The European Commission and Member States should make more effective use of Cohesion funding, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors. Delays in finalising the legal framework and slow progress with spending plans put national administrations under pressure to use the money quickly, sometimes at the expense of performance, warn the auditors. The Commission was late in addressing spending difficulties in some programmes; however, its actions and those of the Member States had a positive impact on absorption.
Cohesion funds are allocated in advance to Member States for a seven-year spending period and put at the disposal of Member States in annual budgetary allocations that must be used within a definite time period. The auditors looked at spending during the 2007-2013 period and the action taken by Member States, with the support of the Commission, to increase the absorption of funds where problems were identified. During this period, overall funding for the EU-28 Member States amounted to €346 billion. They also compared spending patterns with the 2000-2006 and 2014-2020 periods. They visited four Member States: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and Romania.
They found that for both the 2007-2013 and 2014-2020 periods, the late adoption of the legal framework meant that operational programmes also ran late. For the 2007-2013 period, most were not approved until twelve months into the programme period, which had an inevitable knock-on effect on spending.
The 2007-2013 period began slowly, say the auditors, but 2014-2020 was even slower. In addition, the overlap of programme periods meant that Member States were still spending money from the previous period after the next programmes had started.
“It is crucial to avoid a situation where large amounts of money need to be used in a rush at the end of a programme period, because insufficient consideration may be given to value for money. Making use of the money becomes an end in itself, rather than a means of achieving policy objectives,” said Henri Grethen, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report.