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Procedure : 2008/2183(INI)
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PV 24/03/2009 - 3
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Tuesday, 24 March 2009 - Strasbourg
Implementation of the Structural Funds Regulation 2007-2013

European Parliament resolution of 24 March 2009 on the implementation of the Structural Funds Regulation 2007-2013: the results of the negotiations on the national cohesion strategies and the operational programmes (2008/2183(INI))

The European Parliament,

-   having regard to the EC Treaty and in particular Articles 2 and 3(2) thereof,

-   having regard to the Commission Communication of 14 May 2008 on the results of the negotiations concerning cohesion policy strategies and programmes for the programming period 2007-2013 (COM(2008)0301),

-   having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 of 11 July 2006 laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund(1) (General Regulation on the ERDF, the ESF and the Cohesion Fund),

-   having regard to Council Decision 2006/702/EC of 6 October 2006 on Community strategic guidelines on cohesion(2) (Strategic guidelines on cohesion),

-   having regard to the Results of the negotiation of Cohesion Policy strategies and programmes 2007-2013 – Fact sheets by Member State,

-   having regard to the Fourth Report on Economic and Social Cohesion (COM(2007)0273) (The Fourth Cohesion Report),

-   having regard to the proposal for a Council regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund concerning certain provisions relating to financial management (COM(2008)0803),

-   having regard to the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1080/2006 on the European Regional Development Fund as regards the eligibility of energy efficiency and renewable energy investments in housing (COM(2008)0838),

-   having regard to the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EC) No 1081/2006 on the European Social Fund to extend the types of costs eligible for a contribution from the ESF (COM(2008)0813),

-   having regard to its resolution of 21 October 2008 on governance and partnership at national and regional levels and a basis for projects in the sphere of regional policy(3),

-   having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

-   having regard to the report of the Committee on Regional Development and the opinions of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (A6-0108/2009),

A.   whereas the Commission has published the abovementioned Communication on the basis of the results of negotiations with Member States on the National Strategic Reference Frameworks and Operational Programmes,

B.   whereas, according to Article 158 of the Treaty, in order to strengthen its economic and social cohesion, the Community aims to reduce disparities between the levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions or islands, including rural areas,

C.   whereas the last two enlargements of the European Union generated a substantial widening of regional disparities in the Community that need to be addressed appropriately in order to promote harmonious, balanced and sustainable development,

D.   whereas the recent reports on cohesion highlight a trend towards a worsening of territorial disparities between EU regions and, at sub-regional level, disparities characterised by phenomena such as spatial segregation, which have resulted in the emergence of a certain kind of ghettoisation, and the continued decline of some remote and predominantly agricultural areas,

E.   whereas in October 2006 the Council adopted the abovementioned Strategic guidelines on cohesion, as an indicative framework for the Members States for the preparation of the National Strategic Reference Frameworks and Operational Programmes for the period 2007-2013,

F.   whereas the three priorities laid down in the Strategic guidelines on cohesion refer to making Europe and its regions more attractive places in which to invest and work, improving knowledge and innovation for growth and creating more and better jobs,

G.   whereas translating these priorities into operational programmes should enable regions to face the challenges of globalisation, structural, demographic and climate change and to strengthen sustainable development,

H.   whereas there are significant differences in the ways Member States have implemented the abovementioned priorities in their operational programmes, depending on which regional development objective, convergence or regional competitiveness and employment any specific region comes under,

I.   whereas Member States which joined the Union before 1 May 2004 were required by the General Regulation on the ERDF, the ESF and the Cohesion Fund to earmark 60% of the total expenditure for the 'convergence' objective and 75% for the regional competitiveness and employment objective to priorities related to the Lisbon Strategy, and whereas Member States which joined the Union on or after 1 May 2004 were advised to adopt the same approach,

J.   whereas sustainability, prevention of any kind of discrimination, good governance and application of the partnership principle, together with a strong institutional and administrative capacity, are essential to the successful implementation of cohesion policy,

K.   whereas cohesion policy must be strong and flexible enough to be able to play an important role in the Union's efforts to counteract the effects of the present global economic crisis,

1.  Acknowledges the efforts made by all Member States to incorporate the three priorities laid down in the Strategic guidelines on cohesion, which correspond to the objectives of the Lisbon agenda, into their operational programmes;

2.  Notes the fairly slow start made to the new programming period in many Member States, which might jeopardise the effective use of the funding; expresses, however, confidence that commitments made during the negotiation and approval process of operational programmes will be respected for the benefit of the regions and of the Union as a whole;

Mitigating regional disparities

3.  Takes note of the determination of Member States to address the specific territorial needs arising from their geographical location and economic and institutional development, by drawing up strategies to diminish intra-regional and inter-regional imbalances; recalls, in this context, the measures proposed by Member States to face particular development challenges of regions with specific geographical features, such as mountain regions, islands, the outermost regions, remote border towns, regions suffering from depopulation and border regions; reiterates the fact that economic and environmentally sound development, as well as the reduction of regional disparities remain the principal goals of EU regional policy;

