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Preparing the future Member States to implement the regional policy in the period 2004-2006
To assess the progress of the measures taken by the future Member States to manage the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund in the period 2004-2006.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 16 July 2003 on the implementation of the commitments undertaken by the acceding countries in the context of accession negotiations on Chapter 21 - regional policy and coordination of structural instruments [COM(2003) 433 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
During the final accession negotiations with the future Member States, the European Council held in Copenhagen in December 2002 decided to grant the ten countries concerned an overall budget of EUR 21.7 billion for cohesion policy in the period 2004-2006. This amount significantly increases the assistance available to these countries through the pre-accession financial instruments (the Phare, ISPA and SAPARD programmes).
Although their accession is not until 1 May 2004, the future Member States will be eligible for the Structural Funds from 1 January 2004. They must therefore meet the following challenges before the end of 2003:
- adopt the necessary legislative provisions for transposing the Community acquis on regional policy;
- introduce administrative structures ensuring the implementation, monitoring and control of the regional development programmes.
In accordance with its commitment in this regard, the Commission has published a report on the readiness of the future Member States, based on detailed questionnaires addressed to them. Ten essential points need to be urgently resolved:
- The delay in harmonising and implementing the rules on public procurement, state aids, the environment and equal opportunities is worrying.
Technical assistance should be used to further strengthen the capacity of the national administrations. Notification of state aid schemes to the Commission must be speeded up. It is necessary to apply the provisions on environmental impact assessment, nature protection and waste management.
- The future Member States must improve inter-ministerial coordination.
A full definition of the respective roles of the managing bodies and the intermediate bodies is required. The independence of the certifying role of the paying authority needs to be clarified.
- Shortcomings have been found in financial management and control.
A better division of tasks between the management and control bodies is needed. The distinction between the management controls under the responsibility of the managing authority and the independent random sampling controls has to be clarified. Significant work must be done on defining the monitoring indicators and establishing a computerised system to collect and exchange data.
- Not all the future Member States have yet established adequate accounting systems.
- The recruitment of additional staff to manage the Structural Funds is behind schedule, particularly in the intermediate bodies and regional administrations.
- The negotiations on the regional development programmes must be completed between now and the end of 2003.
Achieving this would enable assistance to begin in January 2004. The future Member States have adopted a simplified programming approach involving a reduced number of operational programmes, priorities and measures, given the short period involved (2 years). Nevertheless, the programmes submitted do not follow a coherent strategy.
- There are not enough planned measures in the project pipeline.
The actions planned will not allow the increase in available funding from 2004 to be fully drawn down. Priority should be given to technical assistance measures.
- Detailed planning of the national matching contribution for the Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund must form part of project preparation.
- A great effort must be made to ensure implementation of the partnership principle.
- There are significant delays in introducing monitoring systems.
In November 2003, i.e. six months before accession, the Commission will publish a detailed monitoring report on the extent to which the ten future Member States have fulfilled their commitments in areas governed by the Community acquis. It will pay particular attention to the cohesion policy in the 2004-2006 period.
Once the programmes have been adopted and the provisions for their implementation are definitively in place, the Commission will examine the conformity of the systems.