The main goal of the CoR opinion is to assess the partnership agreements (PA) and operational programmes (OP) from the perspective of regional and local authorities which will use the 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). The opinion focuses mainly on negotiation processes, the quality of the PAs and OPs, adherence to the Code of Conduct on Partnership, and the barriers to proper planning and implementation of ESIF. It also contains suggestions on how to overcome obstacles.
The rapporteur presented this opinion to the EP REGI committee on 15 October 2015. Moreover, specific messages of the opinion were taken up by EP rapporteurs in their draft report (REGI) and opinion (EMPL) on New territorial development tools in Cohesion policy 2014-202: Integrated Territorial Investment (ITI) and Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) following bilateral meetings between the CoR rapporteur and the European Parliament's rapporteurs. A bilateral meeting with the head of cabinet of the Commissioner, Corina Creţu, took place on 20 November 2015.
Key messages of the draft opinion were presented by the CoR secretary-general to the meetings of Director Generals (30 March 2015). Moreover, the CoR president presented key messages of the opinion to Ministers responsible for Cohesion Policy (9 June 2015).
On 12 June 2015 the Council adopted conclusions on the implementation challenges of the cohesion policy 2014-2020, which took the CoR position into account.
The joint REGI-COTER meeting on 13 October 2015 discussed the topics of this opinion and key messages of the opinion were reiterated.
The CoR and the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union organised two joint workshops on simplification on 27 January 2016 and on 10 March 2016. Experts from the Member States and regional and local authorities have discussed the challenges and proposals for solutions for simplification which will provide input for the Council discussions on simplification and feed into the CoR's future work on this matter.
The European Committee of the Regions,
- underlines the crucial role of cohesion policy in achieving the Treaty objective of economic, social and territorial cohesion through "reducing disparities between levels of development of the various regions and the backwardness of the least favoured regions;
- is concerned that the partnership principle cannot be applied appropriately in all Member States. The negotiations on the PAs and OPs showed that while LRAs were consulted in most cases, their involvement did not amount to full partnership as outlined in the European Code of Conduct on Partnership;
- insists on further simplification in the management of EU-funded projects. This should include a reduction in the time period for reimbursement for beneficiaries, the creation of one set of common auditing rules for projects, simpler rules for projects which generate their own revenue, consistent rules concerning the eligibility of costs, the wider use of simplified costs, a closer connection between payments and results, E-cohesion, the "one-stop-shop" principle for beneficiaries, and a proportionate and unified approach to supervision, the harmonisation of procedures as part of first-level monitoring of territorial cooperation programmes, and simplification of public procurement controls;
- draws attention to the excessive burden placed on local and regional authorities by the large number of uncoordinated controls, which could lead to a decrease in interest in implementing European projects;
- calls for the Member States, not just less developed ones but all across the EU, to make greater use of the technical assistance available for operational programmes;
- considers it unacceptable that funding on the territory of LRAs should be delayed due to some failings at European and national institutional level and hopes that in the long-term LRAs will benefit from the application of ex-ante conditionalities.