Regional policies and European Commission priorities

Data extracted in March and April 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: September 2018.

Maps can be explored interactively using Eurostat’s Statistical Atlas (see user manual).

This article forms part of Eurostat’s annual flagship publication, the Eurostat regional yearbook. It provides an overview of European Union (EU) policy developments that potentially have a territorial impact. It starts with information on how the EU attributes its cohesion policy funding with the goal of reducing socioeconomic disparities at a regional level, before providing information on a range of policy developments which impact life in Europe’s regions, cities and rural areas.

Map 1: Eligibility of regions for cohesion funds based on gross domestic product (GDP) per inhabitant (in PPS), by NUTS 2 regions, for the programming period 2014–2020
(% of EU-27 average)
Source: European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy
Table 1: Allocation of cohesion policy funds for the programming period 2014–2020
(million EUR)
Source: European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy
Table 2: Europe 2020 headline indicators, EU-28, 2008–2016
Source: Eurostat (dedicated section: Europe 2020 headline indicators)

Cohesion policy — investing to reduce regional disparities in the EU

What is cohesion policy?

The EU’s cohesion policy invests in growth and jobs and promotes territorial cooperation; it is behind thousands of projects that have taken place all over Europe. Cohesion policy aims to reduce the disparities that exist between EU regions, promoting a balanced and sustainable pattern of territorial development, by supporting job creation, business competitiveness, economic growth, sustainable development, and an overall improvement in the quality of life.

The EU’s cohesion policy is established on the basis of seven-year programming periods; the current period covers 2014–2020, for which expenditure of EUR 356 billion has been allocated for measures in the EU Member States, equivalent to almost one third (32.5 %) of the total EU budget. The EU’s policy is delivered through three main funds: the European regional development fund (ERDF), the European social fund (ESF) and the cohesion fund.

The first of these, the European regional development fund, concentrates its actions on innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and the low-carbon economy. The resources allocated to each of these priorities depends upon the region concerned. For example, in more developed regions, at least 80 % of any funding should focus on at least two of these priorities, whereas in less developed regions this share falls to 50 %.

The European social fund aims to improve employment and education opportunities in the EU, as well as the situation of the most vulnerable people, for example, those at risk of poverty. More than EUR 80 billion has been earmarked for human capital investment across the EU Member States during the period 2014–2020. The European social fund focuses on supporting four thematic objectives: promoting employment and supporting labour mobility; promoting social inclusion and combating poverty; investing in education, skills and lifelong learning; enhancing institutional capacity and an efficient public administration.

The cohesion fund supports those EU Member States whose gross national income (GNI) per inhabitant is less than 90 % of the EU average. During the period 2014–2020 it allocates a total of EUR 63.3 billion to a range of investment projects primarily in relation to trans-European networks (TENs) and the environment, through a focus on the following areas: the shift towards a low-carbon economy; promoting climate change adaptation and risk prevention; preserving and protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency; promoting sustainable transport and removing key bottlenecks in network infrastructures; enhancing institutional capacity. It is subject to the same rules of programming, management and monitoring as the European regional development fund and European social fund.

For more information:
Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy — regional policy, the EU’s main investment policy

Cohesion policy: how is the budget decided?

The total budget for cohesion policy and the rules associated with its allocation are jointly decided by the Council and the European Parliament. A legislative package for cohesion policy for 2014–2020 was adopted on 17 December 2013. This included a common provisions regulation (CPR) which lays down general provisions and the simplification of European Structural and Investment (ESI) funds; the CPR was amended in October 2015 to take account of the unique situation of Greece resulting from the global financial and economic crisis.

Structural and investment funds are attributed through a process which involves European, national, regional and local authorities, as well as social partners (for example organisations representing employers and employees) and organisations from civil society. There have been a number of changes to the design and implementation of cohesion policy for the 2014–2020 programming period, with a shift in funding to concentrate more funding on the European Commission’s priorities including research and innovation, support to small businesses, training and education, social inclusion, digital technologies and broadband, energy, water, environment, climate change, sustainable transport and the low-carbon economy.

The NUTS classification — an objective basis for the allocation of cohesion funds

Priority for cohesion policy funding is given to those regions whose development is lagging behind the EU average, with more than half (EUR 181 billion) of the total allocation set aside for less developed regions whose GDP is lower than 75 % of the EU average.

