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Simplifying cohesion policy is crucial for the European Union

High-level group prepares proposals for changes in procedures for EU funds absorption

Emil Hristov, Brussels Two years after the new package with reformed cohesion policy was adopted, still remains the question with extremely complicated and unnecessarily burdensome procedures that prevent most of the potential beneficiaries of the programs to apply. There are complex processes that significantly influence small and medium-sized enterprises and NGOs, said the Chair of the Committee on Regional Development of the European Parliament Iskra Mihaylova at the opening of a seminar on “Simplify cohesion policy to boost results”. The forum, held at the European Parliament in Brussels, was organized by the Regional Development Committee of the EP and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Special guest of the seminar was the Chairman of the Committee on Budgets of the European Parliament Jean Arthuis. “One of the main problems faced by the beneficiaries is the lack of administrative capacity in terms of human resources and expertise,” added Mihaylova. She informed the guests of the event that the European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu had initiated the creation of a high-level expert group whose aim is to monitor the policy of simplification. The structure should present also best practices for reducing administrative burdens. The group should make also recommendations for improving the simplification measures for the period 2014 - 202о, especially regarding the mid-term review of activities in 2016, and also for the period after 2020. “The group consists of 12 people who have extensive experience in European funding at all levels. Chairman is Siim Kallas, who is former Vice-President of the European Commission,” said Mihaylova and expressed her satisfaction that he also participated in the seminar. “Cohesion policy is crucial for the European Union and we from ALDE regularly discuss this issue,” added Iskra Mihaylova and said that during this week the members of the party would get acquainted with a detailed report prepared by the newly established high-level group. The opinion of Mihaylova is that the new structure should explore opportunities to improve the rules and procedures for simplification. “Simplification is needed more than ever to fulfill cohesion policy so that it has a positive effect on EU citizens. Complex procedures at national, regional and local level are still one of the main reasons for the administrative burdens on beneficiaries and managing authorities,” she stressed. Her speech continued with emphasis on the importance of the proper management of funds and the increase in quality and results. “Preventive measures are necessary to reduce errors and incorrect application for projects. It is also important to note the possibility of simplification through various financial instruments, to continue their use and combinations,” said the Chair of the Committee on Regional Development to the EP. “It is important to make a better balance between simplification and legality and the sound financial management. European auditors together with the European Court of Auditors should analyze the procedures that at times overweigh and hamper management. It is necessary to develop measures to simplify them,” she said. According to Iskra Mihaylova, it is very important to find a solution which will allow flexible financing and will result in better synergy. “We cannot afford the resources that we have not to be used or to be used inefficiently,” said Mihaylova. “We should be very careful in spending the cohesion policy funds because they make up one third of the EU budget,” said the Chair of the Committee on Budgets of EP Jean Arthuis. “We need to pave the way forward and to overcome any of the obstacles we face and to control the risk – especially where it is great,” he added. According to Arthuis, it is necessary to reinforce the control of local authorities and they, in turn, to be more efficient. “We need to strengthen also the relationship between the European Parliament and the governing authorities of the member states. There is a large distance between the Budget Committee and the governments of individual countries,” said Arthuis. During the forum the floor took also the Chairman of the high-level group Siim Kallas. He informed in detail about the possibilities of the newly-established structure to monitor the simplification of EU cohesion policy and EU funds. “We have already had two meetings with experts from the committee. Our desire is to achieve something really different,” began his speech Kallas. He said that the use of funds from the cohesion policy is one of the biggest EU achievements and because of that it is important to know how exactly they are absorbed. “The European Court of Auditors issued a report that there are 3%errors in the absorption of funds from the Cohesion Fund. Most of the members of the Union decided that these 3% are in vain lost money. To fight this opinion is a very serious political task,” said Siim Kallas. “The task of the high-level group is to convince the people that this amount of money is really properly allocated and is not lost. We have to provide the necessary security to beneficiaries, which is our main goal,” he said. In his speech Kallas touched the topic of how many layers of control and security are necessary. “Many member states try to avoid the mistakes creating different layers of control to prove their citizens that they absorb properly the European funds but this does not always lead to the desired results. It is important to note that the experts who deal with that are professionals. On the one hand they are working hard to avoid future mistakes but in their efforts they hinder beneficiaries with complicated procedures,” he added. “Over the past few years the regulation have been increased, which also had its influence. During this latter period the volume of regulation was increased two-fold. A way out of this vicious circle should be found. When I reason from an official point of view and from that of the member states, I see that everyone is afraid to be wrong in his actions. That is why I think that they need additional information and guidance. We all are obliged to offer them these guidelines,” said Kallas. In conclusion, he stressed that there is a great lack of trust between the different departments responsible for distribution of finances in the member states. “It is necessary the theme to be continued and discussed in the Committee on Regional Development and the needed measures to be taken,” concluded the Chairman of the high-level group. After his speech guests got acquainted with the possibilities of using the full potential of financial instruments within the cohesion policy. Report on the subject was delivered by Frank Lee –representative of the European Investment Bank. The seminar continued with a discussion panel with technical experts on simplification proposals of ESIS, which was moderated by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez – Vice-President of the Project Management Institute.