construction site

© graemenicholson/

The structural and cohesion policy is one of the central policy areas of the European Union. Around a third of the EU's public funds are being used for it. The aim of it is to reinforce economic, social, and territorial solidarity (or "cohesion") in the EU, mainly by fostering growth and employment in those regions whose development is lagging behind (so-called "structurally weak regions"). Therefore the cohesion and structural policy is also an expression of the EU's solidarity with its less-developed Member States and regions.

The European structural policy is closely linked to the goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy. It provides support in the form of funding to enable Europe 2020 to reach its strategic goals: smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is the ministry in Germany responsible for coordinating EU structural policy and for administering the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Structural policy is a part of the general area of economic policy. Its main task is to enable structurally weak regions to minimize their region-related disadvantages and to provide them with access to general economic developments. EU structural policy therefore supplements national regional policy. It is also the counterpart to countercyclical policy. Countercyclical policy is concerned with current politico-economic situations, i. e. with cyclical fluctuations.

European structural policy is a very specific political area, one which has a number of very practical implications: It helps people find work and lead a better life in their countries, their regions, their urban settings, or in their villages. It also fosters the investment activities of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Regional innovativeness is being improved, as is the development of new products and production processes via the technology transfers resulting from more solid cooperations between research institutions and the private sector. Some funds are being invested in projects to clean up the environment and some are being used to improve educational and professional qualification standards. Other funds are flowing into the areas of energy efficiency and combating climate change. All of these areas are found as concrete thematic goals in the programmes of the reformed EU structural policy.

The statutory basis for the European structural policy includes, in addition to Articles 174 to 178 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the European Structural and Investment Funds Regulations (which were adopted pursuant to ordinary legislative procedures) and the implementing acts, delegated acts, and guidance adopted for the purposes of implementing structural funding.

According to Article 175 TFEU, the European Commission must report to the European Parliament, the European Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, and to the Committee of the Regions every three years on the progress being made with respect to the attainment of the goals of the structural policy.
The latest of these, the Sixth Cohesion Report (PDF: 20.4 MB), was published in July 2014. It contains a detailed review of the investments made in growth and employment and the impact of the economic and financial crisis on the development of regional disparities.

The legislative texts most relevant to the current programming period are available here.

The Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy publishes the legislative texts as well as the Commission decisions concerning the actual implementation of these regulations. It also publishes reports, communications, and other working papers of the Commission.

Access to the entire information provided by the bodies of the European Union on the Internet is available on the website of the European Union.