The future EU Regional Policy, implemented through the so-called Structural Funds, was adopted in EP Plenary 20 Nov. The negotiations between the Council and the Parliament on this policy had been blocked for a long time, contributing to the delay in the adoption of the global EU budget. The global envelope for the cohesion policy 2014-2020 will be €363bn (in current prices, equivalent to €322bn in 2011 prices). An overview of the detailed allocations per objective is available here.
Concerning the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), changes adopted in the final vote mainly concern technicalities whereas the content (thematic objectives, priorities etc.) remains almost untouched. Support for innovation and development of SMEs in the creative and cultural sectors, support of small-scale culture infrastructures to promote access to cultural services, integration of culture in territorial strategy, strengthening of e-culture and development of cultural resources to support an employment friendly growth have been added to the sole mention of cultural heritage in the initial proposal, as part of the scope of the ERDF support.
The minimum allocation for the European Social Fund (ESF) has been set at 23,1% of the EU cohesion policy funding instead of the 25% proposed by the EC and supported by the EP and civil society representatives. This less favourable position to the ESF reflects reluctance expressed since the beginning of the negotiations by some Northern countries, which consider that the ESF should only focus on employment. Nevertheless, a clause stipulating that 20% of the use of the ESF must target social inclusion and fight against poverty has been kept. Moreover, the compromise adopted by the Council and the EP includes €3bn especially earmarked to support youth employment. Despite the many references to culture introduced by the rapporteur (Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, France/EPP) in the second version of the EP report, the final text voted in EP Plenary on 20 November only states, in the political introduction (recital) that the ESF should contribute to cultural and creative skills and that socio-cultural, creative and cultural sectors are important and therefore should be better integrated in the ESF projects and programming. There are no other explicit references to culture in the final legal basis of the ESF.
As part of the implementation of the global Cohesion Package, each Member State is required to submit a national strategy within 4 months of the adoption of the framework regulation. Now that the legal framework has been adopted, the European Commission will be able to officially validate the partnership agreements with the Member States. Progress on the preparation of the partnership agreements and operational programmes vary greatly from one country to another. Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary have advanced quite far in the negotiations with the Commission and their partnership agreements and operational programmes are expected to be approved in the first quarter of 2014 while Italy and France are a bit late in comparison.