acts (Regulations, Directives, Decisions).  EU legislative Acts must therefore be interpreted in line with EU obligations under the UN CRPD.

One of these obligations enshrines the right of persons with disabilities, including children and older persons with disabilities to live independently and be included in the community (Article 19).  The UN CRPD provides that children with disabilities have equal rights with respect to family life (Article 23.1), where the immediate family is unable to care for them, State Parties shall “undertake every effort to provide alternative care within the wider family, and failing that, within the community in a family setting” (Article 23.5).

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities makes observations and recommendations to all State Parties of the UN CRPD.  A compilation of observations and recommendations made to the State Parties, including the EU, on Article 19 of the UN CRPD is available to download here.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

In terms of children’s rights, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sets out clearly a range of rights that, taken together, should ensure that children develop to their full potential and then can, as adults, live independently in the community. This includes the right to know and be cared for by their parents (Article 7), to be protected from harm and abuse and neglect (Article 19).

Moreover, “parents… have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child” (Article 18.1); where parents face difficulties in raising their children “State Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents… in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities”. Children also have the right to an education (art 28) and to adequate healthcare (art 24).  The right of children with disabilities to live in their communities is well established in Article 23(1) which requires States to “…recognise that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions that ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.”

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child makes observations and recommendations to all State Parties of the UN CRC.

Older Persons

While there is no specific or thematic international legal instrument for older persons, they clearly enjoy the same rights as the rest of the population under general and thematic instruments.  There is no doubt, for example, that the relevant provisions of the Convention Against Torture (CAT) apply to them. Indeed, the Committee against Torture noted in its General Comment No. 2 (2008) that institutions that care for older people fall within the definition of places of detention (paragraph 15).  There is no doubt that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN ICCPR) and the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN ICESCR) apply to them. And in as much as there is an overlap between old age and disability the UN CRPD applies to older persons with disabilities.

In its General Comment No. 6 of 1995, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights addressed the economic, social and cultural rights of older persons.  The Committee referenced the 1982 Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing which was adopted by the World Assembly on Ageing. It details the measures that should be taken by Member States to safeguard the rights of older persons within the context of the rights proclaimed by the International Covenants on Human Rights and recognised the essential nature of ‘ageing in place’ in going beyond structural requirements to encompass social connectedness and community supports.

The UN Principles for Older Persons (1992) adopted by the UN General Assembly provides for: 

  1. Older persons should be able to live in environments that are safe and adaptable to personal preferences and changing capacities.
  2. Older persons should be able to reside at home for as long as possible.
  3. Older persons should benefit from family and community care and protection in accordance with each society’s system of cultural values.
  4. Older persons should have access to social and legal services to enhance their autonomy, protection and care.

The Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing was established by the General Assembly by resolution 65/182 on 21 December 2010. The working group considers the existing international framework of the human rights of older persons and identifies possible gaps and how best to address them, including by considering, as appropriate, the feasibility of further instruments and measures.

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2014-2020 Reforms

The 2014-2020 legislative framework introduces several reforms to Cohesion Policy and how the ESI funds are programmed. 

Main reforms:

          • Strong link to the EU 2020 Stategy.
          • One set of Rules to coordinate all ESI Funds (Common Provision Regulation).
          • Targeting resources at key growth sectors.
          • Set clear objectives and measure results.
          • Ensure the right conditions for investment (ex ante conditionalities).
          • Enhanced role for the European Social Fund (ESF) as a minimum share of the Cohesion policy budget is allocated to the ESF. 
          • Stronger role for the partners (including civil society) in planning, implementation and control.
          • Integrated approach to territorial development.
          • Reinforced cooperation across borders
See Briefing Paper 5:  Reforms introduced by the 2014-2020 legislative framework of the European Structural & Investment Funds.

Compared to 2007-2013 cohesion policy, the new framework proposes a number of new mechanisms to ensure the ESI Funds deliver on their objectives.  This briefing notes sets out these reforms including; a sound strategic approach through Partnership Agreements and programmes, thematic concentration, the performance framework, ex ante conditionalities, a closer link to European economic governance, increased opportunities for the use of financial instruments, support to institutional capacity and minimum shares for European Social Fund contributions.

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Common Provision Regulation (CPR)

Reformed Cohesion policy introduces several new and innovative tools to maximise the potential of the funds.  One of these is having a set of common rules contained in one overarching Regulation called the Common Provision Regulation to improve coordination and harmonise the implementation of the ESI Funds.  

