Implementing the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2014-2020 was the focus of debate yesterday between members of the Committee of the Region's (CoR) commission on the EU Budget (BUDG) and budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski. "By June the Commission will ensure the 2013 backlog is paid to beneficiaries of EU fund" said the Commissioner. As regards 2015 draft budget, the discussion highlighted the need to go up to the limit of the MFF ceilings as in the new MFF they are much lower than in the current one.
CoR members congratulated the Commissioner for his hard but successful work on the MFF but also highlighted the need to speed-up its implementation on the ground. As stressed in several opinions, the CoR is concerned by the increasing "structural deficit" of the EU and delays in the reimbursement of the investment operated by regions and cities on EU co-financed projects. Commissioner Lewandowski reassured BUDG members that the Commission is committed to paying the current 2013 payments backlog – estimated to be for more than €20bn – by next June. Nonetheless, the conclusion of 2007-2013 programmes will lead to a peak in payments requests in 2014 and 2015. At the same time, the Commission is under pressure to ensure adequate frontloading for youth unemployment and SME initiatives. According to the Commissioner, "We could face tensions because we have small reserves for eligible expenditure under the EU's cohesion policy". Replying to Agnès Durdu (LU/ALDE), CoR rapporteur on the 2015 annual budget, the Commissioner also predicted that: "We might to go very close to the limit of the MFF ceiling and we don't exclude using additional flexibility if needed". With regard to the timing of the procedure, the May elections could end up delaying the usual schedule but "all stakeholders will have the time to provide their contribution".
The main obstacles to implementing the EU budget were also addressed in a discussion with the chair of the European Parliament Committee for Budgetary Control (COCOBU), Michael Theurer (DE/ALDE), and Lazarou Lazaros, member of chamber II of the European Court of Auditors. The debate was opened by CoR rapporteur on the execution of the EU Budget, Adam Struzik (PL/EPP), who underlined the main problematic areas in budget implementation: effectiveness of management systems, quality of national legal frameworks, availability of resources for co-financing interventions, administrative capacity, coordination among the involved governance levels, including between the concerned EU institutions. The exchange of views was enriched by a presentation on the progress in regional policy funds absorption delivered by Manfred Kraff, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission's DG BUDG. The average level of absorption for the 2007-2013 European Social Fund was 65.8% at the end of 2013, 61.57% for the European Regional Development Fund the EU average whilst the Cohesion Fund was stuck at 56.69%.
The need to evaluate programmes going beyond the quantitative analysis and the "formalistic assessment"– as Commissioner Lewandowski defined the current evaluation framework - was a key message shared by both panels. In this respect, Mr Theurer presented his proposal of a performance monitoring framework and pointed out the role that the CoR could play in accompanying the establishment and implementation of such an evaluation tool.
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