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26th Oct 2020

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Hahn: EU will 'not accept' wasteful regional projects

  • Johannes Hahn: Projects lacking strategic planning are no longer acceptable (Photo: Open Days - European Week of Cities and Regions)

The European Union commissioner in charge of regional aid, Johannes Hahn, has said billions of euros of EU taxpayers' money has in the past been spent with no clear strategy or benchmarks.

Hahn told EUobserver that there will be "targets to measure results, and set new conditions" on how to spend €325 billion of EU regional funds in the next seven years.

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  • Calabria region - Southern Italy has received millions of euros in EU aid but not all of it has gone where it should (Photo: Revol Web)

But looking back on spending in 2007-2013, a pot worth €347 billion, he said: "I wouldn't say that previous years have been marked by waste, but there has sometimes been a lack of strategy."

"This will no longer be acceptable," he added.

Hahn noted that the Union has had "performance indicators for cohesion policy" since the 1990s.

But he described the accumulated heap of, sometimes incompatible, benchmarks as in need of "radical reform."

"Many thousands of indicators were being used, but they were not comparable between different member states and sometimes they were not aligned with the objectives of the programmes," he explained.

"The focus was more on the absorption of funds than on their actual impact," he added.

EU regional aid history is littered with the kind of wasteful projects Hahn is looking to put an end to.

Earlier this year, there was a corruption scandal surrounding Polish motorways partially funded by EU money.

Italy last year was asked to pay back millions to Brussels after some of the money meant for road projects in the south of the country went into the pockets of the mafia.

Meanwhile, a 2013 assessment by the Court of Auditors on investment in road projects as part of the Cohesion Policy found that their impact on economic development could not be assessed and that most delivered less than the predicted return on investment.

The report was illustrative of two key problems of cohesion policy to date - a lack of clear cut results and an overly heavy focus on road-building.

Over the coming years, projects will need to be either innovative, boosting competitiveness, pursuing a digital goal or be green.

There will also be spending-efficiency checks before any EU aid is disbursed and checks on on-going projects. Part of the funding will be contingent on performance.

"Member states and regions have to establish clear and measurable targets on the impact of the investments," Hahn said.

He also said there will be no more fuzzy language to the public about what is hoped to be achieved and when.

"The progress has to be measured and, crucially, communicated," said the commissioner.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Regions & Cities Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Regions & Cities magazine.

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