Original publication: January 2019
Authors: TECHNOPOLIS GROUP BELGIUM: Jacek WALENDOWSKI, Laura ROMAN, and Sebastian OTTE
CARDIFF UNIVERSITY: Reviewed by Dr. Adrian HEALY
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2T6g1YT
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Background

The ring-fencing requirements were further developed in the 2014-20 programming period of the European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF) with the view to reinforce economic, social and territorial cohesion by concentrating the funding on the selected priority areas and focusing on the results of interventions. The ring-fencing requirements determine thresholds for the earmarking of expenditures targeting smart, inclusive and green growth related to specifc thematic objectives (TOs) depending on the level of development of each region.

Social cohesion has been given far more prominence than in the previous programming periods. For the first time in the history of Cohesion Policy a minimum share for the European Social Fund (ESF) has been introduced. In practice, each Member State (MS) has agreed that a certain percentage of funding to be allocated to ESF, according to the national needs in order to ensure that the share of the ESF as a percentage of total combined resources for the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund (excluding the support from the Cohesion Fund for transport infrastructure under the Connecting Europe Facility and the support from the Structural Funds for aid for the most deprived) at Union level is not less than 23.1%.

As specified in the ESF Regulation 1304/2013 MS should allocate at least 20% to TO 9 ‘Promoting social inclusion, combating poverty and any discrimination’. MS also had to comply with the concentration of up to five investment priorities (out of 19 priorities in total supported by the ESF) differentiated by types of regions targeted (i.e. more developed regions, transition regions, and less developed regions).

Additionally, minimum financial allocations were defined for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) interventions within the following TOs: 1 ‘Strengthening research, technological development and innovation’; 2 ‘Enhancing access to, and use and quality of, ICT’; 3 ‘Enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs’; 4 ‘Supporting the shift toward a low-carbon economy in all sectors’. Finally, a minimum allocation to integrated actions for sustainable urban development was defined for the ERDF resources under the Investment for growth and jobs goal.

Aim

The aim of the present study is to assess the implementation of the ring-fencing requirements for the ESIF in the programming period 2014 to 2020. It includes critical assessment of whether the ESF minimum share and the thematic concentration can be reconciled with territorial needs. The research also provides MEPs with an overview of the state of play of implementation and analysis of ring-fencing requirements to inform the design and programming of interventions post 2020.

Overall, the study is intended to inform of the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development (REGI) with regards to its work for both the ongoing scrutiny of the 2014-20 programming period and for the next round of negotiations for post 2020 Cohesion Policy.

To provide an overview of the implementation of programmes, we used the dataset “ESI Funds 2014-2020: categorisation ERDF-ESF-CF planned vs implemented” which is available on the EU Open Data Portal and compares planned amounts of each fund to implemented values.

One of key challenges that arose during the study related to ensuring the direct involvement of relevant stakeholders. For this reason, a team on the ground and understanding of the local context was tasked to contact the representatives of Managing Authorities. Recognising the complexity in assessing the alignment between the ESF share requirements (as well as implicit ERDF shares) and territorial needs, we analysed the level of alignment by means of desk research and took into account the views and opinions of the Managing Authorities in relation to the relevance of ESF (as well as ERDF implicit shares) requirements and territorial needs. It should be also noted that some programmes still lack reported data. Finally, it needs to be acknowledged that the desk research and quantitative data analysis of ESIF funding have been concentrated on both ESF and ERDF, whereas the qualitative data collection (in-depth interviews) was focused on investigating the role of ESF ring-fencing requirements.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/629-191

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