Cohesion policy is the European Union’s strategy to promote and support the ‘overall harmonious development’ of its Member States and regions. The EU’s cohesion policy aims to strengthen economic and social cohesion by reducing disparities in the level of development between regions. The policy focuses on key areas that will help the EU face up to the challenges of the 21st century and remain globally competitive.
Cohesion policy is the policy behind the hundreds of projects all over Ireland that receive funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF).
In the 2014-2020 budgetary period, coordination and coherence between cohesion policy and the other EU policies contributing to regional development, namely rural development and fisheries and maritime policy, has been strengthened by laying down common provisions for the ERDF, the ESF, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). All four funds together are known as the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds.
The ESI Funds support economic development across all of the European Union. These Funds make up over half of the European Union’s budget. Here in Ireland, these funds will be used, together with funding from the Government of Ireland, to invest €6.2 Billion in the 2014-2020 period.
These Funds work together to invest in education, research, and job creation to help create a sustainable and healthy economy across the whole of the country. They are also spent on protecting our environment, and on supporting rural and coastal communities.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the Department of Education and Skills, and the three Regional Assemblies conducted a consultation process to inform the selection of priorities for the use of EU cohesion funding in Ireland for the period 2021-2027.
The public consultation ran from the 13th of July until the 4th of September. Stakeholders had an opportunity to learn more and express their views at an online consultation workshop on the 28th of July. There were 128 attendees at the workshop and 109 submissions were received.
In both the current and future rounds of funding, the Commission has prioritised the importance of streamlining the implementation of the Funds and increasing their impact. This can be done in a number of ways, for example through different delivery mechanisms such as financial instruments, or through identifying areas with potential for greater coordination and consistency between different funds. As part of the consultation process, we are seeking feedback on how best to maximise the impact of the funds, while reducing the administrative burden.
Options to improve delivery include:
To date, cohesion funding in Ireland has been delivered through grant payments. However, it is also possible to provide support through the development of financial instruments such as loans, guarantees, and equity. Financial instruments have the potential to provide a more efficient and sustainable delivery mechanism in certain circumstances by leveraging additional resources and recycling funds.
In 2021-27, Member States may also opt, in the Partnership Agreement, to contribute to InvestEU. InvestEU will continue the work of the Juncker Plan to mobilise public funding and private resources for investment in the EU. It will help to address market failures and investment gaps to foster jobs and growth and to reach EU policy goals such as sustainability, scientific excellence, and social inclusion. The amount to be contributed should not exceed 5% of the total allocation of the fund.
There is a range of EU funds available to Member States with often overlapping objectives. These include funds under shared management, for example, the ERDF, ESF+ and AMIF, and those under direct management, such as Horizon Europe and Erasmus+. It is essential to ensure coordination between the Funds under shared management in the CPR, as well as complementarity with other Union instruments in order to maximise the impact of available funding.
It is also important to consider what actions to strengthen administrative capacity are necessary to complement and support the delivery of the policy choices made for the Funds. The Managing Authorities provide a range of training, guidance, and support services to those involved in the current programmes which could be further improved for 2021-2027. In addition, Article 17 of the European Code of Conduct on Partnership states that Managing Authorities shall examine the need to support the strengthening of the institutional capacity of partners so that they can effectively participate in the preparation, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the programmes.
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