Select Committee on European Communities Thirtieth Report



PART 5 SUMMARY OF THE COMMITTEE'S RECOMMENDATIONS


REFORM OF THE STRUCTURAL FUNDS

  130.    The Commission's package, with its three themes of greater concentration, simplification and cost savings, is well considered, and we support the general thrust of the Commission's proposals. We also agree with the proposed concentration of the Structural Funds by reducing their coverage from roughly half of the EU15's population to around 35-40 per cent (paragraph 102).

  131.    Cuts in the Structural Funds received by existing Member States are inevitable unless enlargement is accompanied by an increase in the EU Budget share, which we would not welcome. The important point is to ensure that the cuts are fair. The 75 per cent of GDP criterion for Objective 1 eligibility should be strictly enforced (paragraph 103).

  132.    The Committee supports calls for a wider range of socio-economic indicators to be used by Member States to designate regions for Objective 2 (paragraph 104).

  133.    It is right for the Structural Funds to recognise the particular problems created by the combination of geographical remoteness and sparsity of population, and that the former Objective 6 regions should be absorbed into Objective 1 (paragraph 105).

  134.    It is essential for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to continue to receive Objective 1 support, as the somewhat similar regions in Sweden and Finland will under the Commission's present proposals (paragraph 106).

  135.    We call on the Government to publicise the aims of the proposed new Objective 3 (development of human resources), and to encourage the maximum uptake of funding under this new Objective in the United Kingdom (paragraph 107).

ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUES

  136.    The Committee urges the Commission and the Member States to make every effort to ensure that the bureaucratic procedures associated with EU structural operations are kept to the minimum consistent with effective controls (paragraph 108).

  137.    We support the calls for a Community Initiative—RESTRUCT—that can be used to deal with new problems of industrial decline (paragraph 109).

  138.    The Commission should have included clear and manageable statistical and operational measurements of additionality as part of its current proposals. We call on the Commission to clarify the application of the additionality rule and to make the requirements more transparent (paragraph 110).

  139.    The Structural Funds and state aids policies have different aims and we consequently see no justification for the proposal that the maps for these policies should coincide (paragraph 111).

  140.    We do not support the idea of renationalising the Structural Funds (paragraph 112).

THE PEACE AND RECONCILIATION PROGRAMME IN NORTHERN IRELAND

  141.    Cutting the Peace and Reconciliation programme at this critical stage of the Peace Process could be little short of disastrous. Whenever the Structural Funds package is finally agreed, the Peace and Reconciliation Programme should be part of it (paragraph 114).

COHESION FUND

  142.    Those Member States which have joined the single currency should no longer be eligible for Cohesion Fund receipts, although we recommend that these should be phased out in the period up to 2006, as should the Fund itself (paragraph 115).

  143.    Improved management arrangements must be put in place to bring the financial control of the Cohesion Fund into line with that under the Structural Funds (paragraph 116).

ENLARGEMENT

  144.    The Commission and the Council should already be considering how the Funds need to be adapted to be effective in the Central and Eastern European Countries (paragraph 117).

  145.    The 2002 accession target is optimistic; the Commission should be asked to explain its current thinking on what will happen to the Structural Funds if, as is widely expected, enlargement occurs later than 2002 (paragraph 118).

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT

  146.    We support the Commission's proposal to de-commit funds which have not been used within three years (paragraph 121).

  147.    Despite its virtuous intention, the Commission's performance reserve proposal would be unworkable, and should be dropped (paragraph 122).

  148.    Rather than using the blunt instrument of the 10 per cent performance reserve, increased efforts should be made to encourage best practice by Member States. In particular, we recommend an improved evaluation process, including the publication of evaluation reports. Improved financial management may become especially important as part of the preparations for the enlargement of the Union (paragraph 123).

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

  149.    Policies designed to strengthen economic and social cohesion in the Community can only be lasting if environmental considerations are taken into account and seen as an essential part of economic and social development. It would clearly be wrong for Community funds to be spent on programmes that conflict with the agreed policies of the Community (paragraph 125).

  150.    We recommend that environmental authorities should be mentioned as key members of the "partnership" in Article 8 of the Structural Funds Regulation on "Complementarity and Partnership". Environmental authorities should be re-introduced into the system as core partners in the Structural Funds at all stages, and they should be included in the management authorities for Community Support Frameworks, Operational Programmes and Single Programming Documents (paragraph 126).

  151.    We also support the idea of a specific linking of environmental protection and improvement activities with employment creation programmes (paragraph 127).

CONCLUSION

  152.    We call on all concerned to intensify their efforts to reach agreement on the reform of the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund so that the narrow window of opportunity to reach agreement by the spring of 1999 is not missed (paragraph 129).

RECOMMENDATION FOR DEBATE

  153.    The Committee considers that the reform of the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund raises important questions to which the attention of the House should be drawn, and makes this Report to the House for debate.


 
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