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European Social Fund 2014–2020

How to strengthen the partnership principle in European Funds?


© Istockphoto | File #: 2968304 | 03-01-07 © Ashwin Kharidehal Abhirama

The Commission has presented an outline of the principles that should guide EU countries when they organise the participation of the relevant partners in the different stages of the implementation of the EU Common Strategic Framework funds. It prepares the ground for a European Code of Conduct on partnership (ECCP), which will lay down minimum requirements for national authorities to ensure a high quality involvement of partners.

Why a 'European Code of Conduct on Partnership'?

Action for growth and jobs requires both ownership at top political level and mobilisation from all actors across Europe. Partnership has therefore been identified as key to delivering on the Europe 2020 Strategy.

The partnership principle has been for a long time one of the key principles for managing the European Funds. Partners – regional and local authorities, economic and social partners, and the multitude of organisations representing civil society - should be actively and closely involved throughout the whole programme cycle — preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Partnership can brings many benefits and added value, ranging from enhanced commitment and broader expertise to greater transparency and improved efficiency of the policy making process. However, experience shows that there are wide differences across the EU on application of the partnership principle, depending on national institutional set-ups and political cultures. The effectiveness of the partnership principle also depends on the technical ability of the partners to contribute substantively to the process, raising the question of capacity-building.

The paper is intended to facilitate the debate on the future content of the European Code of Conduct. The Commission welcomes reactions and proposals from organisations as well as individuals. Comments can be sent to

What are the elements of the proposed framework?

The document looks at the possible range of partners that should be selected. EU countries should identify, in the national context, the relevant stakeholders in the CSF Funds, the incentives and the legal and administrative barriers to partnership and possibly ways to address these obstacles.

The Commission also suggests approaches on how to involve the partners in the various stages of the Funds' management, from their participation in monitoring committees, to their involvement in the selection of actual projects and the evaluation of programmes. A number of best practice examples are provided to illustrate how already today, successful partnerships have been established in several countries.

Finally, consideration is also given on how the national authorities could contribute, where necessary, to the capacity-building of their partners, in particular smaller organisations, and how a continued exchange of experience and best practice in this field could be ensured.

What are the corresponding rules proposed for the 2014-2020 period?

In October 2011, the Commission has proposed the rules that will determine how the EU Common Strategic Framework funds, including the ESF, will work in the 2014-2020 period.

Article 5 of the draft Common Provisions Regulation (CPR)

(1) For the Partnership Contract and each programme respectively, a Member State shall organise a partnership with the following partners:
(a) competent regional, local, urban and other public authorities;
(b) economic and social partners; and
(c) bodies representing civil society, including environmental partners, non-governmental organisations, and bodies responsible for promoting equality and non-discrimination.
(2) In accordance with the multi-level governance approach, the partners shall be involved by Member States in the preparation of Partnership Contracts and progress reports and in the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programmes. The partners shall participate in the monitoring committees for programmes.
(3) The Commission shall be empowered to adopt delegated acts in accordance with Article 142 to provide for a European code of conduct that lays down objectives and criteria to support the implementation of partnership and to facilitate the sharing of information, experience, results and good practices among Member States.
(4) At least once a year, for each CSF Fund, the Commission shall consult the organisations which represent the partners at Union level on the implementation of support from the CSF Funds1.

1 The consultation shall be done at least twice during the programming period for the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), according to the Article 90 of the EMFF fund specific regulation.

In addition, the CPR contains provisions which directly refer to partnership or are linked to this principle, such as those on monitoring, reporting and evaluation.