CoR call for improvements to the planning and management of Structural Funds
<>The Committee of the Regions (CoR) is working to contribute to the shaping of the regulations for the 2014-2020 cohesion policy. The main objective is to make it more simple, effective and synergic with the Europe 2020 Strategy. The Common Strategic Framework (CSF) is the key tool to coordinate the different funds of EU regional policy (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). By setting common rules and clarifying the functions of each fund, the CSF should avoid overlapping and inconsistencies whilst harmonising procedures. In an opinion, drafted by Marek Wozniak (PL/EPP), Marshal of the Wielkopolska region, the CoR calls for improving the current CSF by spelling out the details of the funds' implementation mechanisms, providing a clear added value in comparison with the proposals for the regulations of each fund.
EU regions and cities also expressed their concerns that the frequent re-programming allowed by the current provisions could threaten the stability of the multi-annual investment planning. In order to avoid funds becoming "less predictable", according to the opinion, the reprogramming exercise should be done "only when strictly necessary". For this reason the CoR has reservations about making revisions to the CSF based on the new EU economic governance, though supports the option of amending the partnership contracts and operational programmes on the basis of the recommendations arising from the European Semester.
With regards to the objective of improving coordination of the funds, the CoR stresses that the CSF must eliminate the danger of duplication. In order to effectively avoid overlapping and inconsistencies the Commission should go beyond the current clarification of the potential complementarity between indicative actions and investment priorities. The opinion also recommends the implementation of operational programmes based on several funds.
Better rules and provisions are also needed for the coordination of CSF funds with the other policy areas and instruments, such as Horizon 2020 - Europe's new research and development framework programme. In this area the CoR welcomes the Commission's recommendation on co-financing through CSF funds, of partnerships between education, business and the research sectors.
The next steps of the Commission's draft proposal on the CSF are related to the choice of splitting its provisions between an annex to the general regulation and a delegated act with indicative actions of high European added value and priorities for cooperation. This would impede the Committee of the Regions to intervene in the definition of the significant part of the CSF included in the delegated act as the CoR is not involved in the adoption of such acts following the Lisbon treaty. This is why the CoR opposes this split as, in accordance with Article 177 TFEU, the CSF is a mandatory area of consultation of the CoR. The European Parliament and the Council took position in the past weeks against this split too and it remains to be seen whether the European Commission will now revise its position on this matter.
After the unanimous adoption of the opinion, rapporteur Wozniak said that: "The CSF is a key tool to make structural funds more effective and capable to deliver Europe 2020 objectives. If we want to create more jobs, help innovate our SMEs and train workers for sustainable and smart growth, we need these funds to deliver and a better Common Strategic Framework can really make the difference".
Integration of different funds was also the key issue in the discussion and adoption of an opinion on Community Led Local Development (CLLD), drafted by Councillor Graham Garvie (UK, ALDE), Convenor of Scottish Borders Council. Regions and cities welcome CLLD as one of the more ground-breaking aspects of the future cohesion policy. The opinion stresses that it represents the only provision within the new common regulations where real synergies at delivery level are specifically foreseen in the implementation of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the Fisheries Fund and the Cohesion Fund. This can make the CLLD a "one-stop-shop" for local beneficiaries therefore CLLD should be strongly encouraged. The CoR's main concern is related to the risk that the different types of financial management, audit burden and involved managing authorities can lead to delays in the implementation and to the reluctance of managing authorities in undertaking CLLD initiatives. "The new proposal of Community Led Local Development are a crucial tool to bring together the existing EU regional, social, agricultural and social funds and make them deliver by empowering local communities" said Cllr Garvie, adding that he is: "looking forward that the Council and Parliament make use of the very thorough assessment that we have undertaken here. This can be a great way for countries and regions to empower local communities and bring down artificial barriers between funds".
Beside the integration of cohesion funds, one of the hot topics of the plenary has been the effective involvement of local and regional authorities in the shaping of the next operational programmes and of the new partnership contracts. In this respect, the CoR, adopting the opinion drafted by Stanislaw Szwabski (PL/EA), expressed its full support for the Commission's proposal of introducing a European Code of Conduct on Partnership (ECCP) as a supplement to the Common Provisions Regulation. Regions and cities deeply regret the Council decision to remove the ECCP from the negotiation box. With regards to the Code principles, the CoR stresses that partnership is an essential prerequisite for an effective cohesion policy and for ensuring the link between the strategic guidelines set by the EU and the local challenges. The opinion insists on the need for a hierarchy of partners and of recognising local and regional authorities as key partners because of their democratic legitimation, their functions in managing Structural Funds and co-financing of EU policies. "The CoR welcomes the publication of the draft Code of Conduct to be applied across the different EU funds dealing with Territorial Cohesion and I am pleased that an opportunity is given to contribute to its finalisation now" said Mr. Szwabski, underlining that: "The Commission intends to adopt the ECCP as a delegated act immediately after the entry into force of the Common Provisions Regulation. In the event that it is decided to give the document a different legal status, the Committee would call for solutions ensuring a real, high-quality improvement in compliance with partnership principles in the 2014-2020 budget periods".
The Committee of the Regions
The Committee of the Regions is the EU's assembly of regional and local representatives. The mission of its 344 members from all 27 EU Member States is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU's decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law infringes the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.
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