4.  Regrets that the principles of sustainability, equality of opportunity and non-discrimination, as well as partnership, have been insufficiently applied and documented in many National Strategic Reference Frameworks and Operational Programmes; is critical of the fact that the Commission has none the less approved Operational Programmes with such deficits and has not insisted on improvements by Member States or regions;

5.  Stresses that past experience has shown that convergence between countries may mask a widening gap between and within regions; notes furthermore that these regional and local disparities can be observed in a number of areas, such as employment, productivity, income, education levels and innovation capacity; stresses the importance of the territorial dimension of cohesion in overcoming these problems;

Cohesion policy delivering the Lisbon agenda

6.  Appreciates the efforts made by the national authorities to ensure that the average allocation of expenditure for the achievement of the Lisbon agenda constitutes 65% of the available funds in the convergence regions and 82% in the regional competitiveness and employment regions, which is in fact more than was initially requested;

7.  Is convinced that much more investment is required in this area; considers that, in the light of the mid-term review of the implementation of the Structural Funds, stronger EU guidelines and increased financial resources must be allocated to serve these objectives and specifically that at least 5% of structural funding should be required to be spent on improving the energy efficiency of existing homes; in this respect, calls on the Commission to follow up on the Conclusions of the Competitiveness Council of 9 and 10 October 2008 on energy efficiency; underlines the key role and development potential that renewable energies represent for EU regions, both to create jobs and to foster sustainable local development;

8.  Encourages regions in their efforts to achieve the Lisbon objectives through thorough and effective implementation of their operational programmes; also calls on the Commission to closely monitor their implementation in order to ensure the translation of the objectives into practice and to inform Parliament about the problems encountered;

9.  Considers the financial resources earmarked for the trans-European energy networks insufficient, since they are vital for the completion of the internal energy market;

10.  Points to the important role played by small firms and micro-enterprises, particularly craft enterprises, in economic, social and territorial cohesion, through their important contribution to growth and employment; calls therefore for an active policy to support all forms of innovation in these enterprises and urges the Commission to create opportunities for mutual cooperation between businesses, the public sector, schools and universities, in order to create regional innovation clusters in the spirit of the Lisbon Strategy;

Responding to globalisation and structural change

11.  Appreciates the fact that all Member States devoted a significant amount of their total financial allocations to investments in research and development and innovation, in developing a knowledge-based service economy and in promoting entrepreneurship and business-support services, as well as in assisting companies and workers to adapt to new conditions; notes that, for most of the Union's convergence regions, ensuring accessibility remains a significant problem, as they face a lack of transport infrastructure;

12.  Believes that industrial policy has to be supported through the Structural Funds in order to increase the competitiveness of Member States and the Union; therefore supports the priority in the cohesion policy to unlock business potential, particularly that of SMEs;

Demographic change and more inclusive labour markets

13.  Congratulates Member States on their efforts to prioritise investments aimed at increasing labour participation, ensuring equal opportunities and therefore endorsing the measures supported by the ESF and the PROGRESS programme (2007-2013), which are designed to help eliminate discrimination and improve the situation of women in the labour market; appreciates the Member States' measures aimed at improving skills, fighting poverty and social exclusion, in their programmes financed by the ESF; stresses that it is important and necessary to continue efforts to support employment in the face of the growing economic crisis, taking particular account of the special needs of people with disabilities and senior citizens at every stage in the implementation and assessment of cohesion policy;

14.  Supports the 'partnership principle' implemented by the Commission in the cohesion policy and calls on the Commission to involve local and national women's organisations in its negotiation and implementation;

Responding to the challenges of sustainable development, climate change and energy

15.  Considers that measures aimed at protecting the environment, combating climate change and promoting energy efficiency should be incorporated into all operational programmes and appreciates the commitments made by Member States in order to address these issues, by allocating approximately one third of the total cohesion policy budget to them; considers, however, that the specific allocations for combating climate change and promoting energy efficiency are insufficient to meet real needs;

16.  Considers that the development of poles of competitiveness under the Structural Funds is essential, since they offer considerable potential for creating well paid jobs and generating growth, but also for reducing pressure on large conurbations; in this respect welcomes the continuation of the URBAN programme, taking the view that the revitalisation of urban areas and the rehabilitation of ageing urban infrastructures is required;

17.  Stresses that the Structural Funds Regulations state that the Member States and the Commission shall ensure that equality between women and men and the integration of the gender perspective are promoted during the various stages of implementing the funds;

18.  Calls on the Member States to inform citizens, local authorities and non-governmental and women's organisations fully about financing possibilities, in particular as regards information on specific programmes, eligibility for co-financing from the Structural Funds, the co-financing rules, the rules on reimbursement, and where to find calls for proposals in the framework of the programming period 2007-2013;

19.  Calls on the Member States to ensure that excessive administrative obstacles do not deter non-governmental organisations from applying for project-financing, in particular those dedicated to supporting women in economically disadvantaged circumstances, immigrant women, women who are members of an ethnic minority, women with disabilities, women with dependants, and women who are the victims of violence or torture;

