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How to better integrate environment in EU Cohesion policy

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A new DG Environment study was released in March, 2019 on integrating environmental concerns into Cohesion policy (ERDF, ESF, EAFRD). The study was carried out by Cowi and Milieu Ltd. and covers the 2000-2006, 2007-2013 and 2014-2020 programming periods tracing the evolution of environmental spending.

Environment in Cohesion policy: vertical or horizontal integration?

The study distinguishes two types of integration of environmental concerns: vertical and horizontal. Vertical integration (or direct environmental investments) describes the extent to which Operational Programmes (OPs) and OP priorities have primarily focused on environment. Horizontal integration, on the other hand, represents the degree to which OPs have integrated environment across different priorities (energy, transport, etc.). 

The analysis of horizontal integration of environment is of high potential interest to Managing Authorities. It covers approaches such as elaboration of sustainable development as a horizontal principle; the intention to use Green Public Procurement (GPP); and the delineation of the “polluter pays” principle and how it is foreseen to be implemented by the OPs. It is worth noting that GPP as a topic is addressed by several IR-E projects including GPP4Growth; CircPro; and GPP-STREAM.

Financial allocations to environment: which sectors, which needs

The study provides an overview of sectoral Cohesion policy investments in waste, water, air quality, nature protection, land rehabilitation and climate change, comparing direct and indirect investments. The result of the analysis shows that energy is the sector where environment has been integrated to the largest extent (through renewable energy and energy efficiency) followed by transport (intelligent transport systems), then sustainable tourism and environment-related business development R&D. 

Direct environmental investments under ERDF and the Cohesion Fund amounted to EUR 38.2 billion in 2000-2006, EUR 41.6 billion in 2007-2013 and EUR 36.4 billion in the current period. In contrast, indirect environmental investments increased from EUR 3 billion in 2000-2006 to EUR 22 billion in 2007-2013 and EUR 46.3 billion in the current period.

Managing Authorities would benefit from the analysis of the investments necessary to reach compliance with the EU acquis within the main environmental sectors (water, waste, nature protection and biodiversity, etc.). The share of these investments covered by the Cohesion policy provides an indication of the national co-financing needed in addition to Cohesion policy funding. Among others, insufficient administrative capacity and procurement challenges are highlighted as key difficulties preventing MAs from achieving their investment ambitions.

Why should we read this study?

Overall, the report could be useful in helping Managing Authorities to benchmark themselves against the EU average as well as against a number of individual OPs including regional ones. MAs can also benefit from the analysis of obstacles and difficulties in integrating environment into ESIF and build upon some of the authors’ conclusions such as the dynamics of direct and indirect environmental investments, the effectiveness of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) as an instrument for integrating environmental concerns in Cohesion spending, the benefit of selection criteria as another strategy for mainstreaming environment, etc.

Other literature on the topic includes the 2011 study by IEEP 'Cohesion Policy and Sustainable Development, A report for DG Regio' as well as the ENEA-MA 2016 report on 'Mainstreaming the environment in cohesion policy in 2014-2020'.

Image credit: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
European Union
Cohesion policy