The Cohesion Policy Funds, commonly known as the European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds, are a significant source of public investments across EU countries. The EU average of government capital investment provided by Cohesion Policy has been equivalent to 8.5%. The share of Cohesion Policy funding among Member States is characterised by a diversity – some countries (e.g. Poland, Portugal, Lithuania) benefit much more from this funding than others (e.g. the Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg). Remarkably, as identified by the Country Reports 2019 (see: Annex D), likewise by the Study requested by DG REGIO (2020), challenges of administrative capacities in several Member States are evident. Furthermore, the Common Provision Regulation (CPR) 2021-2027 explicitly highlights that Member States need to take specific actions to reinforce their administrative capacities. To make it clear: good governance and administrative capacity are essential elements to optimise Cohesion Policy investments. These two elements contribute to making ESI Funds investments more efficient, boosting their impact, and, finally, stimulating economic development.
Despite its non-mandatory nature, a roadmap is considered a good practice to strengthen a country’s administrative capacity via identifying specific needs, designing strategic actions, and measuring success of these actions. In 2018, DG REGIO launched a novel pilot action to support national and regional authorities in their efforts to boost their administrative capacities in Cohesion Policy. As a result of the competitive call, 5 national and regional authorities in Poland, Croatia, Greece, Bulgaria and Spain were selected to participate in that pilot action. They received support from experts from OECD and the European Commission to develop the roadmaps with a view of addressing their administrative capacity needs. The five Member States’ experiences can serve as the source of inspiration and good practices for administrators from other countries seeking to develop their own roadmaps. This blog aims to provide three policy lessons on how to design and implement the administrative capacity-building roadmaps in Cohesion Policy. The following lessons are based on own author’s research.
Administrative capacity as a whole, balanced ecosystem embedded in good governance
Although used interchangeably, administrative capacity and good governance have two different meanings. Good governance stands for right public policies in place, together with institutional, procedural and legal arrangements for implementing them effectively. Good governance entails administrative capacity, implying that public administrators need to implement the policies/services efficiently and effectively. In the context of ESI Funds management, administrative capacity is a compound concept associated with three key factors –structures, human resources, systems and tools. These factors are further developed in an OECD analytical framework encompassing four dimensions – people, organisation, strategic planning and coordination, enabling working conditions. Administrative capacity is, thus, a whole ecosystem in which all these four dimensions must be considered when developing a roadmap. The roadmap needs to identity actions, responsible actors, implementing stakeholders and timing for each dimension respectively. All these dimensions must be kept in balance. Additionally, broad participation of relevant actors in both development and implementation of this roadmap is necessary. This implies active engagement of not Managing Authorities (MAs) but also Funds beneficiaries, stakeholders, recipients and experts in this whole system.
Continuous, realistic storyline necessary
Administrative capacity-building is not an ad hoc process. It stands for a regular, ‘step-by-step’ process in which reflecting the existing state of the play is the key. In other words, analysing the existing shortcomings, together with their root causes is a prerequisite for identifying necessary actions. This needs to be sequential, thus showing a connection between main challenges identified, actions designed and desirable goals. The goals under each of the four dimensions need to be realistic, thus, involving feasible and carefully-selected actions. Importantly, the roadmap should include a comprehensive set of indicators for measuring the implementation process, main outputs to be captured by actions, and goals to be achieved. For these purposes, different types of indicators – input, activity (process), output and result – should be used.
Administrative capacity-building as a learning opportunity
Administrative capacity-building is not only a process itself, but also a learning exercise. Learning has different forms. First, national and regional authorities can use self-assessment instrument developed by OECD to assess their strengths and weaknesses, and develop target solutions. This instrument is an important complementarity to the roadmap as it enables the MAs to understand the state of play in a structured and comprehensive manner. In addition to that, the MAs could use external expertise for assessment of the state of play, for instance, by research institutions/consultancies, NGOs, stakeholders. Second, learning can take place via peer-to-peer networking measures. These measures encompass TAIEX REGIO PEER 2 PEER, Regio Community of Practitioners, DG REGIO Training Programme. Summing up, learning is essential to both develop capacities and improve certain actions/policies for the future.
Julia Walczyk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Research Assistant at the Political Science Department/the Centre for European Research in Maastricht (CERiM) at Maastricht University. She holds her Master degree in European Public Affairs from Maastricht University (2021). Julia is associated with the RSA Network on Cohesion Policy (CPnet). Julia also sits as a Social Media Communications Observer on the RSA Board.
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