The EESC supports the key points for cohesion policy set out by the European Commission in the 5th Cohesion Report:
- enhancing European added value;
- strengthening governance;
- streamlining and simplifying management procedures;
- improving organisation.
The EESC believes these objectives to be achievable if at the same time:
- strategic programming is enhanced, to help Member States to complete the institutional reforms required to make administrations more functional;
- EU resources are focused on a few priority objectives;
- social and economic mobilisation and the participation of socio-economic partners in the implementation of the cohesion policy are broadened;
- reforms are made to the principles of additionality and co-financing;
- impact assessments are made obligatory.
Socio-economic partnership, with the dissemination of best practice, in parallel or in combination with agreements among public entities, should become a standard and compulsory procedure, accompanying all processes in cohesion policy. As such, it should be directly linked with conditionality. The EESC would like to see this principle laid down in Article 11 of the general regulation, stipulating the partnership rules, and extended to all of the structural funds.
Simplification should become cohesion policy's main objective. This could be pursued strenuously by cutting down on administrative and accounting procedures, improving and strengthening monitoring and evaluation criteria and pruning the number of procedures involved in the presentation of plans and/or projects. The revision of accounting procedures could be achieved amongst all stakeholders, working in partnership with the Court of Auditors.
More specifically, the "one stop shop" principle should be applied in both the project submission phase, merging official procedures for the various funds, and the auditing phase, harmonising the financial rules and those for the different programmes, and carrying out a single check to be valid for all the bodies concerned.
With regard to the objective of reinforcing strategic programming, the innovation in the Commission's proposal is essentially to ensure coherence and to create a more functional link between the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and the actions drawn up at national level through operational programmes.
The EESC welcomes this innovation, but believes that the main problem to be resolved concerns the link between the annual plans drawn up by the Member States and agreed with the EU for stabilising public finances (National Reform Plans) and cohesion policy. This is a highly topical issue, given the differences between the administrative systems in force in the different countries of the EU and their differing levels of public debt.
One of the central points of the plan to revise cohesion policy is the need to establish functional and strategic coordination between the various Structural Funds, which at present is practically non-existent. For this reason, the selection and related financing of measures at regional level should take place as part of a dialogue and working methodology, put together not only with the Member States (partnership contracts) and socio-economic partners, but also with the technical support and resources of the five Structural Funds, in order to form a single authority for the coordination and management of the various funds.