Original publication: June 2016
Authors: Martin Ferry, Stefan Kah, John Bachtler
Case studies: Stefan Kah (AT – RIS3); Irene McMaster (CZ – Horizon 2020); Viktoriya Dozhdeva (ES – COSME); Timothée Lehuraux (FR – EFSI); Martin Ferry (PL – CEF); Cristian Surubaru (RO – EIP-AGRI); Philip Vernon (UK Wales – Horizon 2020)
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2FFXiNY
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Maximisation of Synergies between European Structural and Investment Funds and Other EU Instruments to Attain Europe 2020 Goals

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This study provides a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the existing scope for synergies between ESIF and other EU instruments contributing to Europe 2020 goals. It identifies different arenas for the pursuit of synergies (regulatory settings, governance arrangements, strategic frameworks and implementation approaches), noting achievements to date, and, looking towards 2020, assessing the potential for maximising synergies. This analysis is based on a review of academic and evaluation evidence from the 2007-13 period, recent research, legislation, EC and Member State policy papers and guidance for the 2014-20 period as well as evidence from EU, national and sub-national stakeholders on the degree of change in approaches to synergistic working and the associated benefits and challenges.

Analytical framework

This study concentrates on four directly-managed EU funding instruments and two EU-driven strategic frameworks or structures: Horizon 2020, Competitiveness of Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (COSME), Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), Research and Innovation Strategies for Smart Specialisations (RIS3) and the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI). It is based on desk research and interviews in the EC and selected Member States (Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Poland, Spain and United Kingdom).

Evolution of synergies 2007-13

In 2007-13, the dominant approach to pursuing synergies stressed the delineation of policy fields and management and implementation structures, the demarcation of tasks and responsibilities to avoid costly administrative overlaps, duplication or ‘double financing’. The impulse to achieve synergies was more evident under some policy headings than others. For instance, the need to establish more coherent EU support for RTDI was reflected in varied initiatives. It was more straightforward to pursue synergies in CP-funded programmes with a limited number of objectives and priorities that targeted a tightly defined group of beneficiaries, where there was administrative capacity and experience of dealing with EU funds among public authorities and stakeholders.

However, the regulatory framework remained a significant barrier to synergistic working: the operation of separate and sometimes contradictory regulatory regimes for different Funds and instruments created complexity and uncertainty for authorities and beneficiaries. Also, fragmentation in implementation arrangements was a persistent barrier to synergies, both horizontal and vertical at the level of DGs, Member State authorities and sub-national actors.

Increasing synergies were evident in the establishment of overarching strategic frameworks onto which synergies could be mapped, most prominently under the Lisbon and Europe 2020 agendas. However, there were still significant gaps and inconsistencies, often stemming from differences between sectoral and territorial objectives.

Examples of concrete synergies between CP and other EU instruments ‘on the ground’ were quite rare. Evaluations identified some important examples (notably under ERDF and FP7), but these were often a result of ad hoc initiatives, responding to ‘bottom up’ impulses forwarded by engaged individuals and groups rather than the outcome of systemic approaches to synergistic working.

The pursuit of synergies in 2014-20

Regulatory reforms introduced for 2014-20 have encouraged greater synergies (e.g. increased scope cumulating grants or pooling funding from different EU instruments or the potential to align cost models) but substantial challenges remain: separate regulations for Funds and instruments, complexities elating to State aid etc.

Changes in governance arrangements to pursue synergies have been limited and most have been triggered by new or changed regulatory requirements. Various initiatives are underway at EU and Member State levels (working groups, networks, fora and other ‘soft’ governance models), but the shared management model of ESIF remains complex and other EU-funded instruments are internally compartmentalised according to specific themes or activities.

The strengthened strategic alignment of ESIF with other EU-funded instruments under the Europe 2020 strategy is one of the key advances for the pursuit of synergies in 2014-20. However, there are weaknesses in strategic frameworks that could impede synergistic working in practice. The potential for operational synergies to develop exists and it is possible to identify emerging initiatives, but these represent good rather than common practice.

The pursuit of synergies between ESIF and other EU instruments varies across policy areas. Generally, it is clear from the research that much of the activity in increasing the scope for synergistic working in the 2014-20 period has focused on research and innovation.

Different aspects of implementation approaches are important in the pursuit of synergies: familiarity with different instruments and Funds among implementers; the availability of upto-date information on the progress of different instruments; the use of flexible, ad hoc contact between actors; the value of formal ‘linking’ structures; synchronicity in design and implementation; awareness raising among beneficiaries; the role of capacity-building for synergistic working among implementers and beneficiaries.

Conclusions and recommendations

The study identifies a shift from focusing on the demarcation of Funds and instruments to avoid overlaps and duplication towards a push for more synergistic working in the design and implementation of initiatives under specific themes and objectives. However, this process is not uniform: there is strong variation in the scope and extent of synergistic working at different stages in the policy process, in different thematic fields and in different territories.

Key conclusions and recommendations are summarised in the following table:

Key conclusions and recommendations are summarised in the following table

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/585-872

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