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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Towards a greater result orientation of ESF investments
International Evaluation Conference – Cohesion Policy 2014-2020: towards evidence based programming an evaluation / Vilnius
5 July 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to join yesterday's speakers in congratulating the organizers of the conference for their initiative. Indeed, both its timing and theme are extremely pertinent.
Last week's agreement on the next multiannual financial framework is a historical moment. It paves the way for concluding the discussions on the different financial instruments so that operations can start without delay.
In cohesion policy, the agreement achieved last week should be seen as a signal that preparations of the next generation of programmes must now accelerate.
I wanted to use the opportunity of my presence in Vilnius today for a meeting between the College of Commissioners and the Lithuanian Government to address directly those who will be in charge of implementing cohesion policy and of evaluating its performance in the coming years.
I am particularly grateful to the Lithuanian Presidency for its decision to dedicate this second conference day precisely to the European Social Fund. Indeed, there is probably no other EU financial instrument where the gap between political expectations and perceptions or misperceptions on the ground are greater.
Every single day in my work, I hear politicians as well as stakeholders speak about the key importance of investment in human capital to drive Europe out of the current crisis.
And rightly so!
People's skills and knowledge will determine Europe's capacity to compete on the global market place. They are keys to trigger innovation and growth; they help move production up the value chain and they are necessary to shape an inclusive labour market.
The ESF is undoubtedly the main EU financial instrument for this necessary investment in human capital.
But, sadly, there is also not a day when I do not hear complaints that the ESF is too difficult to implement, that it does not have enough impact and that it lacks convincing evidence about the effectiveness of its interventions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My message to you today in this context is that the next financial period is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.
It is about credible EU capacity to support real progress on the ground, especially in the fight against unemployment and against increasing levels of social exclusion.
It is about coherence between the declared Europe 2020 objectives and EU financial support.
It is, I am convinced, about the future of the ESF as we know it today.
The conclusions of last week's European Council confirm that the ESF and its new little sister – the Youth Employment Initiative – are the key instruments to redress the unacceptably high levels of youth unemployment.
The conclusions of the Berlin summit I attended this week on the same issue also highlight the ESF as the key tool in the fight against youth unemployment, e.g. through the support it can give to recruitment, to vocational training or to first work experience.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As you can see, the stakes are very high; indeed, too high for a “business as usual” approach.
We must draw lessons from the past and improve what can be improved.
Over the last 3 years, I have strived to do exactly that. Let me mention only two aspects of this effort.
First, the Commission has repeatedly insisted on the importance of budget share for the ESF inside cohesion policy that would be commensurate with the challenges that the fund will have to address in this period of unprecedented economic and social crisis.
Second, benefiting from the overhaul of the regulatory framework, we strived to put all the conditions in place to allow the funds – not only the ESF – to be used on a simpler, more coherent and more result-oriented way.
Even if the legislative process is not yet over, it is very likely that most of the novelties we proposed will be retained.
While some will be compulsory – such as thematic concentration, earmarking or conditionalities, others represent options or better to say new opportunities to be seized. I think for example of simplified cost options for larger projects, of Joint Action Plans, of Integrated Territorial Investments or of new financial instruments.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is always easier to simply continue past practice than to venture into new ways.
But my message to you today is that a more effective and more strategic use of the EU cohesion policy funds is a must for the future of EU economy and for the future of the policy itself.
The common denominator of this effort is the focus on results.
Up to now the measure of success of this policy was based more on absorption than on results.
This needs to change. The key question should not be how much I have spent but what I have achieved. For the ESF more specifically, we should not only know how many people we helped, but we should be able to say how the ESF helped to change their lives and employment perspectives.
In short, I wish that in the course of the next seven years, we benefit from a much more robust assessment of the effects of ESF interventions.
Monitoring and evaluation will become more important than they are today.
But their focus must change. With tighter budgets, people want to know more about the effectiveness and the impact of EU policy instruments. With economic and social challenges growing, we need a better basis to make informed policy choices.
That is why the draft Common Provisions Regulation foresees that Member States evaluations shall be carried out to improve the quality of the design and implementation of programmes, but also to assess their effectiveness, efficiency and most importantly, impact.
You have heard yesterday about the technical arrangements foreseen in the Regulations for the next programming period in this context. They range from the collection of micro data to the setting up of a performance framework and the establishment of common result indicators, which will allow for evaluating the impacts of ESF investment at EU level.
We do not start entirely from the scratch. Already in the current programming period, some Member States carried out impact evaluations. The Commission's Directorate General for Employment supported these efforts by organizing learning seminars where Member States shared good practice and experience. In addition, my services developed a guidance document for managing authorities to carry out counterfactual impact evaluations. This support will continue in the next programming period.
I strongly encourage you to build upon the existing experience with such evaluations in your Member States and further develop capacity in this area.
The Directorate General for Employment has recently set up a Centre for Research on Impact Evaluation (CRIE) at the Joint Research Centre in Ispra. At the request of Member States, CRIE will design, organise and deliver a series of training modules on counterfactual impact evaluation and will provide methodological support during both the preparatory and the implementation phase.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To conclude, I would like to stress that improving technical arrangements for evaluation is important but will not on its own lead to the expected results in terms of improving the quality of the investments.
What is needed in many Member States is to create and develop a true performance culture that leads to the use of evaluation evidence at all stages of the policymaking process, from design through implementation to the monitoring of effectiveness.
Only if we manage to get this culture change going will we be able to convincingly argue that the ESF is a legitimate and necessary use of European tax payers' money.
Please think about this when you design the structure and arrangements for the ESF in the upcoming programming period.
I hope that the debates you have had yesterday and that you will have still today will greatly assist you in this endeavour.
Thank you very much for your attention.