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EU Structural Funding Reform

The relevant Regulations for the European cohesion policy in 2014-2020 entered into force on 20 December 2013. The European Council and the European Parliament negotiated six Regulations based on the proposals made by the European Commission:

The Regulations strengthen the strategic aspects of cohesion policy with the aim of ensuring that EU investments promote long-term growth and employment in Europe (in line with the Europe 2020 Strategy). The Europe 2020 Strategy’s five key objectives for creating smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth are decisive for defining the funding priorities of the Structural Funds. On the basis of partnership agreements with the Commission, the Member States focus on only a few investment priorities consistent with these objectives. The legislation package also harmonises the rules applicable to the various funds in order to increase the coherence of EU activities.

Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020

The consensus on the financial framework of the European Union was a significant milestone for the future of cohesion policy. For Germany, this consensus on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020 means that the country now knows how much EU structural funding it will be receiving. For the ongoing 2014-2020 programming period, approximately €454 billion is available for the whole of the EU, around €29 billion of which is destined for Germany.

In May 2018, the European Commission presented its proposal on the future Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027. This was followed in May and June by a total of 37 sector-specific proposals on the specific spending programmes of the MFF. These include five draft regulations for the field of EU cohesion policy, i.e. the draft Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), the draft ERDF and Cohesion Fund Regulation, the draft ESF+ Regulation (European Social Fund+), the draft ETC Regulation (European Territorial Cooperation) and the draft Regulation on a mechanism to resolve legal and administrative obstacles in a cross-border context. Find out more.

The current Common Strategic Framework for Germany: the 2014 partnership agreement with the European Commission

The European Structural and Investment Funds ERDF, the Cohesion Fund, ESF, EAFRD, and EMFF have been combined in one Common Strategic Framework and been geared more rigorously to strengthening competitiveness and employment. More developed regions must use 80% and transition regions must use 60% of ERDF funding for research and innovation, SMEs, and energy efficiency/renewable energy. One of Germany’s central demands in this context has been the striking of a balance between concentrating strictly on the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy (i.e. supporting competitiveness and growth) and allowing for sufficient flexibility for tailored regional funding strategies. In addition, Germany has successfully advocated a more efficient and results-oriented distribution of the funding.

The partnership agreement for the programming period 2014-2020 outlines the overall strategy for Germany in terms of EU structural funding. In addition to the structural funds ERDF and ESF, the agricultural fund EAFRD and the fishery fund EMFF are also included in it. Part 1 of the partnership agreement can be downloaded here (in German) (PDF, 4 MB), and you can find part 2 here (in German) (PDF, 557 KB).

The partnership agreements, which must be drawn up by each Member State and negotiated with the European Commission, define the strategic direction of the Operational Programmes (OPs = funding programmes) and define binding objectives with which the European Structural and Investment Funds are to help the EU reach its political goals. The approach taken in the preceding programming period with the National Strategic Reference Framework is thus being followed and developed further.

The 2017 and 2019 progress reports on the implementation of the partnership agreement

In view of Germany’s federal structure, the strategy agreed upon is largely implemented at Länder level. This overarching national strategy is fleshed out – taking account of special regional and sectoral features – by the Operational Programmes (OPs) and the Rural Development Programmes (RDPs). The strategy is being implemented in the context of a total of 47 OPs, multi-fund programmes and Rural Development Programmes:

  • 15 ERDF and 15 ESF programmes at Länder level, and one multi-fund programme (ERDF/ESF),
  • the federal ESF programme,
  • 14 Rural Development Programmes, including the federal programme on the networking of the EAFRD activities, and
  • one national programme for the EMFF.

The actual implementation of funding in the context of the ESI Funds is embedded in a reporting system that consists of several elements. According to this reporting system, strategic progress reports were to be drawn up at national level by the Member States in 2017 and 2019 to serve as a basis for conclusions and recommendations on the further use of funding from the ESI Funds. You can find the 2017 strategic progress report for Germany here (in German). You can find the 2019 strategic progress report for Germany here (in German).

Also, the Economic Affairs Ministry is feeding a study on the impact of EU structural policy in Germany since 2010 into the European debate on the reform of EU structural policy after 2020. The study was completed in September 2018 (by Prognos AG, Bremen). The discussion of the reform of EU structural policy has picked up speed since May 2018 – when the European Commission presented proposals on the Multiannual Financial Framework and the new package of legislation. The study assesses the significance and impact of EU structural policy in Germany (as of December 2017), the tasks of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and its contributions towards Union strategies, and its place in the European funding system. In the context of statements made across Europe, it also assesses the options for the deployment of the EU structural funds in the forthcoming 2021-2027 programming period. You can find the study (in German) here.