European Structural and Investment Funds

It sets out the common principles, rules and standards for the operation of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI funds) for the period 2014-2020.

The ESI funds consist of 5 funds: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

The shared objective of investments under the ESI funds is to provide support for the delivery of the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The common provisions regulation:

  • defines common principles, rules and standards for the use and implementation of the ESI funds;
  • sets out common rules for the ESI funds to improve coordination between them and other EU policies and programmes, e.g. Horizon 2020;
  • defines the tasks, priority objectives and organisation of the funds;
  • draws particular attention to the relationship between this regulation and the other regulations specific to each fund;
  • sets out the principle of thematic concentration to ensure that investments are concentrated on a limited number of core priorities, aligned with the Europe 2020 strategy;
  • puts a stronger focus on results:
    • a performance framework with objectives and targets is established;
    • an annual review meeting takes place between each EU country and the European Commission;
    • a performance review of the programmes will be carried out in each country in 2019;
  • introduces ‘conditionalities’ (requirements designed to ensure that the necessary means to make effective use of EU support are in place);
  • sets out the allocation of resources for the investment for growth and jobs goal among three categories of regions, according to their GDP per capita: less developed regions, regions in transition and more developed regions.


The Commission has adopted a decision setting out the list of regions fulfilling the criteria of the 3 categories of regions.

The criteria that EU countries and regions have to satisfy in order to be eligible for support from the funds are defined. Resources should be allocated from the ERDF and the ESF among the less developed regions, regions in transition from one level of support to another and the more developed regions, according to their GDP per capita. As countries vary so much in their types of administrative and planning areas, the EU has devised a common system of classification for selecting regions and areas to be supported. The financial resources available and the criteria for their allocation are specified.

The ESI funds deliver support through multiannual programmes on the basis of partnership agreements developed for each EU country. A partnership agreement is a document setting out the overall investment strategy of the country concerned and agreed with the Commission. It is prepared by the country in accordance with its own systems and procedures and involving partners who represent regional and local public authorities, as well as a wide range of social, economic, environmental and other interests.

Court of Auditors report

In 2017, the European Court of Auditors published a report on the partnership agreements signed between the Commission and EU countries. The report concluded that the funds have focused on growth and jobs, identified investment needs and successfully translated these into objectives and results. However, it also took the view that too many performance indicators have been developed and performance measurements is not harmonised across the various funds.

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