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Procedure : 2016/2304(INI)
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Document selected : A8-0201/2017

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PV 12/06/2017 - 15
CRE 12/06/2017 - 15

Votes :

PV 13/06/2017 - 5.1
CRE 13/06/2017 - 5.1
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Texts adopted
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Tuesday, 13 June 2017 - Strasbourg
Increasing engagement of partners and visibility in the performance of European Structural and Investment Funds

European Parliament resolution of 13 June 2017 on increasing engagement of partners and visibility in the performance of European Structural and Investment Funds (2016/2304(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to Articles 174, 175 and 177 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006(1) (‘the Common Provisions Regulation’),

–  having regard to Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) No 240/2014 of 7 January 2014 on the European code of conduct on partnership in the framework of the European Structural and Investments Funds(2),

–  having regard to its resolution of 16 February 2017 on investing in jobs and growthmaximising the contribution of European Structural and Investment Funds: an evaluation of the report under Article 16(3) of the CPR (3),

–  having regard to its resolution of 16 February 2017 on delayed implementation of ESI Funds operational programmes – impact on cohesion policy and the way forward(4),

–  having regard to its resolution of 10 May 2016 on new territorial development tools in cohesion policy 2014-2020: Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) and Community-Led Local Development (CLLD)(5),

–  having regard to its resolution of 26 November 2015 on Towards simplification and performance orientation in cohesion policy 2014-2020(6),

–  having regard to the Council conclusions of 16 November 2016 on results and new elements of cohesion policy and the European structural and investment funds(7),

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘Ensuring the visibility of Cohesion Policy: Information and communication rules 2014 - 2020’(8),

–  having regard to the Flash Eurobarometer 423 of September 2015 commissioned by the Commission entitled ‘Citizens’ awareness and perceptions of EU: Regional Policy’(9),

–  having regard to the Van den Brande report of October 2014 entitled ‘Multilevel Governance and Partnership’, prepared at the request of the Commissioner for Regional and Urban Policy Johannes Hahn’(10),

–  having regard to the communication plan of the European Committee of the Regions for the year 2016 entitled ‘Connecting regions and cities for a stronger Europe’(11),

–  having regard to the study of July 2016 commissioned by the Commission entitled ‘Implementation of the partnership principle and multi-level governance in the 2014-2020 ESI Funds’(12),

–  having regard to the presentation of the Interreg Europe Secretariat entitled ‘Designing a project communication strategy’(13),

–  having regard to the report prepared as part of the Ex post evaluation and forecast of benefits to EU-15 countries as a result of Cohesion Policy implementation in V4 countries, commissioned by the Polish Ministry of Economic Development and entitled ‘How do EU-15 Member States benefit from the Cohesion Policy in the V4?’(14),

–  having regard to the European Anti-Poverty Network (EAPN) handbook of 2014 entitled ‘Giving a voice to citizens: Building stakeholder engagement for effective decision-making – Guidelines for Decision-Makers at EU and national levels’(15),

–  having regard to the study by its Directorate-General for Internal Policies (Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies) of November 2014 entitled ‘Communicating Europe to its Citizens: State of Affairs and Prospects’,

–  having regard to the briefing by its Directorate-General for Internal Policies (Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies) of April 2016 entitled ‘Research for REGI Committee: Mid-term review of the MFF and Cohesion Policy’,

–  having regard to the Commission staff working document of 19 September 2016 on the Ex-post evaluation of the ERDF and Cohesion Fund 2007-2013 (SWD(2016)0318),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Regional Development and the opinions of the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (A8-0201/2017),

A.  whereas cohesion policy has contributed significantly to enhancing growth and jobs, and to reducing disparities among EU regions;

B.  whereas EU cohesion policy funding has a positive impact on both the economy and citizens’ lives, as shown by several reports and independent evaluations, but the results have not always been well communicated and awareness of its positive effects remains rather low; whereas the added value of EU cohesion policy goes beyond the proven positive economic, social and territorial impact, as it also implies the commitment of Member States and regions towards strengthening European integration;

