Study: Coordination key to getting EU aid into regions during pandemic

Coordination, planning, capacity: These are the major challenges for a COVID-compliant regional policy, according to the study. [Shutterstock | 3rdtimeluckystudio]

Local authorities have had to rely on European aid distributed via the cohesion fund to maintain public services during the pandemic, but this process has not always worked smoothly, according to a study released on Wednesday (March 10). EURACTIV Germany reports.

Coordination is the main challenge in ensuring European aid gets to where it is needed, said the study commissioned by the left-wing GUE/NGL Group in the EU Parliament and conducted by the European Policies Research Center (EPRC).

The study looked at the impact of the so-called CRII and CRII+ programs, under which local governments are able to access the surplus €37 billion from the 2014-2020 EU cohesion budget that would otherwise have had to be repaid to the Commission.

An additional €47.5 billion in fresh money will flow to the regions by 2023 via a new instrument, REACT-EU.

The Cohesion Policy to come

Cohesion policy will be one of the main driving forces to achieve an equitable recovery, and the EU’s digital and green aspirations.

EURACTIV tries to demystify the present and future of European cohesion.

The CRII and CRII+ had a positive impact, according to the study authors, with their case studies illustrating the “impressive work and creativity of local governments, regardless of their economic development or geographic starting point.”

Local governments had a relatively free hand in distributing CRII funds, and used that flexibility to act quickly, the study found.

However, this flexibility has had its downsides, particularly for the Greens, as CRII made it possible to reallocate money previously budgeted for climate action.

“We had feared this, it had already become apparent at the time,” Niklas Nienaß, a Green MEP told EURACTIV Germany. However, the Greens also decided that speed and flexibility were essential in fighting the crisis, and ultimately agreed to loosen cohesion rules.

With loosened cohesion rules, EU money channelled away from climate action

EU countries have reallocated €3.8 billion of EU structural funds away from climate action while increasing “generic support” for small and medium-sized firms as well as health measures. This was made possible by loosened rules to enable a rapid response to the crisis but the European Commission hopes that the incoming fresh cash will reverse that trend.

Strong together

The study identifies two challenges for the future use of the funding; coordination and capacity.

“A key risk is the failure of vertical coordination in crisis management and thus a fragmented response at multiple levels of administration,” the authors wrote.

Treating COVID 'symptoms' without facing past may risk green future of regions

Many EU governments appear to be ignoring regional and local authorities in the design of their national recovery plans, and they risk uneven recovery and slower green transition if existing issues in most vulnerable regions are disregarded, experts say.

EU funding measures against the pandemic were successful where all levels of governance, from local to national, worked well together.

On the other hand, lack of capacity in local authorities could become a bottleneck.

All the different funding sources, which include the next long-term financial envelope for European regions running between 2021-2027, are “likely to test the limits of the administrative capacity of some local authorities,” the analysis argues.

EU regions' advisory body to step up cooperation with Commission

Renovations, sustainable mobility, urban greening. These are just some areas in which the Committee of the Regions’ (CoR) wants to work more closely with the European Commission. EURACTIV France reports.

Local expertise

Local expertise would also be important in the case of pandemic aid funds that are not disbursed through regional policy. The main focus here is on the EU’s €672.5 billion-strong recovery fund.

Currently, no role is envisaged for the regions or cities – though they should be consulted, as local governments are best placed to assess the situation on the ground, the study recommends, echoing previous calls from the Committee of the Regions (CoR), an advisory body to the main EU institutions.

According to a survey published at the end of January commissioned by the CoR, national governments have so far barely consulted their sub-national counterparts while putting together recovery plans to be submitted to the European Commission by April.

“There are also opportunities in this crisis – if we permanently use and expand the strong cohesion that has been built up in the first months of the crisis,” said Martina Michels (GUE/NGL).

She hopes that the study will “highlight experiences in a wide variety of places in Europe and make them more widely usable.”

[Edited by Vlagyiszlav Makszimov and Josie Le Blond]

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