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MEPs urge member states to grab their share of structural funds

EU member states must make better use of structural funds to support development projects and create new jobs, according to a report adopted by the European Parliament on 27 September.

Structural funds intended to reduce regional disparities and stimulate growth in less developed regions make up 37 per cent of the EU’s budget. Yet many countries have failed to make full use of these resources to generate the growth needed to pull Europe out of the current economic slump.

German Free Democrat MEP Michael Theurer, rapporteur for the report said: “”It is high time to ask why some member states are unable to tap into substantial pots of EU money to help their ailing regional economies and invest in big infrastructure projects that can create jobs and economic growth.”  

“Poland and Estonia are examples of good governance with regard to increasing their absorption capacity of EU structural funds while some regions in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania continue to struggle to access this European source of funding,” he noted.

But even founder members of the EU such as Italy have been unable to make full use of the funding to support projects in their less developed regions, such as Sicily. At the beginning of 2011, the take-up rates for the 2007-2013 programming period ranged from 11 per cent to 44 per cent among member states.

Theurer’s report found that errors and delays due to the complexity of rules at EU and national levels have been aggravated by the effects of global economic recession and consequent shortage of national funding to co-finance projects.

Parliamentary committees are considering temporarily raising the EU’s share of the co-financing rate to 95 per cent, in order to boost take-up in the six countries hardest hit by the crisis, and notably Greece.

MEPs urged the Commission to put more emphasis on payments for delivery of results and creating new jobs rather than chasing up irregularities of form, rather than substance.  They suggest that auditing controls should focus on detecting real frauds.

They also suggest setting up an EU-wide co-operation programme, based on twinning regions with high and low take-up rates, to make it easier to share best practice. The resolution also stresses the need for multi-level governance and partnership in managing structural and cohesion funds.