C.  whereas the awareness of local EU-funded programmes among end-users and civil society is crucial, irrespective of the funding levels in a specific region;

D.  whereas the partnership principle and the multi-level governance model, which are based on enhanced coordination among public authorities, economic and social partners and civil society, can effectively contribute to better communicating EU policy objectives and results;

E.  whereas a permanent dialogue and the engagement of civil society is essential in providing accountability and legitimacy for public policies, creating a sense of shared responsibility and transparency in the decision-making process;

F.  whereas increasing the visibility of ESI Funds can contribute to improving perceptions about the effectiveness of cohesion policy and to regaining citizens’ confidence and interest in the European project;

G.  whereas a coherent communication line is essential, not only downstream with regard to the concrete results of ESI Funds, but also upstream in order to make project initiators aware of funding opportunities, with a view to increasing public involvement in the implementation process;

H.  whereas methodologies for providing information and for the diversification of communication channels should be increased and improved;

General considerations

1.  Emphasises that cohesion policy is one of the main public vehicles of growth that, through its five ESI Funds, ensures investment in all EU regions and helps to reduce disparities, to support competitiveness and smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and to improve the quality of life of European citizens;

2.  Notes with concern that overall public awareness and perceptions about the effectiveness of the EU’s regional policy have been declining over the years; refers to Eurobarometer survey 423 of September 2015, in which just over one third (34 %) of Europeans claim to have heard about EU co-financed projects improving the quality of life in the area in which they live; notes that the majority of respondents mentioned education, health, social infrastructure and environmental policy as important domains; considers that not only the quantity but mainly the quality of projects funded under the ESI Funds and their added value in terms of tangible results are pre-requisites for positive communication; underlines, therefore, that the assessment, selection, implementation and finalisation of projects must focus on achieving the expected results, in order to avoid ineffective spending which could lead to negative publicity for cohesion policy; draws attention to the fact that communication measures must be selected with special consideration for their contents and scope, while reiterating that the best form of advertising is to illustrate the significance and usefulness of the implemented projects;

3.  Notes that ensuring the visibility of cohesion policy investments should remain a shared responsibility of the Commission and the Member States, with a view to formulating effective European communication strategies designed to ensure the visibility of cohesion policy investments; notes, in this context, the role of the managing authorities and of the competent local and regional authorities in particular, through institutional communication as well as beneficiaries, as they constitute the most effective interface of communication with citizens by providing information in situ and bringing Europe closer to them; recalls, moreover, that these authorities have the best knowledge of local and regional realities and needs, and that improving visibility requires more efforts for better information and transparency at grassroots level;

4.  Underlines that providing visibility for a policy involves a dual process of communication and interaction with partners; highlights, moreover, that, in the context of complex challenges, and in order to ensure legitimacy and provide effective long-term solutions, public authorities need to involve relevant stakeholders during all negotiation and implementation phases of the Partnership Agreement and the operational programmes, in line with the partnership principle; stresses, moreover, the need to strengthen the institutional capacity of public authorities and partners and reiterates the role that the European Social Fund (ESF) can play in this regard;

5.  Stresses in this context the uneven progress registered across Member States towards streamlining administrative procedures in terms of the broader mobilisation and involvement of regional and local partners, including economic and social partners and bodies representing civil society; recalls the importance of social dialogue in this regard;

Challenges to be addressed

6.  Points to the increase in Euroscepticism and in anti-European populist propaganda, which distorts information on Union policies, and calls on the Commission and the Council to analyse and address their underlying causes; stresses, therefore, the urgent need to develop more effective communication strategies, ensuring citizen-friendly language and aiming to bridge the gap between the EU and its citizens, including the unemployed and those at risk of social exclusion, via a variety of media platforms at local, regional and national levels that are capable of conveying an accurate and coherent message to citizens on the added value of the European project for their quality of life and prosperity;

