It is not easy to keep a clear head amidst the EU's budget debate: How funding will be distributed in the European Union, how much money will still be available, and who will actually benefit from which budgets - all this is a science in itself.
In the discussion on the reorientation of EU finances during the European Council in Brussels at the end of June, the budget must therefore not only be geared to the future, but comprehensive reforms of the EU funding strategy must also be initiated: Europe will be able to act much more purposefully if the billion-euro budget is more clearly prioritised and better managed.
The EU's contribution to a real improvement in the economic and social living conditions of all citizens could grow enormously. The new budget for 2021 to 2027 is estimated at almost 1,280 billion euros.
In recent years, the 28 Member States have independently managed, on average, around 80 percent of the EU budget. More than 200 regional and local authorities are active in these countries to manage and spend this money. The funds flow into thousands of different projects, in more than 30 policy areas, some of which overlap - from agriculture to research projects and sustainable growth.
The following four points are essential for reform:
Firstly, the rather confusing portfolio of different financing structures and instruments should be examined, and a comprehensive inventory made. This is absolutely necessary in the course of concentrating on the EU's core tasks; if only to prevent the simple continuation of what has so far been promoted. So far, the Commission has been too hesitant in this respect, and the immense agricultural subsidies are unlikely to change anything. It is also not enough that in the future there will only be 37 instead of 63 funding programmes.
Secondly, in the future, the EU should focus on challenges that make sense across national borders, such as research and innovation, jobs, digitisation and measures to combat climate change - ergo on those fields in which economies of scale and added value can be expected above and beyond that which is achievable through the individual funding of specific projects.
Thirdly, the following should always apply: Strategic solutions must continue to be developed from Brussels, but in future they should be implemented and monitored more successfully at regional level. This is possible when the EU gives up responsibility in this area. In particular, this can give new impetus to the important cohesion policy, i.e. the promotion of growth and prosperity in the differently developed regions of the EU. Some of the economic differences between regions are still enormous. One example: The gross domestic product per capita in Bulgaria is just 17 percent of that of Germany. This difference in prosperity is greater than that between the strongest and weakest states in the US, Massachusetts and Mississippi.
Fourthly, the bureaucratic hurdles to obtaining EU funding are extremely difficult to get over; they must be lessened. Legislation must be simplified and the high administrative costs for all parties involved must be reduced. Here too, digitisation – using the fields of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence ¬– offers enormous possibilities for streamlining organisation. It is important to speed up the digitisation of the funding processes and thus make them more transparent. Why not take Amazon as a model for once: There, similar products to the ones customers are searching for are suggested to the customer and they can also see what other customers shopping for the same product have bought. If this was applied to the EU funding landscape, small and medium-sized enterprises and organisations in particular could benefit from similarly structured platforms.
Overall, the EU should in future listen even more closely to its ‘users’: Policy innovation can only work if the end consumer is also involved, if possible before a new funding programme is launched. Companies and institutions applying for funding could be more directly involved through the use of online dialogues and more agile adaptations of funding processes and projects, for example. The specific needs of regions, companies and other organisations must be considered earlier and more transparently in the decision-making process.
My vision for a targeted, leaner EU funding policy resembles a travel portal on the Internet: Here I would be able to get a quick informative overview of the different offers with the click of a mouse. At the same time, I could read customer evaluations to see whether they were satisfied with the funding instruments or to learn how the application process works in more detail. Such portals could bring more trust and credibility to the EU as a whole.
If EU citizens, businesses and institutions in the Member States are able to better understand what EU funding policy offers and makes possible in the future, then the ever-increasing distance between institutions can also be reduced, and a feeling of membership and unity created. Thus, the new budget for 2021-2027 also has the chance to become a success.
Autor: Christian Böllhoff
Typ: Editorial Article