European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) represent significant investments in the EU’s physical infrastructure and the development of human potential, helping to increase the continent's economic, social and territorial cohesion, including the environmental integrity of its natural environment.
This briefing gives an overview of the legal background and the guiding principles for applying project selection criteria during the implementation phase of EU funds, illustrated by a number of case studies and examples from different countries.
As the negotiations on the EU funds for 2014-2020 are coming to an end, NGO partners from CEE countries conclude on their involvement during the “programming”, the process of elaboration and consultation of the future EU Cohesion Policy spending plans. Whereas some improvements compared to the previous period can be stated, an even formal compliance with the European Code of Conduct on Partnership is not always guaranteed.
While the EU regulations for the Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 themselves contain many important provisions on integrating environmental protection and fostering sustainable development, the draft Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes presented by national governments do not fully exploit the potential to build a green, sustainable economy with the help of the EU budget.
CEE Bankwatch Network and Friends of the Earth campaigners across the central and eastern Europe region have reviewed the draft documents, detecting a number of problematic issues – both regarding the funding priorities and the process of EU funds programming itself.
During the Cohesion Policy programming process, we have observed that environmental sustainability is not being appropriately included in the Operational Programmes and Partnership Agreements. This info-kit for those involved in the programming therefore offers suggestions for environmental and climate mainstreaming measures.
At the peak of EU funds’ programming, experiences from CEE countries reveal deficiencies in the application of the Code of Conduct and a flawed implementation of the partnership principle. This undermines the credibility of the programming process and leaves benefits of a comprehensive involvement of all stakeholders untapped. The sometimes even entertaining list of partnership shortcomings brings us to the conclusion that a purely voluntary partnership without common standards much too often continues to end up being a purely formal exercise, and that the promotion of best practices alone is not sufficient to ensure quality partnership.
At the moment from an NGO's point of view the Operational Programme of Latvia looks well defined and very promising in general. But the way how the OP is described at the moment is too general also for a SEA to assess the possible negative impacts on environment as well as for NGOs to consider that the implementation of OP could cause serious environmental problems, let alone the strategic direction Latvia chose to follow with support of ESI funds.
The Partnership Agreement (the main strategic document underpinning the new Cohesion Policy) is the place to state not only intentions but commitments, yet the latter are missing in Slovakia's EU funds blueprint for now.
The Czech Republic's long-standing difficulties in realising major waste incinerator schemes via EU funds investments have taken a turn for the worse in recent weeks as the European Commission has poured cold water on the country's incineration plans, both as they apply to the 2007-2013 EU funding period and to the forthcoming 2014-2020 period now entering the final stages of negotiations.
The briefing is based on inputs from the Network of Estonian Non-Governmental Organisations, the Estonian Council of Environmental Organisations, the Estonian Fund for Nature, the Centre of Stockholm Environment Institute in Tallinn (a.k.a Sustainable Estonia Institute), the Estonian Green Movement-FoE Estonia, the Estonian Renewable Energy Association and CEE Bankwatch Network.