7.  Invites the Commission and the Council to analyse, both for the current framework and for the post-2020 reform of cohesion policy the impact on the perception of EU policies of the measures aimed at strengthening the link with the European semester and at implementing structural reforms via programmes financed by ESI Funds;

8.  Acknowledges the limitations of the legal framework as regards ensuring that cohesion policy has adequate visibility; stresses that, as a result, communication on its tangible achievements has not always been a priority for the different stakeholders; considers that the recommended communication activities on tangible achievements should be constantly updated; notes, in this context, the fact that the technical assistance of the ESI Funds does not include a dedicated financial envelope for communication, at either Union or Member State level; stresses, however, the responsibility of managing authorities and beneficiaries to monitor regularly compliance with the information and communication activities, as provided for in Article 115 and Annex XII of the Common Provisions Regulation ;

9.  Reiterates the imperative of finding a proper balance between the need to simplify the rules governing the implementation of cohesion policy and the need to preserve sound and transparent financial management and combat fraud while still communicating this properly to the public; recalls, in this context, the need to clearly distinguish between irregularities and fraud, so as not to create public distrust in the managing authorities and local administrations; insists, moreover, on the need to simplify and lessen the administrative burden for beneficiaries, without affecting necessary controls and audits;

10.  Underlines that it is essential to increase ownership of the policy on the ground, both locally and regionally, in order to ensure efficient delivery and communication of the results; appreciates that the partnership principle adds value to the implementation of European public policies, as confirmed by a recent Commission study; points out, however, that mobilising partners remains rather difficult in some cases on account of the partnership principle being implemented formally but not allowing for real participation in the governance process; recalls that more efforts and resources need to be invested in partnership involvement and in the exchange of experiences through dialogue platforms for partners, with a view, moreover, to making them multipliers of EU funding opportunities and successes;

11.  Recalls, furthermore, that the long-term, strategic nature of cohesion policy investments means that results are sometimes not immediate, a situation that is detrimental to the visibility of cohesion policy instruments, especially when compared with other Union tools, such as the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI); urges, therefore, that communication activities should, where appropriate, continue for another four years after closure of the project; stresses that the results of certain investments (especially those in human capital) are less visible and harder to quantify than ‘physical’ investments and calls for a more detailed and differentiated evaluation of the long-term impact of cohesion policy on citizens’ lives; considers, moreover, that special attention should be paid to the ex-post evaluation and communication activities on the contribution of ESI Funds to the Union’s strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, as the long-term European development strategy;

12.  Notes the important role played by the media in informing citizens on various EU policies and EU affairs in general; regrets, however, the rather limited media coverage of EU cohesion policy investments; stresses the need to develop information campaigns and communication strategies that target the media, that are adapted to the current informational challenges and that deliver information in an accessible and attractive form; stresses the need to harness the growing influence of social media, the advantages offered by digital advancements and the mix of the different types of communication channels available, in order to utilise them better when promoting the opportunities provided and achievements delivered by ESI Funds;

Improving communication and the engagement of partners during the second half of the 2014-2020 period

13.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to increase the coordination and accessibility of existing communication means and instruments at EU level, with a view to addressing topics that have an impact on the EU agenda; emphasises, in this context, the importance of providing guidelines that set out techniques and methods for communicating effectively how cohesion policy delivers tangible results for the everyday lives of EU citizens; calls on the managing authorities and beneficiaries to communicate the results, benefits and long-term impact of the policy actively and systematically, while taking into account the different project development stages;

14.  Points out that, given the quantity and quality of information transmitted on traditional and modern media, it is no longer enough simply to display the Commission logo on project description panels; calls on the Commission to devise more effective means of identification;

