Original publication: July 2016
Author: Coffey: Irina JEFFERIES, Bradford ROHMER
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2koDd51

The Europe for Citizens Programme 2014 – 2020

The Europe for Citizens Programme (hereafter referred to as the programme or EfC programme) was initially established for the period 2007-2013 with the purpose of enhancing citizen support to European integration. After the success of the first programming period, a revamped version of the EfC programme was adopted in April 2014.

 

While the essence of the EfC remains the same, the revision of the EfC programme sought to simplify its structure and make it more accessible for applicants. The programme objectives were redrafted with a simpler vocabulary and the number of programme strands was reduced. The respective measures were also streamlined, in an attempt to make the logic of the programme easier to understand. In addition, the programme priorities previously announced on an annual basis by the Education, Audiovisual and Cultural Executive Agency (EACEA) became multi-annual. Finally, a system of lump sum payments replaced the budget-based financing used during the previous programme period.

The programme remained jointly managed by the European Commission (EC), the EACEA and the Programme Committee, comprised of representatives appointed by the Member States. The Europe for Citizens National Contact Points (NCPs) act as a ‘bridge’ between the programme implementers (EC and EACEA) on the one hand and potential programme beneficiaries, multipliers and the general public on the other.

Background to the study

The present study is intended to research first experiences with the implementation of the EfC programme 2014-2020. The programme has now been running for two years. The objective of the study is to provide an overview of the current implementation of the programme, which contributes to an understanding of what works well in the present iteration of the EfC programme and what are the main areas of concern for applicants and beneficiaries.

The analysis is based on 24 interviews with NCPs, carried out by Coffey from March to May 2016.

Conclusions

Role of the EfC NCPs in the new programme
While EfC NCPs are generally satisfied with their role and responsibilities, the programme is not currently harnessing their full potential, as their insights and experiences are not fed systematically into the strategic programming and planning process.

There are benefits when EfC NCPs work across a number of EU-related activities, including Creative Europe or Erasmus+ as this allows stronger links with these other EU activities, which can be beneficial to the programme.

NCP perceptions of the new programme
The new programme is an improvement on the last one. Programme documentation provides more clarity on the objectives and requirements for applications. The advance publishing of the priorities and the move towards setting multiannual priorities covering the whole timeframe of the programme can be considered as significant improvements.

Even though applicants are very positive about the application process there are still some areas for improvement:

  • Programme objectives still use a lot of institutional jargon, which is not easily accessible to all citizens.
  • The Programme Guide could be further improved.
  • There is scope to improve feedback to rejected applicants.

How to generate an impact with a modest budget remains the biggest challenge for projects supported under the EfC programme, but there are ways to make programme budgets go further, for example through synergies with other EU funding activities. There are potential advantages to making changes to financing rules under the new programme. The lump sum system is easier to administer than budget-based financing, but the reduced rate of pre-financing (i.e. max 50%) creates a significant burden on smaller organisations. Co-financing can also be problematic for smaller organisations, and not taking account of differences in the cost of living puts some Member States at a disadvantage.

There is good co-operation between NCPs and programme implementers (EACEA, European Commission) and also among the EfC NCPs. However, there may be scope to generate more systematic benefits for NCPs by coordinating and supporting these individual entities as part of a network.

Views on communication
There is still room to improve the centralised communication channels and tools provided by the EC and EACEA. Although the EACEA project Portal is a significant step in the right direction further developments are required. NCPs take an active role in communicating about the funding opportunities offered by the EfC programme to potential applicants. But whilst they use a wide range of channels they are not systematically maximising opportunities presented by social media and multipliers including Europe Direct Information Centres (EDICs).

It may be difficult to attribute the rise in awareness of the EfC programme among applicants and target groups directly to communication actions. But it seems plausible that communication efforts have at least supported the increased levels of awareness, even if this increase varies significantly across different regions in different Member States.

Recommendations

The following recommendations are drawn from NCPs’ views on how to improve the programme during the 2014-2020 funding period and in further programming periods.

It is recommended to give consideration to:

  • Redefining the NCP role to allow NCPs to exploit their full potential. As well as providing a helpdesk function, NCPs could be encouraged to provide feedback to the Programme Committee and collaborate with other EU spending programmes where this adds value.
  • Enhancing coordination by EfC programme implementers. The findings suggest that collaboration between NCPs, and between NCPs, the EC and EACEA enhances programme impact.
  • Identifying ways to strengthen synergies between NCP activities related to EfC and other relevant EU spending programmes, including but not limited to Creative Europe and Erasmus+. This would allow the NCPs the make the most of the funding they get from the European Commission and to carry out more activities.
  • Giving consideration to redefining programme priorities so that they are closer to the current European context and affairs. However, a potential revision should not compromise the multi-annual definition of priorities, which has been welcomed as a significant improvement from the last programming period. The research team strongly recommends that the NCPs are consulted and their views taken into account in this process.
  • Upgrading the overall approach to EfC communication at central and local level.
  • Redefining the process for the communication of results to applicants. It is recommended that EACEA communicates the results to the NCPs prior to or at the same time as making them public. As part of the process, NCPs need to be given access to applicants’ files so that they are able to give better feedback to applicants. Applicants and NCPs would also benefit if parts of the Programme Guide were redrafted to address important shortcomings, including:
    o Providing an Annex to the Programme Guide providing additional details on key aspects such as selection criteria and partnership agreements.
    o Making further improvements to the text: simplifying wording of objectives and priorities, reviewing definitions.
    o Ensuring that NCPs are consulted in the context of a redrafting of the EfC Programme Guide, as they are able to provide practical suggestions which are relevant to the programme applicants.
  • Addressing the tension between the current ambitious goals and the limited funding opportunities available. There is a general sense that the amount of funding is a significant limiting factor and insufficient to meet programme goals. If it is decided to address this issue, then the main options include redefining programme goals so that they are more specific and realistic in line with the available budget, or redefining funding modules so that they are more in line with programme ambitions, or both.
  • Undertaking a fuller evaluation of the EfC programme, taking into account participants’ and citizens’ views. Whilst NCPs have provided a quick snapshot of the evolution of the programme and current areas for improvement, it is inevitable that this feedback is influenced by their experience. It is important for any funding intervention to take account of the views of those that the intervention is intended to serve, particularly when decisions are required with regards to whether or not to continue an approach or programme.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/585-874

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Figure 1: Submitted and selected applications in 2014 and 2015

According to data received from EACEA, the total number of applications for funding under the programme increased from 2,062 in 2014 to 2,764 in 2015, equivalent to an increase of 25%. Figure 1 below presents the details of the increase per programme measure, in conjunction with the low success rates.


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