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Brussels, 24 February 2009

Commission increases flexibility of structural funds in response to financial crisis

In response to the financial and economic crisis, Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hübner has announced a package of decisions by the European Commission aimed at giving Member States more flexibility in their use of the structural funds. The changes will extend the deadline for EU countries to use up their allocations from the 2000-2006 funding period and ensure that every available euro can be used to maximum effect.

Commenting on the decisions to increase the deadline for projects and payments by six months to 30 June 2009, Commissioner Hübner said: "All our efforts are being deployed to ensure that every euro from the structural funds is spent in an efficient way. We are adapting the Cohesion Policy to address new economic realities and to allow Member States to optimise EU investment as an excellent anti-crisis remedy".

Deadline extended for four structural funds

Following an invitation by the Commission, Member states have requested an extension to the eligibility period for funding for 385 of the 555 Cohesion Policy programmes in 2000-2006, where funds had not been fully utilised. The extended eligibility period concerns the four structural funds in place at the time: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF), the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF) and the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG).

This flexibility will enable Member States and regions to implement and finalise more projects on the ground. The Commission is urging them to focus on 'high-return' sectors and measures, such as investing in energy efficiency to create green jobs and save energy, and support for clean technologies to boost sectors like the construction and automotive industries.

Five times more flexibility

The Commission has also adopted a measure to give Member States and regions more flexibility in allocating funding for different priorities. Until now, managing authorities had a 2% margin of flexibility if they wanted to transfer funding between the so-called 'priority axes' that define the strategic spending areas of each Cohesion Policy operational programme.

"The situation we find ourselves in now is very different to the economic environment in 2000, when the priorities were agreed. In recognition of the exceptional circumstances faced by Member States, the Commission has decided on a five-fold increase in flexibility between priorities, from 2 to 10%. This will enable the Member States to target remaining funding where its impact is greatest," commented Commissioner Hübner.

Note for editors

The Commission is examining all possibilities to increase and speed up Community investment and to facilitate financial transfers to the Member States and, consequently, to the final beneficiaries of the structural funds. In this context, a number of legislative proposals and non-legislative measures concerning both the previous and existing (2007-2013) programming periods have been adopted or are in course of adoption (see MEMO/08/740).

The total funding allocated to Member States in the 2000-2006 budgetary period was €257 billion. So far, €225 billion have been paid out – 87.5% of the total. Member States can now make payments for this period up to 30 June 2009. The deadline for Cohesion Fund payments from the 2000-2006 period is in most cases the end of 2010.

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