The delays that are accumulating in the programming of EU Structural Funds 2014-2020 are likely to overload the machine and many EU regions in major recipient countries, starting with Poland, Spain and Italy, and that with a serious prospect of having to reopen the debate on the Financial Perspectives painstakingly approved a year ago. The alarm went off to Brussels some days ago and the diplomatic missions are in fibrillation because only a few operational programs (ROP for the regions and for Pon ministries) will be approved by the end of the year and allow you to start the announcements and spending commitments in the early months of 2015. However, already late part: this year, in fact, spending commitments are just over a third of the expected € 47.4 billion in the EU’s financial perspectives agreed at the end of 2013 after two and a half years of tough negotiations.
It would be enough already to face this figure, seen with great concern to the Committee of the Regions, to force Brussels to adjust the financial perspective for the years to come, with relevant passages in Parliament and especially the Council for approval where unanimity is used and more than one member state is ready to ask them to reduce the cost of cohesion. It is as if Italy were to rewrite the Def and each region could impose a veto their demands. But the situation is likely to deteriorate further in 2015 as among more than 500 national and regional operational programs, only fifty will be approved later this year. In Italy by that time no more than a dozen of such programs have been approved and are unlikely to be operational before the summer 2015.
The emergency is not only Italy (which still stands out as the only country that has not yet notified the operational programs of the three regions of Campania, Calabria and Sicily, as well as a Swedish program). Among the countries we are very concerned about there are Poland (88.5 billion by 2020 from the ERDF, ESF and EAFRD) and Spain (36.9 billion). The first has launched a devolution still running, while the Spanish operational programs presented in Brussels are in many cases “shell” and it will take many months before they are filled. On alert, for various reasons, there are also Bulgaria, Romania, France and the United Kingdom.
To avoid the risks associated with sensitive procedure for amending the financial perspective, in which any country can veto, they are trying to achieve by the year-end informal agreements between regions and the Commission to approve the programs soon after the beginning of 2015. A loophole whose effectiveness, however, is still a subject to consider.
The responsibilities of the delays are not all attributable to the regions or member states. The Council and the Commission have their own. The Council has been slow on approving perennial budget, a third of which goes to the cohesion policy; the Commission can be reprimanded for the slowness of procedures that force to see all the services of the Commission on any document sent by the Member States.
The paradoxical situation that could materialize is likely to agree with those countries which, during the bitter debate on the financial perspective, expressed willingness to reduce the resources for cohesion policy, arguing the the difficulties in many beneficiary regions that face the need to implement programs and spend money. The difficulties will be even more apparent when it comes home that there are so many hidden nodes in the new EU regulations – it should be said – have failed miserably the much-vaunted goal of simplification.
To cite just one example, here is an utterance by the first president of the Lazio region and Rapporteur of the Committee of the Regions for the sixth report on cohesion, Zingaretti – the “performance framework”, or frame of reference implementation, is a new tool that aims to improve the effectiveness in implementing programs but is based on a complicated system of indicators related to the implementation and financial interventions, with interim targets to 2018 and end-2023, which many regional offices are not able to put into practice. But it is bearing axis of the reform: “If we spend money without knowing what we want to achieve – they stress in the Commission – we have a big problem.”