Statistics on regional accounts are used when allocating structural and investment funds, with the NUTS classification providing the basis for regional boundaries and geographic eligibility. Regional eligibility for the European regional development fund and the European social fund during the programming period 2014–2020 was calculated on the basis of regional GDP per inhabitant (in PPS) averaged over the period 2007–2009. NUTS level 2 regions were ranked and split into three groups:

  • less developed regions where GDP per inhabitant was less than 75 % of the EU-27 average;
  • transition regions where GDP per inhabitant was between 75 % and 90 % of the EU-27 average; and
  • more developed regions where GDP per inhabitant was more than 90 % of the EU-27 average.

Map 1.1 shows the eligibility of NUTS level 2 regions for structural funds over the programming period 2014–2020. The less developed regions (shaded in orange), which receive the highest proportion of funds, are predominantly in the east and south of the EU, and also include the Baltic Member States.

Eligibility for the cohesion fund was initially calculated on the basis of GNI per inhabitant (in PPS) averaged over the period 2008–2010. Only EU Member States whose GNI per inhabitant was less than 90 % of the EU-27 average were supported, with funds to cover actions designed to reduce economic and social disparities and promote sustainable development. Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia were covered during the period 2014–2016, while Cyprus was eligible for a phase-out fund. During 2016, a review of cohesion fund eligibility was conducted, based on information for GNI per inhabitant averaged over the period 2012–2014. As a result, Cyprus became fully eligible for cohesion fund support (from 1 January 2017 onwards); there were no other changes to the list of eligible EU Member States.

Table 1.1 provides an overview of the allocation of cohesion policy funds (for the two regional structural funds and the cohesion fund) for the programming period 2014–2020. Over this period, Poland has been allocated 21.8 % of the EU’s total funding for cohesion policy. The next highest allocations are for Italy (9.7 %) and Spain (8.6 %), while Portugal, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania should each receive between 6.0 % and 6.5 % of total cohesion policy funding during the programming period.

For more information:
Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy

Cohesion policy: implementation

The principles for the implementation of cohesion policy and decisions on how to assign the funds are carried out through a process of consultation between the European Commission and the EU Member States. Each Member State produces a draft partnership agreement and draft operational programme, which provides information on their regional strategy and a list of proposals for various programmes.

Having negotiated the contents of these with the European Commission, national/regional managing authorities in each of the EU Member States then select, monitor and evaluate thousands of potential projects. The European Commission commits funds to allow these authorities to start spending funds on their programmes. Each programme is monitored by both the European Commission and the Member State in question and payments are made on the basis of certified expenditure and a series of reports.

For the period 2014–2020 the rules for cohesion policy funding have been simplified so that a harmonised set of rules now applies to all of the funds. Policy has been adapted so that it is based upon a results-orientated approach with more transparent controls, less red tape, the introduction of specific preconditions before funds can be released, and the introduction of measurable targets for better accountability.

Cohesion policy: priorities and targets

The EU’s cohesion policy is closely integrated with the Europe 2020 strategy and the EU’s investment plan. During the period 2014–2020, cohesion policy programming is, for the first time, embedded within overall economic policy coordination, in particular the European semester, a regular cycle of economic policy coordination that is designed to coordinate the individual efforts of EU Member States so they result in the desired impact on growth. Indeed, the link between cohesion policy and broader economic reforms is such that the European Commission may suspend regional funding to any Member State which does not comply with the EU’s economic rules.

Another change for the 2014–2020 programming period is a greater role for the urban dimension of regional policy, in particular concerning measures that are designed to assist in the fight against social exclusion. With this in mind, a minimum amount of the European regional development fund has been earmarked for integrated projects in cities and of the European social fund to support marginalised communities.

Cohesion policy during the period 2014–2020 has 11 thematic objectives:

  • strengthening research, technological development and innovation;
  • enhancing access to, and use and quality of information and communication technologies (ICT);
  • enhancing the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs);
  • supporting the shift towards a low-carbon economy in all sectors;
  • promoting climate change adaptation, risk prevention and management;
  • preserving and protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency;
  • promoting sustainable transport and removing bottlenecks in key network infrastructures;
  • promoting sustainable and quality employment and supporting labour mobility;
  • promoting social inclusion, combating poverty and any discrimination;
  • investing in education, training and vocational training for skills and lifelong learning;
  • enhancing institutional capacity of public authorities and stakeholders and efficient public administration.

