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Easier access to EU funds: Commission shows member states the way
Since the presentation of its proposal for the next multiannual financial framework (MFF) last June, the Commission has proposed over 120 changes to simplify the rules governing EU funding for Small and Medium Enterprises, towns and regions, students, scientists and others. Yesterday's communication "A simplification agenda for the 2014-2020 MFF" brings them altogether in one single document. The key question now is whether the European Parliament and the Member States are ready to make the life of EU funds' beneficiaries easier by reducing the administrative burden on them.
"Each of the thematic proposals for the next MFF included a simplification" element, says EU Commissioner for financing programming and budget Janusz Lewandowski. "EU funds can play a key role as we strive towards sustainable economic growth by providing extra funds to our business, regional authorities and researchers. We wanted to make the access procedure to those funds less like a maze and more user-friendly."
However, EU rules are often completed by additional rules at national level. Therefore, efforts at EU level cannot succeed if they are not followed up by similar efforts at national, regional and local levels. That is why the Commission hopes that the legislators in the European Parliament, the Council as well as in Member States will see simplification as crucial.
Yesterday the Commission declares its commitment to defend this simplification agenda and its resolve to ring the alarm bell should the need arise.
Examples of simplification of access to funding
The purchase of machinery in a vocational school was financed from the European Regional Development Fund. The same school got a grant for curricula development from the European Social Fund. Even though both investments were needed to introduce a new training programme, the school had to do all the paperwork twice. Under our proposal, combining money from both funds will be easier; the school will be able to follow one procedure only, allowing it to devote more time to delivering the new training to pupils.
The current arrangements demand to keep the documents regarding EU co-funded cohesion projects for up to 10 years. For some projects this retention time can reach 15 years. The new rules will cut this time to 5 years. The effect of this simplification is especially important for smaller beneficiaries such as NGOs and SME's.
Yesterday there are no limits to how many times a project can be audited. Some beneficiaries of ERDF may be subjected to several audits in a year by their national audit authority or the Commission, which is time consuming In the next period the Commission proposes a better coordination with national auditors. Projects under 100 000 euro will not be audited more than once at all and bigger projects no more than once a year.
In Research it takes on average 350 days to get a grant. The Commission proposes to reduce it by one third (100 days).
An ESF beneficiary had to keep the bus tickets of participants in a training event for justifying of money spent on the project. Unfortunately, the ink on the bus tickets disappeared after some time and the beneficiaries could not proof the expenditure. In future it will be possible to use options such as flat rates and lump sums to a much greater extent, so it will not be necessary to collect bus ticket at all. The focus must be on project quality and results.
The Commission published its proposal for the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 on 29 June 2011. By 31 December 2011, the Commission tabled a comprehensive set of 57 sector specific legislative proposals underlying the MFF 2014-2020. Together with the revision of the Financial Regulation, all these proposals make for a coherent set of rules having among others as an important feature the goal of simplification. They should be adopted by the end of 2013 in order to ensure that new programmes can start as of 1 January 2014.
In drawing up its proposals, the Commission assessed the functioning of existing spending instruments and programmes and consulted widely with citizens and stakeholders in view of designing such instruments and spending programmes, which would best match their needs and modes of operation.
The full Communication "A simplification agenda for the 2014-2020 MFF":
Patrizio Fiorilli (+32 2 295 81 32)
Monika Sikorska (+32 2 295 23 92)