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There are two EU structural funds, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). Both operate according to the co-financing principle: If a project receives funds from the structural funds, then public funds from the country involved must be contributed as well. Furthermore, EU regional funding is always made in addition to funding provided by the Member States themselves. It is never allowed to replace national funding (so-called principle of additionality). An important aspect of EU structural policy is the partnership relationship between the EU Commission and the Member States on all administration levels and with business partners, social partners, and other partners from the civic sector.

Structural Funds ERDF and ESF

The main tasks of both the ERDF and the ESF include the following:

  • The ERDF supports regions whose development is lagging behind and regions with structural problems. The statutory basis for the ERDF is found in Article 176 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU): "The European Regional Development Fund is intended to help to redress the main regional imbalances in the Union through participation in the development and structural adjustment of regions whose development is lagging behind and in the conversion of declining industrial regions."

    The ERDF primarily finances investments aimed at strengthening the competitiveness of commercial enterprises and in creating jobs in small and medium-sized companies. It also finances activities in the areas of energy efficiency, research, technological development, and environmental protection.

  • The ESF is the most important EU instrument in the area of labour policy. Its primary concerns are to help unemployed individuals re-enter the job market and to provide those who already have jobs with the vocational programmes required by them to improve their employment opportunities. The statutory basis for the ESF is found in Article 162 TFEU: "... it shall aim to render the employment of workers easier and to increase their geographical and occupational mobility within the Union, and to facilitate their adaptation to industrial changes and to changes in production systems, in particular through vocational training and retraining."

    The ESF focuses mainly on:

    • improving the adaptability of employees and commercial enterprises;
    • improving access to the job market;
    • fostering social integration by combating discrimination and by helping disadvantaged groups of people gain access to the job market; and
    • fostering partnerships for reform measures in the areas of employment and integration.

Any reference to the "funds" of the EU structural policy is a reference to the two structural funds and the cohesion fund collectively.

Cohesion Fund

The Cohesion Fund provides support exclusively to the environmental area and to Trans-European Transport Networks. Eligible for support are those EU countries whose per capita income is below 90% of the EU average. Germany receives no funding from this fund. The Cohesion Fund covers those Member States of the Eastern enlargement since 2004, plus Greece and Portugal. The Cohesion Fund, together with the ERDF, contributes to decentrally administered investment programmes extending over several years. Not to be underestimated is the fact that around 167 million Europeans (i. e. more than 30% of the population of the 28 EU countries) live in a region supported by the Cohesion Fund. Cohesion policy follows two specific aims: Investing in growth and employment in the Member States and regions based on the Cohesion Fund, and European territorial cooperation based on the ERDF.

European territorial cooperation

European territorial cooperation is a specific funding area within European cohesion and structural policy that focuses on working in partnership. Many challenges and problems faced by one Member State also affect the others. National regional and local stakeholders from the different Member States therefore work together as part of European territorial cooperation in order to develop joint solutions and to implement specific measures. Further information can be found here (in German).