Questioning the effectiveness of the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

Two special reports published this month by the European Court of Auditors question the added value of the EU budget when channelled through fisheries and regional development programmes, to projects aiming to protect and improve aquaculture, and biodiversity more generally.

‘Each year the EU produces about 1,3 million tonnes of fish from aquaculture, and the sector has a turnover of 4 billion euro. One of the aims of the common fisheries policy (CFP) in the period up to 2013, and its funding instrument, the European Fisheries Fund (EFF), was to encourage the sustainable development of aquaculture. Consequently, by May 2013, the EFF provided over 400 million euro to fund measures for productive investments in aquaculture, as well as environmental and health measures.’

‘The Court examined whether EFF measures were well designed and implemented, and whether they delivered value for money. This entailed an audit of the Commission’s and Member States’ design and implementation of support measures, and projects in Member States. Overall, the Court found that the EFF did not offer effective support for the sustainable development of aquaculture.’ Read the full report here.

‘Biodiversity, i.e. variability among living organisms and their ecological complexes, is valued as the world’s natural capital. The loss of biodiversity has substantial economic and health effects, e.g. in terms of polluted water and air, floods, erosion or the spread of disease. Protecting biodiversity is a key environmental priority for the EU. Following the failure to halt biodiversity loss in Europe by 2010, the Council endorsed the “EU biodiversity strategy to 2020” in June 2011.’

‘The time horizon for the main goal of halting biodiversity loss in the EU was moved from 2010 until 2020. Several EU instruments provide funding for biodiversity conservation, which has also been applied to the Natura 2000 network, the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation in the EU. The Court’s audit focused on the European Regional Development Fund’s (ERDF’s) effectiveness in funding projects directly promoting biodiversity.’

‘The Court first examined the extent to which Member States took advantage of the available ERDF funding and then assessed the performance of 32 sampled projects. The Court concluded that available ERDF financing opportunities have not been exploited to their full potential by the Member States. Although ERDF co‑funded projects in the field of biodiversity match Member State and EU priorities for halting biodiversity loss [it found that] efforts must be made to monitor their actual contribution and ensure that their effects will last. Many activities concerned the preparation of protection and management plans, which now need to be implemented in order to achieve tangible results.’

In its ‘observations’ section, the report lists five specific reasons for the unsatisfactory use of EU funds in connection with Natura 2000, as identified by the Commission:

  • 1. Competition between different policy goals: Member State administrations often fail to include investments for Natura 2000 among priorities, probably due to a lack of understanding of how this can contribute to overall regional development objectives.
  • 2. Insufficient consultation: the authorities responsible for Natura 2000 are often not sufficiently consulted or involved when it comes to drawing up operational programmes and deciding on the allocation of money under different sectoral funds.
  • 3. Slow development of Natura 2000 management plans: slow progress in site designation has significantly delayed the establishment and adoption of management plans for Natura 2000 which are necessary in order to facilitate investment in Natura 2000.
  • 4. Lack of capacity and know‑how for accessing EU funds: although knowledge about EU funds is growing, conservation organisations and authorities still find it difficult to get the necessary support for developing stand‑alone conservation projects.
  • 5. High administrative burden: the administrative capacity needed to develop projects and obtain funds can be significant, particularly where no pre‑financing arrangements exist.

Read the full report here.

By Paul Stephenson

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