A group of independent cohesion policy experts, led by former European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas, on Tuesday presented its final report for a simplified EU funds framework after 2020.
Although the achievements of the EU cohesion policy were undeniably positive, the current volume of rules did not always make life easy for local authorities managing EU funds, or businesses looking to apply for EU funding, the work group found. Simplification was key, and the European Commission should look into further simplifying access to EU funds in the budget framework for the time after 2020.
"Simplifying access to and the use of EU cohesion funds will certainly contribute to bringing citizens closer to the EU," Kallas said in a press release.
"Citizens expect the EU to do more, yet the EU budget is decreasing. To solve this dilemma, we must make the most out of every euro that we spend. And simpler rules make for better spending," commissioner Günther H. Oettinger, in charge of budget and human resources at the commission, commented the situation.
According to the group, the current architecture of the rules is effective but in need of a good clean-up.
Rules for different EU funds and instruments should be harmonized in terms of state aid, public procurement, and methods to reimburse costs. This would facilitate synergies and allow beneficiaries to apply for different sources of EU funding for the same project. For example, applying the same rules in the cohesion policy and in the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) frameworks would allow easier access to support for small businesses.
An even simpler framework should be available to all member states and regions, provided they fulfil a number of criteria, such as reliable management and control systems, significant national co-financing to incentivize sound spending, and identification of key structural reforms to implement and focus on a limited number of priority areas to be able to deliver.
The group suggested that EU rules should then be limited to strategic investment priorities and principles for spending. EU funds would be delivered via existing national mechanisms, and the Commission’s audit workload would be limited. The member state and the Commission would agree on structural reforms to be achieved, and specific results that justify reimbursements.
The European Commission launched the High Level Group in 2015 to identify opportunities to simplify cohesion policy rules.
Editor: Dario Cavegn