20.  Notes that there is a substantial difference between the way EU-15 and EU-12 Member States allocated resources in the environmental protection field and recognises the need for the new Member States to devote significantly more resources to achieving the Union's environmental, climate and biodiversity objectives as laid down in the Community acquis;

21.  Stresses the importance of consolidating capacities for cooperation and effective absorption of the funds available, using all possible means, including exchange of best practices, information campaigns, common actions, exchanges of new technology and development of partnerships, since this will contribute to the efficient implementation of the cooperation programmes under way and in particular an increase in the absorption capacity of the new Member States;

22.  Considers that in times of economic crisis Member States should capitalise on the notion of achieving synergies between environmental protection and job creation stipulated in the Strategic Guidelines on Cohesion and allocate more resources into projects that promote green economy, green jobs and green innovation;

Reinforcing multi-level governance and partnership

23.  Considers that multi-level governance and the partnership principle are key elements of the legitimacy of operational programmes, their transparency, and their effectiveness during the programming phase and especially during the implementation process; welcomes, therefore, the efforts made by all Member States, in accordance with their specific institutional frameworks and traditions, to strengthen the partnership principle in their programmes for the current period, in accordance with Article 11 of the General Regulation on the ERDF, the ESF and the Cohesion Fund; recommends especially to the new Members States which have little experience in building up effective partnerships to consistently reinforce the partnership and transparency principle while implementing the operational programmes;

24.  Calls on the Member States to avoid excessive delay in the reimbursement of the costs of completed projects, noting that the insolvency caused by such a practice frequently prevents the recipients - mainly local authorities and non-profit-making organisations - from pursuing further activities specific to their area of action;

25.  Points out that the delays in implementing structural policy are due in part to the excessive rigidity of procedures and that these procedures should therefore be streamlined, introducing a clear division of responsibilities and competences between the EU, the Member States and regional and local authorities;

26.  Calls on the Member States to closely cooperate with the regional and local authorities already during the planning phase of the National Strategic Reference Frameworks in order to guarantee optimal implementation of the national strategies and to fully live up to the ideals behind multi-level government;

27.  Stresses the need to promote cooperation between the private and public sectors in the form of public-private partnerships to make it possible to carry out many key projects to boost the effects of investment;

28.  Notes that an assessment is required of the coordination and complementarity of Structural Fund programmes with rural development programmes; notes that experience on the ground indicates that synergies between the two programmes are not being exploited sufficiently;

Building institutional capacities

29.  Appreciates the increased awareness of the importance of reinforcing institutional and administrative capacity for the effective implementation of public policies and for the management of EU funds; calls for substantial efforts to be made, in all convergence regions, to strengthen institutional capacity and to increase the professionalism of public authorities;

30.  Stresses the need also to aim cohesion policy at rural areas, since territorial cohesion can only be achieved by developing an urban/rural balance;

Mainstreaming successful policies, enhancing knowledge and spreading good practices

31.  Particularly appreciates the integration by the new Member States of the results of the URBAN and EQUAL Community Initiatives into the operational programmes for the 2007-2013 period; approves the efforts made by Member States to put in place integrated plans for sustainable urban development, as towns and cities are the seats of industries, responsible for economic growth and job creation; furthermore, considers that the full potential of the European Territorial Cooperation programmes, as well as the Jessica, Jaspers, Jeremie and Jasmine instruments, should be exploited in order to speed-up development and achieve higher growth rates;

32.  Calls on the Member States to take account of the impact on women and the gender dimension in relation to all Structural Fund projects;


33.  Considers that no value judgements can be made regarding the way Member States have decided to implement the framework provided by the Strategic guidelines on cohesion in drawing up their national strategic reference frameworks and operational programmes; appreciates that all Member States have made considerable efforts, at all stages, to achieve cohesion policy priorities, in the context of their specific needs and constraints;

34.  Considers that transparency in the allocation of funding and administrative simplification facilitating the access of potential beneficiaries of the Structural Funds to information are key preconditions for achieving the overall objectives of cohesion policy;

35.  Calls on the Member States to strengthen the procedures they put in place in order to ensure that a fully operational integrated approach is applied for the implementation of cohesion policy, thus ensuring that all aspects of any particular operational programme are duly considered;

36.  Encourages the Commission in its efforts to ensure that Member States operate efficient control systems in order to be able to apply sound financial management to Community expenditure;

37.  Notes that the current global economic crisis has created a new situation in all Member States that requires re-evaluation and the possible adaptation of investment priorities; welcomes the Commission's abovementioned proposals for amending the Regulations in order to meet the needs of the Union in these exceptional circumstances and reiterates its view that cohesion policy is central to economic recovery, throughout the whole of the territory of the Union; consequently rejects any attempt to renationalise the policy;

o   o

38.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission, and to the governments and parliaments of the Member States.

(1) OJ L 210, 31.7.2006, p. 25.
(2) OJ L 291, 21.10.2006, p. 11.
(3) Texts adopted, P6_TA(2008)0492.

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