Almost one third of the total EU budget between 2014-2020 (€351.8 billion) is allocated to the so-called regional cohesion policy (European and regional funds), which aims to support through strategic investments job creation, business competitiveness, economic growth, sustainable development and the improvement of the quality of life of citizens in all regions and cities of the EU. Cohesion policy has set 11 thematic objectives to foster growth for the period 2014-2020:
1. Strengthening research, technological development and innovation.
2. Improving access to, use and quality of information and communication technologies.
3. Improving the competitiveness of SMEs.
4. Supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy.
5. Promoting adaptation to climate change and risk management and prevention.
6. Preservation and protection of the environment and promotion of resource efficiency.
7. Promoting sustainable transport and improving network infrastructures.
8. Promoting sustainable and quality employment and supporting labour mobility.
9. Promoting social inclusion and the fight against poverty and any kind of discrimination.
10. Investment in education, training and lifelong learning.
11. Improving the efficiency of public administration.
To achieve these objectives, the European Commission has three funding mechanisms in place, managed by the Member States through partnership agreements, which establish investment programmes that, in turn, channel funding to the different regions and projects in the corresponding fields of action:
- European Regional Development Fund (ERDF): promotes balanced development in the different regions of the European Union. It funds all 11 objectives, but its main priorities for investment are objectives 1 to 4.
- European Social Fund (ESF): supports employment-related projects across Europe and invests in Europe's human capital (workers, young people and jobseekers). The ESF's main priorities are Objectives 8 to 11, although it also funds Objectives 1 to 4.
- Cohesion Fund (CF): finances transport and environment projects in countries whose Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is less than 90% of the EU average. In 2014-2020, these countries are Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Slovenia. It finances Objectives 4 to 7 and 11.
For the next long-term EU budget (2021-2027), the Commission proposes to modernise cohesion policy, allocating a budget of 373 billion euros. Resources will continue to be targeted at the regions that most need to catch up with the rest of the EU. The bulk of ERDF and CF investments will be directed to the innovationsupport for small businesses, digital technologies (Big Data, Cloud, Cybersecurity...) and industrial modernisation, as well as the transition to a low-carbon and circular economy and the fight against climate change, thus fulfilling the Paris Agreement.
What is an ERDF fund
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) aims to strengthen socio-economic cohesion within the European Union by correcting imbalances between its regions.
As mentioned above, the ERDF focuses its investments on a number of key priority areas, known as thematic concentration:
- Innovation and research.
- Digital programme.
- Support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
- Low carbon economy.
The ERDF resources allocated to these priorities depend on the status of the region (based mainly on GDP per capita): the more developed a region is, the higher the percentage of funds it should devote to these themes. In addition, some of the resources must be specifically earmarked for low-carbon economy projects.
The ERDF pays particular attention to the specific characteristics of each region. ERDF action is designed to reduce socio-economic and environmental problems in urban areas and focuses particularly on sustainable urban development. At least 5 % of ERDF resources are set aside for this purpose, through integrated actions managed by cities.
In this way, geographically disadvantaged areas (remote, mountainous or sparsely populated areas) benefit from special treatment. Finally, the outermost areas also benefit from specific ERDF assistance to overcome any handicaps due to their remoteness.
ERDF funds in La Rioja
The Operational Programme (OP) ERDF La Rioja 2014-2020 was approved by Commission Decision CCI 2014ES16RFOP016 dated 18 December 2014 with a total investment cost of 67.2 million euros and a Community assistance of 33.8 million euros.
These investments are expected to contribute to job creation, especially in sectors with high added value, and to the improvement of the competitiveness of the regional economy by supporting SMEs. The programme focuses on Objectives 1-4, complying with the requirements of thematic concentration and with the guidelines issued by the Directorate-General for Community Funds.
- Thematic Objective 1. Enhance research, technological development and innovation. (45,4%)
- Thematic Objective 2. Improving the use, quality and access to ICTs. (20.5%)
- Thematic Objective 3. Improving the competitiveness of SMEs. (16%)
- Thematic Objective 4. Encourage the shift to a low carbon economy in all sectors (11,1%).
- Thematic Objective 6. Protect the environment and promote resource efficiency (5,1%)
- Thematic Objective 13. To achieve effective implementation of the OP by supporting management and control activity and capacity development in these areas. (2%)
As a complement, the Europe 2020 Strategy proposes the development of a smart specialisation strategy (RIS3) by each European region to determine its priorities and identify the activities eligible for ERDF support. La Rioja has drawn up a list of the 8 main challenges of the Innovation System of La Rioja:
- 1. Training: to reach 20% of the population in lifelong learning and 40% of HR in science and technology.
- 2. Researchers: obtain 1% of researchers out of the total number of employees in the region.
- 3. Resources allocated to R&D&I: double R&D expenditure in euros per inhabitant to 2% of GDP.
- 4. R&D&I lead firms: raise business R&D expenditure to 661 TTP2T of the total, increasing innovation intensity and reaching 331 TTP2T of innovative firms.
- 5. Competitiveness and transfer: increase EPO patents by a factor of 5 and total productivity by 401TTP2T.
- 6. Leading sectors: increase the number of high and medium-tech enterprises, maintaining at least 4.25% of employment in these sectors.
- 7. ICT: 75% of households with broadband access, 50% of the population uses e-commerce.
- 8. Coordination and collaboration between the agents of the innovation system in La Rioja.