Original publication: May 2018
Authors: The Centre for Strategy & Evaluation Services LLP (CSES): Mike Coyne, Malin Carlberg, Caroline Chandler, Eugenie Lale-Demoz
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2IVZL7z
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ESIF and culture, education, youth & sport – the use of European Structural and Investment Funds in policy areas of the Committee on Culture & Education

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Education and training and addressing the needs of young people are critical features of the developing knowledge economy and culture and sport are also making increasingly significant contributions to our contemporary economy and to social development.

This study examines the support of these areas through the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) in the current and preceding periods. Investigations have been conducted at an EU level and on the ground in eight Member States (Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Spain) in order to identify and examine specific programmes and projects.

Key Findings

The possibilities for ESIF support are basically determined by the provisions of the Treaty (TFEU) and the Regulations governing the scope and implementation of the ESIF. This legal framework sets constraints on how the ESIF can be used and establishes the priorities and orientations for use of the ESIF at national and regional levels.

The implementation of the ESIF begins with EU Regulations in the form of the Common Provisions Regulation and Regulations relating to each of the separate Funds. Requirements for ‘thematic concentration’ and ex ante conditionalities reduce flexibility.

  • There are 11 Thematic Objectives established, of which one is ‘Investing in education, training and vocational training for skills and lifelong learning’.
  • Culture and Sport are in a very different position from education and training in their legal status.
  • Youth is a horizontal theme that can be supported in other actions.

All of the four areas are able to make some contribution to each of the Thematic Objectives.

Evidence is provided on how actions of interest have actually been supported by the ESIF and the Structural Funds previously, but the evidence cannot be comprehensive. Much of the activity in which the study is interested is ‘hidden’ behind other categories of expenditure and examination on the ground has been restricted to eight Member States, where again the extent of information varies.

Spending and absorption data on education and training, culture, youth and sport can be sought through DG REGIO’s databases where information is broken down at the level of the Operational Programme. The crosscutting nature of the areas under consideration makes it difficult to assess exact spending, although some indications exist for some areas. For example, one estimate suggests that for the 2007-2013 period more than € 14.4 billion was allocated to culture and tourism.

Project level data differ in quality from country to country. Good assessments on spending can be made from Polish and Danish funding data.

Education and training represent a significant economic activity and can be an objective in their own right. They are the main driver of knowledge creation and a major instrument

  • for addressing unemployment and social conditions. They are also the main instrument for achieving other objectives. This role is under-appreciated.
  • Culture’s contribution was recognised in the previous period as making Europe and its regions more attractive places in which to invest and work, but there was no reference to culture’s contribution to ‘encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship and the growth of the knowledge economy’, nor to ‘creating more and better jobs’.

Italy has an OP dedicated to culture and Poland’s OPs place an emphasis on it.  Others have culture-based projects, especially as part of smart specialisation strategies, but some Member States (e.g. Germany, Ireland) make little use of the ESIF to support culture-based projects in the current period.

  • Sport has become an important economic sector in the EU, with a share in the national economies which is comparable to agriculture, forestry and fisheries combined, but there is little or no reference to sport in EU policy guidance on the ESIF.
  • Young people represent an important source of skills and creativity, but the group of most concern are young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs).

In spite of their growing economic significance, culture and sport appear to have been squeezed in some countries in the current period, possibly because of concentration of actions.

Based on evidence, typologies of possible intervention are suggested.

Common elements in the four areas are important, including their common character as the human dimension of economic and social development.

The most striking overlaps with other programmes are where they promote innovation and creativeness or address social issues, notably under Creative Europe and ERASMUS+.


Education and training, culture, sport and youth have a greater significance than is generally assumed. They constitute some of the most dynamic parts of the contemporary economy, with scope for growth and substantial job creation, but also add knowledge, imagination and creativeness to many other parts of Europe’s economy and society.

All four areas have had a significant presence in the ESIF and many contributions have been particularly effective, because of their special characteristics.

There are two possibilities in terms of a response to the situation described in this study. It would be possible to argue for a strengthening of the profile of education and training and of the other areas considered by the report. This might take the form of establishing each of the areas separately as priorities or developing a Thematic Objective. There are several problems with this approach.

An alternative way would be to argue for a broader, more strategic approach, proposing as a core theme for the ESIF – the strengthening of human resources as a Key Enabler of economic and social development.  This would include specific reference to the contributions of culture and sport and special provision for encouraging the talents of young people, taking advantage of their enthusiasm and optimism.

The main recommendations are:

  • The actual and potential contribution of education and training, culture, sport and youth to contemporary economic and social development should be promoted by the European Commission and Members of the European Parliament.
  • While ensuring that ESIF interventions are as effective as possible is important, greater flexibility is required. The aim should be achieved by more coherent programme design rather than by thematic concentration.
  • A broad theme ‘Strengthening human resources as a Key Enabler of economic and social development’, with specific reference to the roles of education and training, culture and sport and with special provision for young people, should be proposed by the CULT Committee as a central theme for the ESIF Common Provisions Regulation for the next programming period.
  • Integrating this theme into programme planning should be an ex-ante conditionality of all Thematic Objectives.
  • As well as promoting the strengthening of formal education and training, it is necessary to highlight the role of informal education and training, culture and sport in improving skills and competences, encouraging creativity and imagination and engaging with and motivating the widest possible reaches of European society.
  • There should be a strong forward-looking element in the formulation of the provisions, especially by assisting the workforce to adapt to industrial change, as envisaged by the TFEU.
  • A more explicit modelling of programme implementation processes should become part of ESIF design, reporting and assessment at all levels. Particular attention should be paid to the strengthening of skills and competences and other human capabilities as part of these implementation processes.
  • The Operational Programmes implementing smart specialisation should detail the expected human resources contribution to the strategy’s implementation.
  • Appropriate monitoring procedures should be put in place by EU and national authorities to allow for better analysis of the socioeconomic role and impact of education and training, culture, sport and youth.

The engagement of a wide group of stakeholders by the national authorities in the development of Partnership Agreements and smart specialisation strategies should be strengthened and civil society associations, such as cultural, sports and youth organisations should be assisted in order to develop this engagement.


The main sources of information used to collate data and forming the basis of the study’s analysis cover EU-level and national and regional data as well as academic and/or evaluation studies. Online databases provided and maintained by DG REGIO in the European Commission provide official data on ESIF planned expenditure and implementation (actual expenditure). Information was collected on the situation on the ground in eight Member States.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/617-475

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