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2001 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 260/51

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Annual Report of the Cohesion Fund

(2001/C 260/09)

On 11 January 2001 the Commission decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee, under
Article 262 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the ‘Annual Report of the Cohesion
Fund (1999)’.

The Section for Economic and Monetary Union and Economic and Social Cohesion, which was
responsible for preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 26 June 2001.
The rapporteur was Mr Pezzini.

At its 383rd plenary session on 11 and 12 July 2001 (meeting of 11 July), the Economic and Social
Committee adopted the following opinion by 110 votes to two, with no abstentions.

1. Introduction 2.2. The Committee welcomes the fact that Cohesion Fund
activites have contributed indirectly, in the four countries
concerned, to meeting the targets for reducing budget deficits
as set in the EMU convergence programmes. This is especially
1.1. In accordance with Article 14 of the Cohesion Fund
true of Greece which, having started the programming period
Regulation, the Economic and Social Committee has been
with a deficit considered to be excessive, exceeded its objective
asked, as it is every year, to issue an opinion on the Annual
in 1999 with a deficit of 1,6 % of GDP.
Report of the Cohesion Fund. As is well known, the Cohesion
Fund is responsible for financing environment and transport
infrastructure projects in Member States whose per capita GDP
is under 90 % of the Community average, namely Greece, 2.3. The Committee is also pleased to note that at the end
Ireland, Portugal and Spain (in 1992). of the programming period, the criteria for allocating resources
among the countries and keeping a balance between the
transport and environment sectors were largely met.
1.2. This report is especially significant as it concerns the
last year of the 1993-1999 period (including the transitional
financial instrument for cohesion), for which the Edinburgh 2.4. Inflation fell sharply during the 1990s, especially in
European Council granted EUR 15 150 million, and it comes Greece and Portugal, and the rate settled at around 2,5 %.
at the end of the first year of operation of the new Fund During the second half of the 1990s, the GDP growth rate was
regulation for the 2000-2006 programming period. The higher than the Union average.
Commission has therefore been able to draw up a schematic
overview of the Fund’s entire life span.
2.4.1. In the EU, disparities in per capita income between
Member States, and even more so between regions, were still
very high. Nevertheless, according to the Second Report on
Economic and Social Cohesion, the differences have lessened
2. General comments over the years, owing not least to Structural Fund intervention.
For instance, in Greece, Spain and Portugal, average per capita
income rose from 68 % of the Union average in 1988 to 79 %
in 1999. In the same period, there were clear improvements
2.1. In the light of the information contained in the report, in the infrastructures of the less prosperous regions, paving
the Committee welcomes the positive results of the activities the way for further development.
under the Cohesion Fund, but also:

— reiterates its dissatisfaction, while already knowing the

Commission’s answer, at having to give its opinion on 3. Specific comments
the year concerned at such a late stage, in an age of real-
time communication;

— believes that this time the delay could have been justified,
had the opportunity been taken to conduct a more in- 3.1. Coordination with the other Community policies
depth review of the entire 1993-1999 period, which
would have had the added benefit of enabling useful
lessons to be learned for the new 2000-2006 program- 3.1.1. Coordination with the Structural Funds in countries
ming period. that fall almost entirely under the various objectives and
C 260/52 EN Official Journal of the European Communities 17.9.2001

especially under Objective 1, is extremely important, both to the development of the agriculture and tourism sectors. It
avoid overlaps — none were recorded — and above all to should however be noted that the investments made enable a
generate synergy with separate but related projects. The less intense use of existing resources and thus limit the damage
environmental protection and transport infrastructure sectors caused by drought.
lend themselves well to furthering regional development
programmes. It would have been interesting if the report had
included an assessment of the capacity of administrations to
achieve such synergy.
3.2. Budget implementation Better coordination should be provided both by 3.2.1. The Committee welcomes the fact that the budget
the strategic reference frameworks, which cover all the objectives were met. At the end of 1999, all appropriations for
measures taken under the funds, and by the Commission’s the 1993-1999 period had been committed and 91,6 % of
move to group funds by geographical unit. payments made; and the guidelines for distribution among the
countries and between sectors were applied.

