Cohesion Policy (also known as Regional Policy because it targets regions) is the main instrument of the European Union for tackling the significant economic, social and territorial disparities that still exist between Europe's regions. The "Structural Funds" are the funding instruments of Cohesion Policy.

For 2007 – 2013 EU budget period, Cohesion Policy distributes €347 billion – about 35.7% of the total EU budget. The money is targeted towards economic growth and creating jobs, by, for example, improving transport links to remote regions, boosting small and medium-sized enterprises in disadvantaged areas, investing in a cleaner environment and improving education and skills.

For the next funding period (2014 – 2020), European Commission presented its legislative proposals and proposed budget €376 billion in October 2011. The European Parliament and the Council will amend the proposal and are expected to reach agreement on the legal act by the end of 2012. 

Planning for the next funding period has already started in most Member States and regions and this guide can contribute to these preparations. Proposed innovations in the 2014 Cohesion Policy include:

  • Concentration on Europe 2020: Eleven thematic objectives have been formulated to deliver the Europe 2020 strategy. The proposed rules require regions to concentrate spending on energy efficiency and renewables, innovation and support for small- and medium-size enterprises, as well as promoting social inclusion and combating poverty.
  • Partnership Contracts or Agreements between Member States and the Commission: These will assess needs and define national priorities, selected from among the 11 thematic objectives defined in the regulations. They will also define investment priorities and specific conditionalities attached to EU funding. Milestones and general performance indicators will also be part of the contracts.
  • Ex-ante conditionalities: These are factors defined in the Partnership Contracts as necessary to the effective functioning of programmes, and must be fulfilled before funds are released. Thematic conditionalities apply to specific objectives. Horizontal conditionalities – such as Strategic Environmental Assessment – will apply to all investment areas.
  • Operational Programmes: These will be similar to the current programmes, but based on the rules of the new Cohesion Policy. For the next period, programmes can combine objectives and spending from different funds – including those rural development and fisheries – to allow more flexibility in achieving results.

Cohesion Policy 2014-2020 Investing in growth and jobs

Q&A on the legislative package of EU regional, employment and social policy for 2014-2020, Memo/11/663, Brussels 6 October 2011