15.  Welcomes the current specific communication activities, such as the ‘Europe in My Region’ campaign, the Commission’s ‘EU Budget for Results’ web application, the cooperation with CIRCOM Regional(16), the Europe for Citizens Programme and the opportunities provided by the newly created European Solidarity Corps; stresses, in addition, the key role played by Europe Direct information Centres in decentralised communication, with a view to increasing awareness of cohesion policy impact on the ground, both locally and regionally; stresses, moreover, the need to concentrate efforts on reaching students and journalists as potential communication vectors, and on ensuring a geographical balance in the communication campaigns;

16.  Underlines the need to adjust the communication arrangements laid down in the Common Provisions Regulation; invites the Commission to consider the added value of providing a specific financial envelope for communication within the technical assistance, as well as of increasing, where appropriate, the number of binding publicity and information requirements for cohesion policy projects; calls on the Commission to provide clear guidance in 2017 on how technical assistance could be used for communication in the current funding period, with a view to ensuring legal certainty for local and regional authorities and other beneficiaries; reiterates, furthermore, that the ordinary communication and advertising standards, while well-conceived in the case of structural and technological investments, are not as effective for intangible investments in human capital;

17.  Underlines the need to give greater precedence to communication within the hierarchy of EU cohesion policy priorities, especially in the context of the work of management staff not directly responsible for communication, and to incorporate communication into the normal procedure of ESI Funds; calls for further professionalism in the field of communication, especially in going local and avoiding EU jargon;

18.  Welcomes the ex-post evaluation of cohesion policy programmes for the period 2007-2013 undertaken by the Commission, which provide excellent sources for communicating the results achieved and impact made; takes note of the initiative of the V4 countries on the externalities of cohesion policy in EU-15(17) and calls on the Commission to draft a broader objective study at EU-28 level; further urges the Commission to differentiate its communication strategies towards net contributor and net beneficiary Member States, and to highlight the specific benefits that cohesion policy brings in terms of boosting the real economy, fostering entrepreneurship and innovation, creating growth and jobs in all EU regions and improving community and economic infrastructure, both through direct investments and direct and indirect exports (externalities);

19.  Calls on the Commission and the managing authorities to identify ways to facilitate and standardise access to information, to promote an exchange of knowledge and good practices on communication strategies in order to better capitalise on the existing experience and increase the transparency and visibility of funding opportunities;

20.  Welcomes the introduction of e-cohesion in the current programming period, which aims to simplify and streamline the implementation of ESI Funds; underlines its capacity to contribute effectively to accessing information, the monitoring of programme development and the creation of useful links among stakeholders;

21.  Considers that there is a need for enhanced communication through new media channels, which will require a strategy for digital and social media platforms designed to inform citizens and give them the opportunity to voice their needs, focusing on reaching end-users through different sets of tools such as interactive online means, developing more accessible mobile-based content and applications, as well as ensuring that information is tailored to different age groups and available in different languages, where appropriate; invites the managing authorities to provide the relevant DGs with up-to-date information on the financial data and achievements and investments, with a view to displaying easily readable data and charts within the ESI Funds Open Data Platform, for the benefit of journalists; calls for the launch of regional award initiatives for the best projects, inspired by RegioStars;

22.  Suggests, furthermore, that the monitoring and evaluation of current communication activities be improved and proposes the establishment of regional communications taskforces involving actors across a number of levels;

23.  Highlights the importance of the European code of conduct on partnership and the role of the partnership principle in enhancing the collective commitment to and ownership of cohesion policy; calls for the link between public authorities, potential beneficiaries, the private sector, civil society and citizens to be strengthened through open dialogue, and for the make-up of the partnership participants to be altered during implementation where necessary, with a view to ensuring the right mix of partners to represent community interests at every stage of the process;

24.  Welcomes the innovative model of multilevel and multi-stakeholder cooperation proposed by the EU Urban Agenda and recommends its replication, where possible, in the implementation of cohesion policy;

25.  Highlights the need to enhance the communicational dimension of cross-border and inter-regional cooperation, including at the level of ongoing macro-regional strategies, which should be made more visible for EU citizens, through the dissemination of good practices and of investment success stories and opportunities;

