Getting Their Act Together – or Just More Alphabet Soup?

By Andrew Copus, Ole Damsgaard and Gunnar Lindberg

One of the main goals of the coming programming period is coherence between the different EU funds. This article looks into the process and tools for a co-ordinated and integrated delivery of the so-called Common Strategic Framework (CSF) funds. We will also examine the process so far in the Nordic Member States and highlight some similarities and differences in how these countries are dealing with the implementation and architecture of the programmes.

Exploring the relationship between, and co-ordination of, different EU policies within specific territorial contexts is of course not new. As far back as the early 1980s, Integrated Development Programmes were piloted in 10 regions, including the Western Isles of Scotland. The need for an 'integrated approach' was emphasised in the 1996 Cork Declaration, and between 1994 and 1999, integration of the three funds (ERDF, EAGGF and ESF) was 'rolled out' in the context of programmes for regions designated under objectives 1 (lagging), 5b (rural), and 6 (peripheral/arctic). However, the administrative complexity of implementing multi-fund programmes soon prompted calls for 'simplification', and through the reforms of 1999, 2003 and 2004, the urban/regional activities of the ERDF became increasingly independent of the rural development interventions of CAP Pillar 2 (EAFRD). During the first decade of this century, a long-running background debate about the respective responsibilities of DG Agriculture and DG Regio eventually subsided into a discussion about 'coherence', which as future budgetary restrictions became increasingly evident, complemented the rising emphasis (in the context of the overarching EU 2020 objectives) on 'thematic concentration'. The way that coherence is envisaged in the coming programming period is set out in the management and integrated delivery of the CSF funds. We will now look a little closer at the proposed measures.

Co-ordination and integrated delivery of the CSF funds

The main way in which the activities of the CSF funds is co-ordinated is through the partnership agreements, which should provide 'a framework for close co-ordination to ensure that interventions financed create synergies and that streamlining leads to a reduction of administrative cost and administrative burden on the ground' (Commission Staff Working Document, 2012:61 final, p7). Ministries and managing authorities responsible for implementing the CSF programmes should work closely together on 'concrete measures' to ensure such co-ordination, through the following.

(i) Either close co-ordination of separate programmes, or multi-fund programmes in 'areas of intervention' where the CSF funds 'can work together in a complementary manner'.

(ii) Some common membership of the different CSF managing authorities.

(iii) Joint monitoring committees, or other joint management and control arrangements across the CSF fund programmes.

(iv) Joint 'e-governance solutions' – 'one stop shops' – for applicants and beneficiaries.

With respect to (i), it is interesting to note that multi-fund programmes are only envisaged between the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) and Cohesion Fund. EAFRD and EMFF are not mentioned in this context.

The Commission Staff Working Document highlights several ways in which integrated delivery could be organised at a local level.

(i) Community-led local development. Leader-like arrangements in which several funds participate.

(ii) Integrated Territorial Investments (ITI). 'Funding from several priority axes and programmes can be bundled into an integrated investment strategy for a certain territory or functional area ... It allows the managing authorities to delegate the implementation of parts of different priority axes to one body (a local authority) to ensure that investments are undertaken in a complementary manner...' It is important to note that ITI arrangements seem to be an option for only three of the CSF funds (ERDF, ESF and Cohesion); i.e., they do not seem to be an option for EAFRD or EMFF.

(iii) Integrated operations are an option for beneficiaries, rather than implementation authorities. They allow a single 'operation' to receive funding from more than one CSF fund.

(iv) Joint Action Plan is an arrangement where a group of projects may be carried out by a single beneficiary, drawing on both ESF and ERDF, 'in order to achieve specific objectives jointly agreed between the Member State and the Commission'.

The Commission also encourages the Member States to carry out co-ordinated planning, and to actively seek ways to integrate implementation of different EU policies or instruments.

How are the Nordic Member States progressing?

At the time of writing (early December 2012), the key constraint is the lack of agreement between the Member States about the overall EU budget. Without this, the CSF regulations cannot be finalised, and the entire timetable for negotiations between the Commission and the Member States is suspended. Nevertheless, the Commission has made good use of the time, and has sent each Member State a 'Position Paper', setting out its interpretation of recent economic and social statistics relating to the EU 2020 targets, and the implications for the choice of Thematic Objectives for their new CSF programmes.