The Europe 2020 strategy: creating a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy

The Europe 2020 strategy, designed as the successor to the Lisbon strategy, was adopted by the European Council on 17 June 2010. It is the EU’s common agenda for this decade, placing emphasis on promoting a growth pact that can lead to a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy, in order to overcome structural weaknesses, improve Europe’s competitiveness and productivity, and underpin a sustainable social market economy. The Europe 2020 strategy seeks to achieve the following five targets by 2020:

  • Employment — increase the employment rate among those aged 20–64 to at least 75 %.
  • Research and development — increase combined public and private investment in R & D to 3.00 % of gross domestic product (GDP).
  • Climate change and energy sustainability — reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 % (or even 30 %, if conditions are right) compared with 1990 levels, increase the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption to 20 %, and achieve a 20 % increase in energy efficiency.
  • Education — reduce the rate of early leavers from education and training to less than 10 % and increase the proportion of those aged 30–34 having completed tertiary education to at least 40 %.
  • Fighting poverty and social exclusion — lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion.

Europe 2020: a mid-term review

On 5 March 2014, the European Commission released a Communication titled, ‘Taking stock of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ (COM(2014) 130 final). This provided a review of the achievements made and difficulties encountered during the first four years of the strategy. After endorsement by the European Council in March 2014, the European Commission launched a public consultation of the strategy which took place from May–October 2014. The results of the public consultation (COM(2015 100 final) concluded, among others, that:

  • the delivery of objectives linked to jobs and economic growth was mixed, notably due to the impact of the global financial and economic crisis;
  • the crisis had also affected progress towards the Europe 2020 headline targets;
  • the mixed progress towards Europe 2020 targets could also be attributed to the time lag with which structural reforms produce their full impact;
  • growing divergences across and often within EU Member States had hampered progress towards the Europe 2020 targets.

Europe 2020: coordination of EU policies

In March 2015, the European Commission proposed a new set of Broad guidelines for the economic policies of the Member States and of the Union (COM(2015) 99 final) which focused on: boosting investment; enhancing growth through the implementation of structural reforms in the EU Member States; removing key barriers to growth and jobs at an EU level; improving the sustainability and growth-friendliness of public finances. At the same time, the Commission also proposed a set of Guidelines for the employment policies of the Member States (COM(2015) 098 final): boosting demand for labour; enhancing labour supply and skills; enhancing the functioning of labour markets; ensuring fairness, combatting poverty and promoting equal opportunities.

At the end of 2016, in the context of the European semester, the European Commission presented its Annual growth survey 2017 (COM(2016) 725 final), which proposed to focus efforts during 2017 on three key areas: boosting investment; pursuing structural reforms; ensuring responsible fiscal policies.

For more information:
Europe 2020 strategy
European semester

Europe 2020: an overview of the latest situation

Table 1.2 presents a summary for Europe 2020 headline indicators: this information may be of use when analysing the results presented in the individual chapters of this online publication, insofar as the Europe 2020 targets impact on a broad range of topics/policy issues. Looking at the latest data available, there were two indicators — greenhouse gas emissions and final energy consumption (which measures energy efficiency gains) — where the Europe 2020 target had already been achieved.

Although socioeconomic indicators that form part of the Europe 2020 targets have been set for the whole population (men and women together), Table 1.2 presents additional analyses by sex (subject to data availability). It confirms that the EU-28 male employment rate and EU-28 female tertiary educational attainment were both higher than their respective Europe 2020 targets in 2016, although each of these indicators recorded a considerable gender gap (with the other sex recording ratios well below the Europe 2020 target).

While several of the Europe 2020 targets may be attained before the end of 2020, it would appear difficult to envisage those targets relating to the employment rate, R & D expenditure, or the risk of poverty and social exclusion being achieved.

Europe 2020: a regional perspective

The Europe 2020 strategy does not specifically touch upon regional policy. However, there has been a growing volume of work — for example, by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Committee of the Regions and the European Parliament — on the relationship between regional development and the Europe 2020 strategy.

While there are often diverse patterns of socioeconomic developments between EU Member States, these differences are often matched by inter-regional differences within the same Member State. An analysis of general patterns for the Europe 2020 indicators (see the individual chapters for more specific information/analyses) suggests that the Nordic and Benelux Member States and many of the regions in Germany, France, Austria and the United Kingdom reported a high degree of socioeconomic development and figures that were close to or already exceeding the EU’s Europe 2020 targets. By contrast, the latest data available for many regions in the east and south of the EU, as well as the Baltic Member States, showed that regional performance often remained a considerable distance from the EU’s Europe 2020 targets; however, it should be borne in mind that each of the Member States has generally adopted a set of national targets.

