Written by Clare Ferguson,
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the largest of five European Structural and Investment Funds, is intended to support economic, social and territorial cohesion policy. The Fund addresses the imbalances between regions within the EU, through investing in development and structural support for regions which lag behind or need to replace declining industries. Some 95 % of the funding is spent on investment to boost growth and jobs. More specifically, it is spread across four main thematic objectives: network infrastructure in transport and energy; low-carbon economy; small and medium-sized enterprise competitiveness; and research and innovation. The regional development funding allocation for each EU Member State is based on complex rules and many restrictions. Poland receives the most funding, with twice the allocation of the next Member State, Italy. However, Estonia and Slovakia receive the highest ERDF support per capita.
The four thematic objectives are split further into investment priorities, aligned with the Europe 2020 strategy, and the rules on funding specify that a minimum thematic concentration is respected. As a result, more than half of the resources co-finance investment in research and innovation, SME competitiveness and the low-carbon economy. In this way, the ERDF’s priorities have shifted in recent years from ‘hard’ infrastructure, such as transport links, to investment in innovation, the digital agenda, R&D, ICT, the low-carbon economy and helping EU SMEs to become more competitive. Through various programmes, funding is provided for, among other things, giving citizens the opportunity to learn new skills, and can be used by Member States to support refugees and provide for the integration of migrants in urban areas. It contributes to funding for climate-friendly forest management, to help remote communities in the Arctic, and to revitalise port areas.
While the funding is intended to help tackle the rising inequalities that contribute to citizen’s dissatisfaction in Europe, the EU institutions can be expected to continue the debate in 2017 on how best to ensure the European Union works for all its citizens.