MFF, ERDF, ESF, EFRD, EAGF…navigating the sea of acronyms in the EU funding lexicon can be a daunting task for would-be applicants. Yet, unlocking these funds will be crucial for regions if they are to bounce back from the pandemic. What can be done to help regions access the crucial funding they need to support their recovery?
The AER recognises these challenges members face when it comes to accessing EU funding. That’s why on 26 May, as part of our Skillnet Project on European funding opportunities, the AER held a training session for regions and their stakeholders looking to make the best of new EU funding opportunities.
Featuring presentations and an extended Q & A with experts from the European Commission, the first webinar in our “Unboxing the MFF (Multiannual Financial Framework)” series took attendees through Cohesion & Rural Development funds, and the EU’s Next Generation EU Recovery Package.
Cohesion Policy and Next Generation EU – What’s New?
Our first speaker, Ms Tereza Krausová from DG REGIO gave an overview of the 2021-2027 Cohesion Policy and Next Generation EU packages, and provided insights on how regions can benefit under the new frameworks. She noted that while NextGenEU is “at its core” a crisis-repair instrument, the Commission wants it to compliment the EU’s climate goals and facilitate the digital transition – important aspect to bear in mind.
Also of note are the substantial sums allocated to bolster programmes of key interest to regions. There is EUR 47.5 billion allocated to Cohesion programmes 2014-2020, like the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF+), and cross-border programmes like the Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) and Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). (Note – AER members are invited to request more information on these and all instruments discussed from the AER Secretariat).
Ms Krausová also set out the features of these shared management funds, which have a strong territorial dimension. While the partnership agreements for programmes under these funds are set up nationally with the Commission, local and regional authorities are strongly encouraged to engage themselves fully in the process by meeting with and setting out their priorities to their national authorities. Most notably, Policy Objective 5: ‘Territorial Tools’, underlines that all investments have to be based on local strategies. These should empower cities and local communities “to identify their own priorities and projects in a participatory way.” Possible tools available include integrated territorial investments (ITIs), community-led local development (CLLD) and other territorial tools designed by member states.
In terms of priority themes, as mentioned, under the ERDF there is a “thematic concentration” on improvement of the economy and meeting the EU’s climate reduction targets. Of particular interest to regions will be the thematic concentration on sustainable urban development. 8% of the ERDF is allocated towards integrated urban development delivered through local development partnerships. There are also new funding streams available for interregional innovation, and Ms Krausová again emphasised that these local development strategies must have true “local ownership”. Within the INTERREG programme, there is a bigger emphasis on cross-border programmes – including a new European cross-border Mechanism, a specific component for outermost regions, and the incorporation of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) and the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), which supports co-operation outside the EU.
Ms Krausová also touched on the EU’s Just Transition Fund (JTF), which provides over EUR 19 billion in tailored support to territories to help them achieve climate neutrality by 2050. This money aims to galvanize green investment in areas like waste reduction, resource efficiency, recycling, etc, as well as encourage SME growth in the green economy. Coal and peat intensive regions in transition will be key beneficiaries of this fund.
European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) – driving a Fair Recovery
Our second speaker, Ms Louise Reid from DG EMPL gave insights on the new European Social Fund Plus (ESF+). The ESF+ supports employment, education and social inclusion through EUR 99.3 billion of investments in different programmes.
As with other funds, there are specific “thematic concentrations requirements” for member states relating to tackling youth unemployment, eradicating child poverty, and capacity building of social partners and civil society. Of note is that there is EUR 531 million and EUR 197 million available to support Outermost Regions and Transnational cooperation respectively under shared management. With regard to REACT-EU funds distributed under ESF+, Ms Reid said these will be directed towards short-term work schemes and youth employment, as well as ensuring equal access to health services. Echoing Ms Krausová, she underlined that “regions should now take the opportunity to be involved” in the national planning processes, and contact their local management authority for more information on accessing REACT-EU funding.
The Common Agricultural Policy – the importance of Partnership
Our final speaker, Mr Stefan Jensen from DG AGRI updated attendees on the reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and how regions can make the most of the EU instruments available to support rural development. While still under negotiation, from 2023 the National CAP Strategic Plans will integrate “direct payments and market funds” – the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF), with the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). Between 2021-22 there will be a transition period where the current framework will be extended, and there is an additional EUR 8 billion earmarked from the Next Generation EU recovery programme to support rural development. As with the other funds under discussion, there is “a strong focus on Green Deal ambitions”, with 30% of the EAFRD concentrated on helping rural areas meet climate and environmental objectives.
Mr Jensen underlined the essential role that regional stakeholders will have in the administration of the new CAP. Members should note that regions are very much embedded in the design of these instruments, and are expected to be involved in the design and implementation of the National Strategic plans. More concretely, the Commission expects these plans to be able to identify regional specificities and needs, and it is therefore vital that all levels of government are involved in elaborating these strategies.
The Commission equally recognises the need for local approaches to fulfill broader Green ambitions. To this end, Mr Jensen encouraged local organisations to “take ownership” to ensure that “the green transition takes place on the ground.” He also advised regions “to look across different EU funds that will help you on the ground,” noting provisions in the Common Provisions Regulations (CPR) that can help regions identify funding opportunities.
There were several noteworthy takeaways for the 100+ participants who took part in this training session. Firstly, for regions to make sure they can access the funding they need, it is essential that they reach out to their member states and involve themselves in the process of designing the National Strategic Plans. Having an awareness of which streams in each instrument have a strong territorial focus (some noted above) can help regions guide such discussions, as will keeping in mind the wider political focus at EU level on delivering the Green and Digital Transitions.
Still not sure where to start? Want a more detailed briefing on this Training Session and other funding opportunities? The AER is on-hand to give one-to-one guidance on how to make the most of EU Funding opportunities. For more information, please contact our European Projects Coordinator, Ms Agnese Pantaloni via email at [email protected]
In the meantime, you can find our speakers’ slides at this link. Make sure to keep an eye on our website to find out when the next webinar in our “Unboxing the MFF” series is announced!
This training session was organised as part of the Skillnet Project, which is funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission. Skillnet aims to strengthen the Vocational Education and Training (VET) system’s role and capacity to design high-quality VET programmes tailored to current societal needs through enhanced transnational and cross-sectoral partnerships. To learn more about funding opportunities within the Skillnet Project, visit our dedicated Partnerships in Focus Hub.