Indeed, there is a something of a double standard in judging different EU policies. In the recent Mid Term Review (MTR) of the 2014-20 EU Budget, the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) is judged by the Budget Commissioner Kristina Georgieva to be a “highly-performing” programme
because it is committing funding quickly. So good is the performance, it seems, that a doubling of the EFSI funding is justified, without any rigorous and independent evaluation of whether the claimed leverage effect is actually being achieved. There are also important questions about EFSI’s additionality – whether it is attracting new projects or merely replacing the funding structure of private or public projects that were already planned – let alone whether it is funding projects that are delivering on EU objectives. Substantial EFSI funding is flowing into financial instruments, although their performance to date has often been weak, in terms of both efficiency and effectiveness, as the European Court of Auditors
has noted recently. Other Heading 1a competitiveness programmes, such as COSME, CEF and Horizon 2020, are also judged to be “successful programmes and instruments”
based on applicant demand and the commitment
of funding, whereas the “delays in Cohesion policy” are based on the level of payments
As part of the EU’s budget focussed on results initiative, the Commission has started publishing information about results achieved across EU funding instruments
. It is striking that Cohesion policy is the EU policy domain - out of around 40 instruments included on the EU Results website - with the largest number of selected projects considered to have generated results and improved the lives of citizens.
Over the past decade, Cohesion policymakers have been pushed increasingly onto the defensive, under pressure from critics who claimed that the policy was poorly aligned with EU objectives, under-performing and bureaucratic. The complex implementation of Cohesion policy has certainly not been solved, and key themes for the post-2020 reform will be simplification of rules and differentiation of management. However, the past two reforms have reshaped the regulatory framework and focused implementation much more on delivering EU priorities and performance. Compared to other parts of the EU budget, Cohesion policymakers have a very good story to tell, but they will need to become much more assertive and convincing in communicating its successes.
Professor John Bachtler
FRSE FAcSS, FRSA