In general, the EESC fully agrees with the majority of proposals made by the European Commission, and this opinion only seeks to strengthen the specific emphasis on organised civil society contained in them. For instance, the EESC strongly believes that partnership which involves all partners and stakeholders in the preparation, execution and ex-post evaluation of projects undertaken in the framework of EU cohesion policy contributes directly to its success and therefore welcomes the progress made by Article 5 of the Regulation. In this light, the EESC is keen to contribute towards the Code of Conduct (CoC) mentioned in Article 5 and is deeply worried by signals from the Council where Member States want to restrict the implementation of the partnership principle; it calls upon the EC and the European Parliament (EP) to overturn this development.
The EESC approves a greater use of ex- ante and ex-post conditionality in EU Structural Funds (SFs) with a view to achieving more focussed and real, sustainable results; the EESC, however, rejects macro-economic conditionality for penalising regions and citizens who are not to blame for macro-economic decisions committed at national or European level.
The EESC recognises the efforts undertaken by the EC to simplify procedures but considers these insufficient. Too much complexity remains. Through an excessive emphasis on auditing and procedures, both national and European authorities are still stifling simple access to EU funding for SMEs and NGOs. Bureaucracy needs to be reduced, especially in countries where federal territorial systems create different layers of bureaucracy.
Against this background, the EESC propose to set up a “one stop shop” approach for beneficiaries in order to make cohesion policy more “beneficiary led” (a client-based approach). The EESC also believes that it is necessary to raise the below which projects are audited only once as per Article 140 from EUR 100,000 at the moment threshold to EUR 250 000. This sum should apply to the Community funding component of such projects, in order to have further simplified rules.
Furthermore, the opinion deals with topics such as accessibility for persons with disabilities, capacity building for social partners and civil society organisations, the proposed Common Strategic Framework (CSF), the social economy and its actors, flexibility, indicators other than GDP, and technical assistance for programme beneficiaries and partners.