European cohesion policy: recent alterations and assessment

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EU Cohesion Policy contributes to strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion among 27 member states. The new facets of policy also aim at correct imbalances between countries and regions by delivering on the Union’s political priorities, especially the green and digital transition. Conducted in June 2023, the Eurobarometer survey entailed about 26 thousand telephone interviews with citizens in all 27 EU countries.  

Cohesion policy’s guidelines for 2021-2027
The EU cohesion policy has established recently set of five new policy objectives:
1. Climate targets: weighted climate and environmental contributions, minimum targets for funds, climate adjustment mechanism;
2. Greater empowerment: local, urban and territorial authorities are managing the funds;
3. Simplification: new cohesion policy introduces one single set of rules for the eight funds and a significant reduction in the amount of secondary legislation. This entails: a) lighter and more frequent reporting; b) lighter controls for programs with sharp reduction of management verifications, “single audit principle”, proportionate arrangements for audits; c) faster delivery: extended possibility to use simplified cost options, SCOs and financing not linked to costs schemes; d) termination of Commission approval for major projects, and e) no more designation of management and control bodies;
4. Creating conditions for success: streamlined and clear enabling conditions to be respected throughout the whole programming period for reimbursement from the Union budget.
5. Flexible programming: adjusted to new challenges and emerging needs, allocation of flexibility amount only after mid-term review of socio-economic situation and possible new challenges and reinforced visibility and communication provisions with the requirements for beneficiaries and operations of strategic importance.
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Cohesion policy priorities
Most policy’s investments are regarded vital for education, health or social infrastructure; over ninety percent of respondents considered it important, followed by the environment (89 %), renewable and clean energy (85 %), research and innovation (84 %), support for SMEs (83 %) and vocational training (82 %).
Concerning priorities for the coming years, education, health or social infrastructure and the environment are again were uppermost in respondents’ opinion: i.e. 51 % and 39 %, respectively. Other priorities are: renewable and clean energy (34 %), support for SMEs (28 %), transport facilities (27 %), research and innovation (26 %) and vocational training (24 %).
A small majority of respondents think that decisions about EU regional policy projects should be taken at sub-national levels: 30 % opt for regional level and 24 % for local level.
About a third of respondents are aware of cooperation between regions in different countries resulting from EU funding, with the highest level in Poland (63 %); awareness levels range from 7 % in Portugal to 64 % in Finland.

Regional funding benefits
The EU’s cohesion policy is aimed at enhancing economic, social and territorial cohesion by reducing imbalances among regions. For 2014-20, the EU invested €352 billion in its regions and cities; in 2021-27 it has risen to € 392 billion, which is around a third of the EU’s budget.
Recent Eurobarometer study found that around 16 % of citizens say they have benefitted in their daily life from a project funded by the ERDF or the Cohesion Fund; in Poland is the highest figure of 59 percent; the share in Czechia, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Slovakia and Slovenia is between 32 % and 36 %.
Over 57 % replied that EU-funded projects contribute to their feeling of being an EU citizen, with 22 % indicating ‘to a large extent’ and 35 % ‘to some extent’.
In 25 EU countries, the impact of EU support is viewed positively by at least 75 % of respondents, reaching 95 % in Poland; the exceptions are Italy and the Netherlands, with figures of 56 % and 61 % respectively.
Poland also has the highest number of respondents (59 %) who say that an ERDF or Cohesion Fund project has improved their life; the corresponding figure for the EU as a whole is 16 %. EU-funded projects contribute to the feeling of being an EU citizen for 57 % of respondents.
The Internet and television are the most important information sources on EU-funded projects: 38 % of respondents who had heard about EU-funded projects got information via the Internet; for 36 %, it came from national television. Other main sources include local and regional newspapers and billboards, each of which had provided information for 24 % of respondents, and local or regional television, via which 20 % had obtained information.
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Awareness of EU-funded projects varies significantly around Europe ranging from 15 % in Denmark to 80 % in Poland. Since 2021, it has decreased by four percentage points or more in five EU states: Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland, Latvia and Germany, with the biggest drop (eight percentage points) in Hungary.

Evaluating the cohesion policy
Cohesion policy, CP is the EU’s largest investment policy, playing an essential role in weathering short term crises, in promoting long term convergence and in promoting European priorities in every region. Progress towards reaching the EU climate goals is evident: over €8 billion goes into deep renovation of public infrastructure to improve energy efficiency; another €8 billion will help develop clean urban transport, acknowledged recently Commissioner for Cohesion.
The impact of the previous CP for 2014-20 is expected to be approximately 0.5% of EU GDP by the end of the implementation period. For less developed regions, GDP is expected to be 3.2% higher rising e.g. to 6.4% for Croatia. Monitoring data show that the 2014-20 programs supported over 4.4 million businesses, created 350 000 new jobs and increased the energy performance of more than 540 000 households.
In Poland, CP has supported an increase in renewable energy production of 3 465 GWh a year, roughly equivalent to 700 new wind turbines. In Spain, the provision of broadband infrastructure has reduced the importance of location, making it possible for businesses to thrive throughout the country. In Southern Italy, 7 000 companies who benefitted from an investment scheme had a 10-14% higher probability of export growth compared to matched control enterprises.
In Portugal, traineeships and hiring support measures increased the employment rate of participants by 37 percentage points relative to the control group.




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