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Document 52001AE1480

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on "The Results of the Programming of the Structural Funds for 2000-2006 (OBJECTIVE l)"

OJ C 48, 21.2.2002, p. 53–55 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on "The Results of the Programming of the Structural Funds for 2000-2006 (OBJECTIVE l)"

Official Journal C 048 , 21/02/2002 P. 0053 - 0055

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on "The Results of the Programming of the Structural Funds for 2000-2006 (OBJECTIVE l)"

(2002/C 48/12)

On 5 July 2001 the Commission decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on The Results of the Programming of the Structural Funds for 2000-2006 (OBJECTIVE 1).

The Section for Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion unanimously on 12 November 2001. The rapporteur was Mr Christie.

At its 386th plenary session (meeting of 28 November 2001), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 114 votes to one.

1. Introduction

1.1. The revised Regulation laying down the general provisions on the Structural Funds (Regulation 1260/1999) revised the procedures for the implementation of the Funds for the period 2000-2006. A number of these revisions had the effect of transferring to Member States greater responsibility for the management, implementation and monitoring of Structural Funds, including:

- enlargement and strengthening of the partnership to increase added value,

- decentralized programming of measures: the Member State or managing authority adopts the programme complement - and not the Commission - after it has been agreed by the Monitoring Committee,

- the Member State takes general responsibility for implementation, monitoring and the effectiveness of assistance,

- evaluation is no longer regarded as a separate exercise but, while remaining independent, forms an integral part of the process of preparing, implementing, monitoring and revising programming.

1.2. In addition to these changes in the Regulations, it was also intended that the Structural Fund programmes over the period 2000-2006 should be consistent with other actions impacting on regional economic and social developments in the eligible regions across the European Union. Other actions include those undertaken by the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Cohesion Fund, the policy aims of the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), and - at the level of the Member State - the European Employment Strategy and the priorities of the National Action Plan for Employment.

1.3. In the light of the new Structural Fund Regulations, the Commission became involved in detailed discussions with the regions and Member States eligible for support under Objective 1. These discussion were intended to ensure that the transfer of greater responsibility to the Member State for implementing and monitoring Structural Fund assistance was accompanied by a qualitatively improved action programme in comparison to that submitted in previous periods.

1.4. The Communication(1) details the outcome of these negotiations, and reports the expected impact of the new Objective 1 programmes that have now been adopted.

2. General comments

2.1. It is clear that the Commission has gone to great lengths to ensure that the Objective 1 programmes agreed are of the highest quality possible. This is greatly welcomed. It is somewhat surprising to note that the quality of programmes submitted to the Commission varied widely even within the same Member State. This implies different practices are followed by different eligible regions, and there may be a case for "best practice" techniques for each Member State being adopted by other eligible regions within that Member State.

2.1.1. It is important that the Commission reviews in due course the decisions that were reached on the basis of considerations of "quality control" in project selection. Are the criteria which the Commission has applied in satisfying itself that Objective 1 programmes are adequately specified the correct ones in the sense of adding most to the economic development efforts of the regions concerned? For instance, unemployment among women is particularly high, and is the impact of regional development plans on this group incorporated in studies as to the "quality" of the programmes?

2.1.2. Although involving the economic and social partners at each of the key stages in the preparatory and implementation arrangements (including monitoring) may be time consuming, almost certainly any cost associated with that is offset by an improved quality of the resulting economic development programmes.

2.2. The Committee welcomes the fact that a greater role than previously has been ascribed to partnership in the preparation of the current Objective 1 programmes. It has long been argued by this Committee that partnership is the key to successful design and implementation of regional assistance programmes, involving as it does those with detailed knowledge of the particular economic and social problems and opportunities facing a particular region.

2.3. The Committee note that adopting the programmes took (sometimes considerably) longer than the five months foreseen by the rules. This is unfortunate as it inevitably delayed the implementation of the programmes in the regions concerned. While these delays were often understandable, nonetheless they do reflect a failure on the part of some regions and Member States to conform to the programme document requirements that have to be met before the programmes can be approved. The Committee consider this unfortunate and would stress the need for better and more rapid preparation of programming documentation on the part of the regions and Member States concerned.

2.4. It appears that the use of "indicative guidelines" has been successful in fine-tuning prospective Objective 1 programmes. It is clear that changes in the general economy and society means that some of the more traditional economic development measures previously favoured by the Objective 1 regions no longer are those likely to add most value to regional economic development prospects. It is important that the Commission continues to analyse those measures most likely to stimulate regional economic growth in the lagging regions and to advise - within the framework of partnership - individual regions accordingly.

2.5. The Committee welcomes the high degree of attention that the Commission has given to ensuring the introduction of new management and control systems for Objective 1 programmes in Member States. It is essential that the financial management of the Objective 1 programmes is efficient and effective, and that procedures permit a full and transparent auditing of finances disbursed under each programme. The Committee urge the Commission to keep these systems under review to ensure that day-to-day practice follows the requirements of the Regulations.

2.6. Notwithstanding the high quality of the ex ante evaluations, it is of course essential that all Objective 1 programmes are subject to regular evaluation and that outcomes are measurable and the effectiveness of assistance monitored. As the Commission notes, the regular evaluation of assistance is itself a highly useful management tool.

3. Specific comments

3.1. It is important that assistance under the Structural Funds is aimed at raising productivity levels within the Objective 1 regions. Accordingly, the ESC notes that in the current period a slightly higher share of assistance than under previous programmes is being assigned to investment in human resources.

3.2. Although the application of Structural Fund assistance under Objective 1 is expected to raise significantly the rate of growth of GDP of the recipient Member States, the actual macroeconomic outturn will be substantially influenced by the economic prospects for the EU as a whole. Consequently, such GDP data as has been presented should be treated as indicative only. Clearly if the economy of the EU generally performs less well than expected this will have serious ramifications for the less prosperous regions.

3.3. The application of Structural Fund support has a long-term effectiveness which is difficult to capture by reference to short-term economic indicators (such as GDP, investment levels, etc.). Particularly in the fields of human resource developments and investment in R& D capacity, the results of current policies may take many years to emerge. It is important that ultimate evaluation of the effectiveness of the current programmes takes into account qualitative measures of economic development as well as quantitative indicators.

3.4. The Committee welcomes the emphasis that the Commission has placed on additionality. During episodes of economic recession when public expenditure is under pressure, there is a tendency for governments to cut back on capital investment programmes rather than current spending programmes. Invariably this is to the detriment of the less prosperous regions. It is essential that Member States continue to honour their commitment to programmes of economic and social cohesion.

4. Conclusion

4.1. The Committee welcomes the Commission document. It is evident that the Commission has gone to considerable lengths to ensure the proper implementation of the new Structural Fund Regulations with regard to Objective 1 programmes. However, it is essential that this effective beginning to the new programming phase is reinforced throughout the period of the programme by timely reporting, monitoring and evaluation of outcomes in the regions themselves.

Brussels, 28 November 2001.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Göke Frerichs

(1) COM(2001) 378 final.