The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESFI) are very often criticised for the administrative burden they induce, making project leaders reluctant to request their funding. Although the European Commission offers a large range of simplified cost options, many French managing authorities did not fully use these measures out of fear of cost rejection, especially during second-level controls.
How can we convince them to fully invest in these new tools, in line with the European Commission’s performance management strategy?
Simplification measures in place for several years
Since the 2007-2013 programming period was launched, the European Commission (EC) started a general reflection on how to reduce the administrative burden inherent to Structural Funds, through the implementation of simplified cost options. These SCOs represent “the most important simplification potential” according to the EC. In France, a few pilot regions have taken part in the process, but it has been difficult to draw a precise SCOs assessment.
An evolution in the use of simplified cost options over 2014-2020 that remains insufficient
Despite the promises made at the beginning of the programming period and the scope provided by the Regulation (EU) N° 1303/2013 laying down common provisions – including flat rates, standard scales for unit costs, lump sums for some operations, combinations of different SCOs – the use of simplified cost options remains insufficient in France. Indeed, these are only partially simplified, and their use can be widely increased.
Many elements result in the jeopardization of some projects : The inadequate adaptation of online platforms for applications and reports ; cautious managing authorities who limit themselves to the most basic options and who wish to stay within the EC’s validation framework, in particular when defining a system of standard unit scales for ESF projects (Article 14(1) of the ESF Regulation), etc.
The 2021-2027 programming: last chance for the SCOs to convince?
Simplified cost options still are at the centre of the regulatory framework of the 2021-2027 programme, that is still currently being defined.
Although some difficulties in the implementation of SCOs still need to be overcome by the European Commission, in particular regarding the application of State aid rules, the institution insists in its promotion strategy. Indeed, it emphasises the security that SCOs’ use would induce, including from the auditor’s point of view.
Indeed, the major challenge of using SCO is to speed up the processing of managing authorities’ controls and other audits. This would reduce the administrative and financial burden for the project leader but also for the managing authority by securing validated expenditures.