The process towards the national CSF programmes and the partnership agreements for the three Nordic EU Member States [1], including the autonomic region of the Åland Islands, has until now followed only slightly different paths.

Finland started the process as early as the beginning of 2011, and in March 2012, made a formal decision concerning the programme architecture, while the process in Sweden and Denmark gained momentum only during the spring of 2012.

Different actors involved

Finland, and to some extend Sweden, seems to have involved regional stakeholders broadly at an earlier stage of the process compared with Denmark. However, direct comparisons of the involvement of stakeholders can be difficult because of the differing national and regional governmental structures and power relations in the three Nordic countries.

In all three countries and the Åland Islands, the ministry responsible for the implementation of the national ERDF programmes acts as the driving force and co-ordinator for the CSF-programming, even though the ministries responsible for the ERDF have quite different portfolios. In Finland, including the Åland Islands, and Sweden, the programming takes place directly in the ministry and at a formal high level close to the minister. In Denmark, the operational work takes place in the Danish Business Authority, which is an independent entity under the Ministry of Business and Growth.

The importance of the co-ordination function has been underlined in Sweden by the appointment of a co-ordinator with the power to operate and co-ordinate across the relevant ministries and national authorities. In the Åland Islands, a strategy group at ministerial level formally co-ordinates the work, while six different working groups led by the Ministry of Enterprise conduct the work, whereas in Finland and Denmark cross-ministerial working groups have been established but without a formal co-ordinator.

The architecture of the programmes

In all countries, the goal is to have a full draft of the CSF programmes together with the Partnership Agreement ready for consultations with the Commission in late spring or early summer 2013, dependent of course on when the final decisions concerning the EU long-term budget and EU regulations are made.

According to 'the programme architecture', Finland has decided that one national programme shall cover both the ERDF and the ESF, in contrast to the current period in which there are four ERDF operational programmes and one ESF programme.

In the other Nordic countries and the Åland Islands, no final decision has so far been made concerning the 'programme architecture'; however, it is not expected that the rural and maritime development programmes will be merged with other CSF programmes here either. It is also expected that Denmark will continue to have only one ERDF and one ESF programme as in the present programme period, and that Sweden will continue with eight ERDF and one ESF operational programmes.


Concerning the ambitions for thematic concentration, the Member States have received the position papers from the Commission and it seems that there are possibilities for reaching a consensus on priorities in the Nordic Member States. No formal decisions have been made, however, according to Riikka-Maria Turkia's article; the process in Finland seems to conclude with three Thematic Objectives for the ERDF funding.

In Sweden, consultation with the regions in 2011 also indicated that it should be possible to achieve consensus for relatively few ERDF priorities. In Denmark, the present operational programme for ERDF funding only operates with four priorities, highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship, while the operational programme for the ESF operates with two priorities. Because it is to be expected that Denmark will foresee an even lower budget for the new programmes compared with the 2007–2013 period, it is unlikely that it will be spread over more than four priorities, as proposed by the EU Commission.


The CSF and Partnership Agreement raises a host of questions for the Nordic Member States, some of them being strategic/political, others being more practical/bureaucratic implementation issues. Most of these need to be considered and widely discussed within a rather short timescale. It is evident that these countries are well on their way to designing individual programmes and partnership agreements. What is interesting is to see how far they can, and will, go in co-operating with regional interests, involving stakeholders and different governmental bodies, and in defining new priorities within and across funds. There seems to be an ambition to meet the Commission's propositions, but it is still possible that partnership agreements will be the main outcome of the process, while individual programmes will largely be a continuation of the previous period based on narrower processes and with narrower thematic prioritising.

[1] The Nordic EU Member States are Denmark, Finland and Sweden. The Åland Islands has an autonomic status concerning, e.g., labour market policy, industry and enterprise policy including regional and rural development policy, while foreign affairs and tax policy are integrated with Finnish policy.

Back to Nordregio News Issue 1, 2013