The CPR introduces 11 Thematic Objectives common for all ESI Funds that are linked to the Europe 2020 goals for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.  The type of activities to be supported by each of the Funds to achieve these objectives are translated into investment priorities set out in the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Regulation and the European Social Fund (ESF) Regulation.

At the programming stage (Partnership Agreement and Programmes), the CPR requires Member States to make a clear link between ESI Fund intervention and the Europe 2020 strategy, with particular focus on the relevant country-specific recommendations in the European Semester process.  A significant change in comparison with the previous programming periods is that this link must be maintained throughout the implementation stage. If new relevant country-specific recommendations are issued which require support from the ESI Funds, the Commission may request that Member States make appropriate adjustments to the Partnership Agreements and the programmes.

Member States must submit progress reports in 2017 and 2019 on implementing their Partnership Agreements that cover all of the ESI Fund operations and are integrated into the European Semester.

The Law:

Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006

Additional Declarations to CPR – Statements by the Commission/Council on clarification of terms and explanatory provisions.

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European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

The ERDF supports projects under all 11 thematic objectives and focuses in particular on four key priorities:

• Strengthening research, technological development and innovation
• Enhancing access to, and use and quality of ICT
• Enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs
• Supporting the shift towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors.

€4.5 Billion ERDF investments are planned in social infrastructure that will include support targeting community based social services for groups at risk of poverty and social exclusion including persons with disabilities, children, older persons and persons with mental health problems.

Read more on the ERDF on The Funds page. 

The Law:

Regulation (EU) No 1301/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the European Regional Development Fund and on specific provisions concerning the Investment for growth and jobs goal and repealing Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006

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European Social Fund (ESF)

For the first time a minimum share (23.1%) which has increased to 24.8% of the €351.8 billion Cohesion Policy budget is allocated to the ESF.  Article 4(2) of the ESF Regulation requires at least 20% of the total ESF allocation in each Member State to be spent on measures supporting Thematic objective 9 promoting social inclusion, combating poverty and any discrimination.

The ESF supports projects that in particular focus on four of the 11 ESI funding priorities:

• Promoting sustainable and quality employment and supporting labour mobility
• Promoting social inclusion, combating poverty and any discrimination
• Investing in education, training and vocational training for skills and lifelong learning
• Enhancing institutional capacity of public authorities and stakeholders and efficient public administration.

The ESF Regulation promotes social innovation through all areas of action supported by the ESF, in particular with the aim of testing, evaluating and scaling up innovative solutions to address social needs.  Member States either identified in their Operational Programmes fields for social innovation that correspond to the specific needs in the Member States or they can do so at a later stage during implementation.

Read more on the ESF on The Funds page.

The Law:

Regulation (EU) No 1304/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the European Social Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1081/2006

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Supplementary Law (Delegated Acts, Implementing Acts and Decisions)

The following sources of law (Delegated Acts, Implementing Acts and Decisions) supplement the above Regulations.

Delegated Acts

Article 290 of the TFEU provides for Delegated Acts which are non-legislative acts of general application that supplement or amend elements of a legislative act.

  1. European Code of Conduct on Partnership

Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 240/2014 of 7 January 2014 on the European code of conduct on partnership in the framework of the European Structural and Investment Funds.

Commission Staff Working Document on best practices as regards implementation of the partnership principle in the European Structural and Investment Funds’ programmes (SWD Accompanying the Delegated Regulation)

2. Supplementing Part Two, Three and Four of the CPR

Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 480/2014 of 3 March 2014 supplementing Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund

Implementing Acts

Responsibility for implementing legally binding EU acts lies primarily with EU Member States. However, some legally binding EU acts require uniform conditions for the implementation therefore the Commission is empowered to adopt Implementing Acts under Article 291 of the TFEU.

  1. The models for the progress report, submission of the information on a major project, the joint action plan, the implementation reports for the Investment in Growth and Jobs goal, the management declaration, the audit strategy, the audit opinion and the annual control report, the methodology for carrying out the cost-benefit analysis and the implementation reports for the ETC goal

Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/207 of 20 January 2015 laying down detailed rules implementing Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the models for the progress report, submission of the information on a major project, the joint action plan, the implementation reports for the Investment for growth and jobs goal, the management declaration, the audit strategy, the audit opinion and the annual control report and the methodology for carrying out the cost-benefit analysis and pursuant to Regulation (EU) No 1299/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the model for the implementation reports for the European territorial cooperation goal

2. The models for submission of information to the Commission and the rules concerning the exchanges of information between beneficiaries and managing authorities, certifying authorities, audit authorities and intermediate bodies

Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 1011/2014 of 22 September 2014 laying down detailed rules for implementing Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the models for submission of certain information to the Commission and the detailed rules concerning the exchanges of information between beneficiaries and managing authorities, certifying authorities, audit authorities and intermediate bodies

3. Methodologies for climate change support, the performance framework and the nomenclature of categories of intervention for the ERDF, the ESF and the Cohesion Fund under the Investment for Growth and Jobs Goal

Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 215/2014 of 7 March 2014 laying down rules for implementing Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund with regard to methodologies for climate change support, the determination of milestones and targets in the performance framework and the nomenclature of categories of intervention for the European Structural and Investment Funds.

