Simplification is intended to contribute to a better, more effective and simpler use of the Funds in order to make the greatest possible contribution in achieving the Treaty objective of Territorial Cohesion and in making the EU more competitive. As the EU's Cohesion policy is the EU's only instrument for European Regions and Cities, its effective functioning is thus of crucial importance for LRAs.
By decision of 10 July 2015 (C(2015) 4806), the European Commission set up a High Level Group of Independent Experts on Monitoring Simplification for Beneficiaries of the European Structural and Investment Funds. The task of the group of experts has been to advise the Commission with regard to simplification and reduction of administrative burden for beneficiaries of the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds, both during the current programming period and with a view to the post-2020 MFF.
On 11 July 2017 the HLG adopted its recommendations for the post-2020 programming period. The recommendations are intended to guide the Commission services in their ongoing preparation of the legislative proposals for the new generation of ESI Fund programmes and to feed into the discussion on the Commission's Reflection Paper on the Future of EU Finances.
The CoR has consistently insisted in past negotiations on the importance of simplifying Cohesion Policy. The main objective of the opinion is therefore to capitalise on the current political momentum to reiterate its key messages on simplification for the post-2020 period and ensure that the requirements and experience of local and regional authorities are fully reflected in the future ESIF framework.
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- emphasises that simplification of the ESI Funds must form a part of a reformed and improved cohesion policy for the future of Europe;
- welcomes the constructive nature of the High Level Group's recommendations and the clear statement that simplification is the task of all parties involved in the implementation and administration of the Funds – the Commission, the co-legislators, the Member States and regional and local authorities;
- notes that there are still a number of very important areas and subsidiary issues that the High Level Group's conclusions do not address or address only partially;
- confirms its strong support for the analysis set out by the HLG of the significant benefits of the shared management model for effective delivery of Cohesion Policy;
- underscores the importance of ensuring that the existing ESI funds (ERDF, ESF, EAFRD, Cohesion Fund, Fisheries Fund) stay together and are coordinated through common rules and provisions post-2020;
- confirms the support for the overarching objective outlined by the HLG of ensuring equal treatment and a level playing field for ESIF programmes and centrally managed funds and underscores the need for alignment of state aid and public procurement rules;
- suggests the establishment of One Stop Shops at national/regional level to help beneficiaries handle ESI and non-ESI funds together;
- points to the lessons to be learned from the delays experienced at the start of the current programming period and underscores the critical importance of ensuring that the Commission's legislative proposals on the post-2020 ESI framework are presented and agreed at least six months before the start of the new programming period;
- recommends moving towards a more differentiated approach in the areas of audit, reporting and controls.