“Working in a million € programme is not the same as working in a billion € programme.”
True. The budgets of the programmes and the EU’s contribution are smaller. The investment priorities are more concentrated and the scale of the impact is different. Therefore, it is not surprising that national and regional authorities can be sceptical
about the COHESIFY recommendations
to raise the profile
of communication activities in Cohesion Policy.
More developed regions raise three arguments about the communication of Cohesion Policy. First, in developed regions
(“million € programme regions”), the impact of Cohesion Policy is small compared to cohesion countries or less developed regions (“billion € programme regions”) due to smaller budgets. Therefore, they claim that the expectations from programme communication need to be different, i.e. proportional to the scope and budgets of programmes.
Second, in more developed regions the EU funds up to 50 per cent
of the value of programmes, while domestic funding sources cover the rest of the funding. In comparison, the EU can provide up to 85 per cent of the funds for programmes in the cohesion countries and less-developed regions of the EU. Why would anyone brand a project as European, when the EU provided half of the funding?
Third, small programmes tend to have fewer human resources available to work on communication or dedicated exclusively to communication tasks. In some of these programmes, communication officers work on a part-time basis or have additional programme administration responsibilities beyond communication.
These are fair points. Unfortunately, as one of the Irish policy stakeholders I interviewed put it: “We have been saying this message [missing proportionality] for years now, but it has fallen on deaf ears.” If a repeated message is not heard, then one might as well start to think differently about the issue.
Most of the communication about Cohesion Policy has been focused on its material benefits: number of jobs and supported businesses or kilometres of built roads. If you manage a million € programme, the number of businesses you can support with EU funds will be lower compared to a billion € programme. This is not only because the programme is that much smaller, but also because the nature of the projects supported changes. For example, if the programme concentrates mainly on SME development, the publicity billboards on projects will be less visible to people than a large billboard on a motorway connecting two major cities funded by an infrastructure-focused programme.