The Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund are financial tools set up to implement the regional policy of the European Union. They aim to reduce regional disparities in terms of income, wealth and opportunities. Europe’s poorer regions receive most of the support, but all European regions are eligible for funding under the policy’s various funds and programmes. The current Regional Policy framework is set for a period of seven years, from 2014 to 2020.

The Structural Funds are made up of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF). The ERDF supports programmes addressing regional development, economic change, enhanced competitiveness and territorial co-operation throughout the EU. The new proposals are designed to ensure that EU investment is targeted on Europe’s long-term goals for growth and jobs (“Europe 2020”). Partnership agreements between the European Commission and individual EU countries set out the national authorities’ strategic goals and investment priorities. Ten countries already signed their agreements: namely: Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Lithunia, Latvia, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia.

The Cohesion Fund contributes to interventions in the field of the environment and trans-European transport networks. It applies to member states with a Gross National Income (GNI) of less than 90% of the EU average. For the 2014-2020 period, the Cohesion Fund concerns Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Spain is also eligible for the Cohesion Fund, but on a transitional basis (so-called “phasing out”). The Cohesion Fund allocates a total of € 63.4 billion to activities under the following categories:

  • The Cohesion Fund will support infrastructure projects under the Connecting Europe Facility: like the TEN-T project.
  • environment: here, the Cohesion Fund can also support projects related to energy or transport, as long as they clearly benefit the environment in terms of energy efficiency, use of renewable energy, developing rail transport, supporting intermodality, strengthening public transport, etc.

A minimum share of each region’s ERDF allocation will be invested in measures supporting the shift to a low-carbon economy: 20% in more developed regions; 15% in transition regions; and 12% in less-developed regions. This will ensure a minimum investment of at least €23 billion for 2014-2020 from the ERDF, while further investments through the Cohesion Fund will further support the shift towards a low-carbon economy.