Is the EU cohesion policy -the main item of the EU budget with EUR 350 billion in structural funds- effective? The answer is a mixed yes, as many criticisms of cohesion policy are warranted, said John Bachtler, Professor of European Policy Studies and Director of the European Policies Research Centre at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow at an EIB Institute seminar.
“Strategic justification of -and accountability for- spending have been inadequate”, said Prof. Bachtler, building upon a research to evaluate the main achievements, effectiveness and utility of cohesion policy programmes over the longer term (1989-2013) in 15 selected regions of the EU 15. However, there have been “improvements over time and across programmes” and “programmes were relevant to regional needs”, increasingly meeting objectives and contributing to economic development. “Objectives relying on public sector intervention were more readily well achieved, while objectives relying on private sector investment or entrepreneurial activity had a mixed record,” he added.
The study shows the need to concentrate resources on fewer and larger projects, of having coherent strategies, integrating investment and sound project planning as well as investing in administrative capacity. However, the varied level of commitment by Member States in terms of ambition, competence and expertise, the differences in alignment of EU and domestic political and policy priorities as well as the long-term timescale for bringing about change are challenges to what the Cohesion policy can achieve.
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