EU countries have been much slower to spend structural funds aimed at reducing regional and social inequalities than in the previous seven-year budgetary period, figures from the European Commission show.
Member states had by the end of last year spent 56% of the some €640 billion of support allocated in 2014, figures released on Wednesday (April 28) show.
This was welcomed in some quarters as a great success.
“Cohesion is delivering!”, Commissioner Elisa Ferreira said on Twitter, adding that spending of EU structural funds had doubled since 2018.
📣Cohesion is delivering❗️
Rate of investment of ESI Funds accelerated 📈from 28% in 2018 to 56% in 2020
This was partly the result of #CRII/CRII+ flexibility
More than €22 billion supported healthcare, SMEs, employment & vulnerable groups
— Elisa Ferreira (@ElisaFerreiraEC) April 28, 2021
“The figures speak for themselves: the increase in spending testifies to the EU’s solidarity, as our unprecedented response to the coronavirus crisis helps millions of Europeans and businesses get back on their feet and participate in the economic and social recovery,” Ferreira added in a statement.
However, when compared with the previous seven-year period, spending of structural funds by member states has slowed down considerably.
In 2013, the last year of the previous cycle that started in 2007, Brussels had already paid member states 64% of the total budget available.
Moreover, the difference in the speed of spending between the 2014-2020 cycle and the previous one has been increasing. In the 6th year of the 2014-2020, member states spent 6% less money than in the same period last cycle. By the 7th year, the speed of spending was down by 8%.
It’s possible the figures shown in the above table may hide the true sluggishness of the fund’s implementation, as it juxtaposes the percentages paid to each member state in the previous 2007-2013 budgetary period with the percentages actually spent in member states in the last period.
A little too late is much too late
EURACTIV understands that one of the explanations for the slow spending may be the delayed adoption of the cohesion rule book, the Common Provisions Regulation (CPR), which came six months later during the 2014-2020 budgetary period than during the previous one.
However, this may spell further trouble for the next financial period. The new iteration of the CPR, though already approved by European legislators, is not yet ready and the Commission is still working to consolidate the text, a spokesperson confirmed to EURACTIV.
Another difference that may explain the tardiness of European capitals in spending cohesion funds is the change to the EU’s “spend it or lose it” policy.
Whereas at the beginning of the previous budgetary period, member states were given a deadline of two years to spend the money budgeted for projects, in the wake of the euro crisis this period was extended to three years.
Since this rule, known as the “n+3” rule, was kept for the current budgetary period as well, spending may remain slow well into the next cycle.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]