Decisions

  1. List of eligible regions for funding from the ERDF and the ESF and of Member States eligible for funding from the Cohesion Fund

2014/99/EU: Commission Implementing Decision of 18 February 2014 setting out the list of regions eligible for funding from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund and of Member States eligible for funding from the Cohesion Fund for the period 2014-2020 (notified under document C(2014) 974)

2. Guidelines on corrections for public procurement irregularities

C(2013) 9527 final (19/12/2013) on the setting out and approval of the guidelines for determining financial corrections to be made by the Commission to expenditure financed by the Union under shared management, for non-compliance with the rules on public procurement

Annex Guidelines for determining financial corrections to be made to expenditure financed by the Union under shared management, for non-compliance with the rules on public procurement

Legislative Proposals

Proposal for a Regulation on the establishment of the Structural Reform Support Programme for the period 2017 to 2020 amending the CPR.

Objective: strengthening the overall capacity of Member States to prepare and implement growth-enhancing institutional, structural and administrative reforms, including through assistance for the efficient and effective use of Union funds, to the extent that these Member States request support from the Union for this purpose.

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Guidance from the European Commission

Ex ante Conditionalities:

  • Internal Guidance on ex ante conditionalities for the European Structural and Investment Funds Version 2.0: August 2014, Part I
  • Guidance on ex ante conditionalities for the European Structural and Investment Funds  13th February 2014, Part II.
  • Training for Managing Authorities on the ex ante conditionalities Summer 2014.

Further guidance on ESI Funds including Programming, Implementation, Community Led Local Development (CLLD), Simplified Cost Options, Financial Instruments, Management and Control can be found on the DG InfoRegio Website

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Further information sources

1. Cohesion Policy: Background & Development.

This informative paper gives a brief background of the Unions Cohesion policy in order to set the reforms of the 2014-2020 legislative framework governing the ESI Funds in context.  The paper provides a road map of key Union instruments, policies and strategies that have developed and refined through each funding period to the current multidimensional development strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

2. ESI Funds Regulations & Mechanics.

This informative paper sets out the relevant Regulations and Guidance documents, detailing the mechanics and operation of the ESI funds, the monitoring, reporting and evaluation requirements and the bodies responsible for management and control of the ESI funds set up in each Member State.

3.  Reforms introduced by the 2014-2020 legislative framework of the ESI Funds.

Compared to 2007-2013 cohesion policy, the new framework proposes a number of new mechanisms to ensure the ESI Funds deliver on their objectives.  This briefing notes sets out these reforms including; a sound strategic approach through Partnership Agreements and programmes, thematic concentration, the performance framework, ex ante conditionalities, a closer link to European economic governance, increased opportunities for the use of financial instruments, support to institutional capacity and minimum shares for European Social Fund contributions.

4. ESI Funds Data – amount of funding by country, theme and each ESI Fund including EU and national co-financing amounts.

5. See the Information Packs in our Resources section which contain sources of evidence based reports and studies that map the development of research and advocacy in support of ending institutional care and transitioning to community based living and support services and family/family-like living for children.

6. European Commission DG Regional Policy:

    • The ESI Funds
    • Recipients of EU Funding
    • ESI Funds Legislation and Guidance Documents.
    • REGIOWIKI – this is a new tool offers the possibility to navigate through the primary legislation, secondary legislation, and guidance notes in a dynamic way.  You will be able to find and browse through all legislation broken down by articles, recitals and guidance notes. In order to access this application, you will be requested to first register yourself. This self-explanatory procedure is very easy and quick.  Please note this new facility is available for the English legislation and guidance texts only.

7. European Commission DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion

    • European Social Fund Guidance.
    • European Social Fund Legislation.
    • European Social Fund Thematic Papers (Better policy making, principles and values of good governance, professional and well functioning institutions, strengthening the quality of judicial systems and more).

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