3.1.2. The report states that the national authorities adhere

exhaustively to Community requirements for the openness
of public procurement, which are a precondition for the 3.3. Irregularities
achievement of the Community environmental objectives, and
very important in the transport infrastructure sector.
3.3.1. The few irregularities recorded concerned the rules
on public procurement and ineligible expenditure and can be
considered to be totally normal. There was no need for OLAF
3.1.3. In the transport sector, special attention was given in to launch any investigations. It should be added that the report
1999 to the implementation of projects of common interest does not offer very much information on this matter. The
in the sphere of the trans-European networks, coordinating next report should provide more details about the checks
activities with those of the EIB (which is concentrating its conducted, bearing in mind that the new regulations give
investment on rail transport), the ERDF and the TENs budget. Member States more responsibility for financial control.
The proportion of transport sector investment channelled into
rail made a qualitative leap from 14,0 % in the 1993-1998
period to 25,8 % in 1999. This responds pleasingly to the
recommendations made by the European Parliament and the
Economic and Social Committee, although the figure is still too 3.4. Evaluations
low. The emphasis was placed on improving communications
between the peripheral regions and the major economic
centres, and also on the high-priority projects approved by the
Essen European Council. 3.4.1. The report reveals Commission dissatisfaction with
the quality of prior appraisals, especially in the area of the
environment, where they are more difficult. In view of their
importance, the Committee shares the Commission’s hopes
that economic analysis techniques will improve. Member Savings in journey times, achieved by projects co-
States should step up their investment in this area.
financed by the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund,
ranged from 20 % in Spain, through the modernisation of the
motorway network, to 70 % in Portugal for rail freight (1). The national authorities often fail to appreciate the
real role played by a proper prior appraisal methodology. Not
only should it help to clarify and quantify objectives, but
3.1.4. In the environment sector, the ex-post evaluations it should also mean higher quality planning and sounder
carried out on a representative sample were satisfactory in strategies.
general, with the exception of problems relating to water
resource management. In the cohesion countries (and others)
there are significant disparities with regard to drinking water In 1995 the Commission began financing research
supply and sewage treatment systems, which have a major and training activities designed to sharpen up evaluations of
impact on the quality of life of the local populations and on economic and social cohesion policy. This work, which
continued until the end of 1998, was included in the Means
programme (Méthodes d’Évaluation des Actions de Nature
Structurelle). The aim of this programme — which is particu-
larly well suited to the transport and environmental impact
(1) Second Report on Economic and Social Cohesion, COM(2001) sector — is to boost the effectiveness of evaluation methods
24 final, p. 19. when devising or assessing funding-related activities.
17.9.2001 EN Official Journal of the European Communities C 260/53

3.4.2. An ex-post evaluation for the whole period is not yet 4.2. The new regulation strengthens the link between the
available, but the Commission’s evaluation of the 45 projects granting of aid, respect for the stability and growth pact and
assessed in 1999 is very positive in both sectors — environ- the need for sound management of the public deficit.
ment and transport:
4.3. Transport infrastructure projects must be consistent
— the effectiveness of the projects was in line with the initial with Community guidelines on the development of the trans-
objectives; European transport network.
— the environmental impact was satisfactory;
4.4. Member States now take primary responsibility for the
— the projects generated positive economic spin-off; financial control of projects, and verify that management and
control arrangements have been set up and are implemented
— the accessibility of vast areas improved, as did cross- in such a way as to ensure that Community funds are being
border communications; used efficiently and correctly.

— road congestion decreased in the large metropolitan 4.5. The new regulation includes provision for reducing the
areas. rate of assistance in tandem with greater use of private sources
of funding. The rate can also be adjusted as a result of
A total of 120 projects will be assessed by the end of 2001. application of the polluter-pays principle.

5. Conclusions
3.5. Interinstitutional dialogue
5.1. The Committee trusts that the Cohesion Fund will
3.5.1. The Committee is pleased to note the detail in which continue to help the four target countries to achieve its
the Commission responded to the comments it made in its intended aim, namely full respect for the stability and growth
1998 (1) opinion and the fact that it shared some of its pact and avoidance of an excessive public deficit.
5.2. The success achieved hitherto justifies the fact that the
new regulation has made only a few alterations and has in
4. The new 2000-2006 programming period effect retained the existing legal machinery.

4.1. The new regulation was approved in 1999. For the 5.3. The projects funded have made it possible to raise the
period 2000-2006, the Berlin Council allocated EUR 18 billion application thresholds of the environment directives and to
improve access to the trans-European networks. Much remains
(at 1999 prices). It also decided to review each country’s
eligibility at mid-term in 2003, on the basis of per capita GDP to be done, especially as regards rail transport.
at that time.
5.4. The Committee recommends that in future the Fund
should revert to its initial purpose, i.e. the financing of major
(1) OJ C 140, 18.5.2000, p. 14. projects, so that assistance does not become too fragmented.

Brussels, 11 July 2001.

The President
of the Economic and Social Committee