An analysis within the individual EU Member States supports the view that capital city regions tend to outperform other regions; this pattern was particularly pronounced in Bulgaria, France, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom, where patterns of economic development were monocentric. Disparities between regions from the same Member State were most apparent in terms of a north–south divide between the regions of Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom, an east–west divide between German regions, or a divide between cities and rural areas in most of eastern Europe and the Baltic Member States.

Although the Europe 2020 strategy does not specifically refer to regional policy, the European Commission has underlined that it may be neither realistic nor desirable that all regions in the same EU Member State seek to attain the same national targets. Rather, it was considered important for the Member States to take account of their different needs and to draw up regional programmes that reflect local specificities so as to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, while recognising the diversity of European regions. As such, the Commission recognises that it is not possible for all European regions to contribute to the Europe 2020 strategy in the same way and to the same extent.

Highlighting regional and territorial aspects, there have been a number of calls to align regional funding more closely with the Europe 2020 strategy and to monitor in more detail the performance of EU regions with respect to Europe 2020 targets. The Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy have released three studies based on composite indicators linked to the socioeconomic performance of EU regions, which provide a set of subnational analyses in relation to the Europe 2020 strategy and broader measures of competitiveness. Their work was supported by the findings of the mid-term review of the Europe 2020 strategy, which noted that there was growing evidence of regional divergence in several of the EU Member States. More practically, the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy has increased its efforts to align more closely the various dimensions of regional funding to the Europe 2020 targets.

For more information:
Dedicated section on the Europe 2020 strategy
Smarter, greener, more inclusive? – Indicators to support the Europe 2020 strategy, 2017 (Eurostat)
The Europe 2020 Index: the progress of EU countries, regions and cities to the 2020 targets, 2015 (Dijkstra L. and Athanasoglou S.)
EU Regional Competitiveness Index, 2013 (Annoni P. and Dijkstra L.)

United Nations sustainable development goals in an EU context

Sustainable development has long been part of the political agenda within the EU. However, this subject area was given fresh impetus with the approval in September 2015 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly for a set of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), which provide a global policy framework for tackling a wide range of issues, for example, poverty, inequality and climate change.

The 2030 sustainable development agenda came into force on 1 January 2016 and, under the auspices of the UN, work has been finalised on developing a detailed set of targets and a global list of 244 indicators (divided into three different tiers depending on data availability and the level of methodological development) that may be used to monitor progress towards transforming the world; note there is not always a direct correspondence between the goals, targets and indicators, for example, one target may not cover the whole of an individual goal, while another target may go beyond the scope of any specific goal. The SDGs cover three main dimensions: social solidarity, economic efficiency and environmental responsibility; in some respects this mirrors the Europe 2020 goals of inclusive, smart and sustainable growth.

An initial survey carried out by Eurostat in September 2016 suggested that data were already available for EU Member States for more than one third (35 %) of the 244 global SDG indicators, while 26 % of the indicators were considered outside the scope of official European statistics, 17 % were considered not relevant for the EU (for example, the share of the population that had access to electricity) and 22 % were not available.

On 22 November 2016, the European Commission adopted the Communication ’Next steps for a sustainable European future’ (COM(2016) 739 final). This Communication maps those EU policies contributing to the implementation of the SDGs; it shows the significance of the SDGs, explains how the EU contributes to achieving them and announces a detailed regular monitoring of the SDGs in an EU context. With this in mind, Eurostat and other European Commission services agreed upon the framework for monitoring SDGs within an EU context during 2017 and the development of a reference indicator framework for this purpose. This was achieved by developing an indicator list that is tailored to the specific needs of monitoring the performance of the EU. The European Commission chose to give preference to indicators which can be used to measure the impact and outcome of existing EU policies in a clear and easy-to-understand way. During the selection of the EU SDG indicators, care was taken to assess policy relevance and quality. This resulted in a final list of 100 different indicators (41 of which are multi-purpose indicators). This EU SDG indicator framework received a favourable opinion by the European Statistical System Committee and will serve as the basis for a regular monitoring report published by Eurostat, the first edition being scheduled for release towards the end of 2017.

