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Will European funds fulfill the promise of simplification in France in 2021?

Currently, partnership consultations and deliberations within dedicated committees are taking place to prepare the future 2021-2027 programmes. However, the drafting of these documents, which are essential for providing the best possible guidance to project leaders, has already fallen behind schedule. This is due to the persistent uncertainty about the future modalities of management of European funds, as negotiations are still ongoing.

What conclusions can be drawn regarding French management in 2014-2020?

The management of EFSIs has undergone many changes in 2014-2020. Among the resulting evolutions, the transfer of the management of the ERDF, the EAFRD and part of the ESF (35%) from the State to the regions, coupled with a delegation of the management of ESF’s third axis to the Departmental Councils and of part of the ERDF and ESF to the ITIs (Integrated Territorial Investments), in line with the decentralisation movement.

However, the Senate’s report on European funds’ under-consumption in France questions the efficiency and performance of this shared management which calls for corrections. In this framework, disagreements persist between the State and the regions regarding the future modalities of management, in particular regarding these divisions. Everyone agrees on the complexity of the funding management but none of them wishes to get rid of it, thus recognising the importance of European aid at local level.

What are the expected prospects for 2021-2027?

Some insights were provided by the State-Regions Committee of 22 January 2020. The principle of integral management of the ERDF by the regions was thereby reaffirmed, with the exception of Saint-Martin and Mayotte for which the prefectures will keep a predominant role.

On the other hand, the management of the ESF+ still needs to be clarified. If the government wishes to maintain a shared management (65% State – 35% Regions), the regions claim the entire territorial share of the ESF+ in a logic of greater proximity and better adaptation to the territorial needs.

In particular, the regions would like to be entrusted with the management of the entire social and solidarity economy, the educational strand and the territorial share of the provisional management of both jobs and skills. Let us hope that the next State-Regions Committee meeting in mid-April will make it possible to establish a consensus.

However, should the debate on State-Region dividing lines be the main focus?

As the Court of Auditors points out in its report “Assessment of the transfer to the regions of the management of European structural and investment funds”, the management architecture is perhaps less important than the strategy for programming and using European funds and the spirit of cooperation between the various stakeholders.

Simplification, mutualisation, thematic concentration, planning and support for project leaders: these are the axes that should guide the reflection on the next OPs. These points are, moreover, the subject of a consensus between the State and the Regions, and an ad hoc working group should be set up to make progress on these issues.

Are the proposals stemming from the field finally being heard?

No one disputes the added value of EFSI in the territories, but everyone agrees that the organisation and procedures for obtaining and managing these funds have failed.

The problems have all been identified and the consultations underway at the State or local government level are providing an opportunity to learn about concrete field proposals, such as :

  • Regular consultation with project leaders throughout the programming period to ensure constant adaptation to the local environment.
  • A logic of calls for proposals allowing for better communication on the territory and to frame the approach within a defined time period.
  • Consistency between the European agreements and the State or Region agreements, facilitating management for all services and beneficiaries.
  • Enhanced communication on opportunities
  • A relationship with services based on a partnership approach
  • Better training for managing departments
  • A common and shared interpretation of the regulations
  • Eligibility of collaborative projects, a key to territorial dynamics
  • Taking small structures into account
  • A more systematic mobilisation of simplified costs and therefore a lighter, results-oriented control
  • Accelerated appraisal and agreement procedures
  • Greater transparency on the programming committees (members and agenda)
  • Last but not least, advances of funds to cover initial expenses and the reduction of the time required to reimburse expenses to a “short circuit” or at least “reasonable” level.

Here are the major topics that should finally be addressed in addition to the State-Regions dividing line…

Rapid progress is needed in order to avoid programming delays and to reassure project leaders as well as the involved managing authorities and intermediary bodies. However, both the electoral reserve period and the announced postponement of the national seminar on information and partnership consultation on the European funds 2021-2027, now scheduled for the end of June 2020, do not inspire much optimism. 

Lorraine de Bouchony & Audrey Péan 


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