Fostering post-2020 communication on cohesion policy

26.  Calls on the Commission and Member States to boost the attractiveness of EU cohesion policy funding through further simplification and limitation of gold plating, and to consider reducing the complexity and, where appropriate, the number of regulations and guidelines, in the light of the recent recommendation by the High Level Group of Independent Experts on Monitoring Simplification for Beneficiaries of the ESI Funds;

27.  Taking into consideration how EU cohesion policy contributes to positive identification with the European integration project, calls on the Commission to consider a compulsory communication field in the project application forms, as part of an increased use of technical assistance through an envelope set aside for communication, at programme level, , while guarding against increasing the number of constraints and ensuring the necessary flexibility; calls, in addition, on the managing and local and regional authorities to improve the quality of their communication on the final results of projects;

28.  Highlights the imperative of increasing the Union’s dialogue with citizens, of rethinking communication channels and strategies and, given the opportunities offered by social networks and new digital technologies, of adapting messages to local and regional contexts; emphasises, moreover, the potential role of civil society stakeholders as vectors for communication; reiterates, nevertheless, that educational content is as important as media strategies and promotion via different platforms;

29.  Emphasises, in the context of communication and visibility, the need for further simplification of the policy post 2020, including with regard to shared management and audit systems, in order to strike the right balance between a policy geared towards results, an appropriate number of checks and controls, and simplified procedures;

30.  Calls for the partnership principle to be further strengthened within the framework of the post-2020 programming period; is convinced that actively engaging stakeholders, including organisations that represent civil society, in the process of negotiating and implementing the Partnership Agreement and the operational programmes, could contribute to enhancing the ownership and transparency of policy implementation and could also entail better policy implementation with regard to the EU budget; calls on the Member States, therefore, to consider implementing existing models of participatory governance, bringing together all relevant societal partners and involving stakeholders in a participatory budgeting process in order to determine the resources allocated for national, regional and local co-financing, where appropriate, with a view to increasing the mutual trust and engagement of citizens in public spending decisions; suggests, furthermore, that participatory outcome assessments involving the beneficiaries and different stakeholders be carried out, in order to gather relevant data which could contribute to boosting active participation and visibility with regard to future action;

31.  Further insists on increasing urban-rural cooperation to develop territorial partnerships between cities and rural areas through fully exploiting the potential of synergies between EU funds and building on the expertise of urban areas and their greater capacity in managing funds;

32.  Urges the Commission and the Member States to focus, moreover, in their respective communication action plans, on strengthening cooperation among the different Directorate-Generals, ministries and communicators at different levels, and on establishing an overview of target audiences, with a view to developing and conveying messages tailored to specific target groups in order to reach citizens on the ground more directly and inform them better;

33.  Stresses in this context the importance of a culture shift, in the sense that communication is a responsibility of all actors involved, and beneficiaries themselves are becoming main communicators;

34.  Further asks the Commission and the Member States to strengthen the role and position of pre-existing communication and information networks and to use the interactive EU e-communication platform on cohesion policy implementation, so as to collect all relevant data on ESI Fund projects, allowing end-users to give their feedback on the implementation process and the results achieved, beyond a scant description of the project and the expenditure incurred; takes the view that such a platform would also facilitate the evaluation of the effectiveness of cohesion policy communication;

o   o

35.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Committee of the Regions, and the national and regional parliaments of the Member States.

(1) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 320.
(2) OJ L 74, 14.03.2014, p. 1.
(3) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0053.
(4) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2017)0055.
(5) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0211.
(6) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015)0419.
(16) Professional Association of Regional Public Service Television in Europe.
(17) Report prepared as part of the Ex-post evaluation and forecast of benefits to EU-15 countries as a result of Cohesion Policy implementation in V4 countries, commissioned by the Polish Ministry of Economic Development and entitled ‘How do EU-15 Member States benefit from the Cohesion Policy in the V4’.

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