Within the broader global context, the EU is actively contributing to the establishment of an SDG monitoring system at global, supranational and national level. Indeed, the EU is taking the lead in reporting on implementation for the EU and measuring the progress being made internally within the EU, as well as assessing the contributions that the EU makes to global progress on SDGs.

For more information:
Dedicated section on the EU’s sustainable development strategy
Sustainable Development in the European Union — A statistical glance from the viewpoint of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Urban development in the EU

The various dimensions of urban life — economic, social, cultural and environmental — are closely inter-related. Successful urban developments are often based on coordinated/integrated approaches that seek to balance these dimensions through a range of policy measures such as urban renewal, increasing education opportunities, preventing crime, encouraging social inclusion or environmental protection. As such, urban development has the potential to play an important role in promoting the Europe 2020 strategy and delivering smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The penultimate chapter in this online publication presents data relating to the sustainability of cities in the EU: it focuses on three principal areas — demographic developments; the use of different means of transport for travelling to work; and the environment.

What is urban development policy?

During the period 2014–2020, the EU has put the urban dimension at the heart of its cohesion policy, with at least half of the resources foreseen under the European regional development fund being invested in urban areas. The European Commission estimates that during this six-year programming period some EUR 10 billion from the European regional development fund will be allocated to sustainable urban development, covering around 750 different European cities. The EU’s regional policy will target, among others, urban development through:

  • focusing investment priorities on issues such as sustainable urban mobility, the regeneration of deprived communities, or improved research and innovation capacity;
  • committing at least 5 % of the European regional development fund to integrated sustainable urban development;
  • setting-up an urban development network to be responsible for reviewing the deployment of European funds;
  • encouraging cities to promote community-led local developments for urban regeneration.

Urban development policy seeks to promote the economic, social and environmental transformations of cities through integrated and sustainable solutions. It can play a valuable role in the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, through a range of initiatives, extending the territorial coverage of the strategy to an additional level of governance. Indeed, a number of commentators and stakeholders have argued that cities need to be more involved in the conception and implementation of EU policies, as, despite their economic weight, there is no explicit urban dimension to the Europe 2020 strategy or its targets, although three flagship projects — the digital agenda, the innovation union and youth on the move — each address urban challenges.

For more information:
Urban development in the EU

What is the EU’s urban agenda?

In February 2014, the European Commission organised a CITIES forum, to discuss how to strengthen the urban dimension of EU policymaking; it was centred on a debate over the need for an EU urban agenda, designed to bring together the increasing number of sectoral policies that impact on the EU’s urban areas, for example, within the domains of energy, the information society, climate action, the environment, transport, education or culture. Many stakeholders saw an opportunity to implement a framework to bring coherence to a diversity of initiatives and policies, and to give clear roles for European, national, regional and local authorities. Europe 2020 was seen by many participants as a starting point for priority setting, although some argued that there was a need to go further both in scope and time, given that many urban developments involve long-term processes and long-lasting infrastructure investments.

The forum was followed, in July 2014, by a European Commission Communication titled, ‘The urban dimension of EU policies — key features of an EU urban agenda’ (COM(2014) 490). It discussed a range of options for developing an urban agenda, including:

  • a role for the EU institutions as a facilitator of urban development;
  • further integration of sectoral policies so that these are better adapted to urban realities;
  • an instrument to involve cities and their political leaders in EU policymaking and policy implementation;
  • a tool to integrate the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy with cities’ own strategies.

At the end of May 2016, a meeting of ministers responsible for urban matters was held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It reached an agreement on an urban agenda for the EU, as established by the Amsterdam Pact. The agreement foresees the development of 12 priority themes as partnerships between European institutions, EU Member States, European cities and other stakeholders; each has the goal of ensuring that the urban dimension of policymaking is strengthened. These themes include: the inclusion of migrants and refugees; air quality; urban poverty; housing; the circular economy; jobs and skills in the local economy; climate adaptation; energy transition; sustainable use of land and nature-based solutions; urban mobility; digital transition; innovative and responsible public procurement. Pilot partnerships are already operational for the first four of these themes.

The urban agenda is a new method of working designed to maximise the growth potential of cities, while tackling the social challenges associated with urban areas. It seeks to promote cooperation, economic growth, the quality of life and innovation across European cities through the creation of European partnerships, which:

  • promote the involvement of cities in EU policymaking (´urban friendly´ legislation);
  • ensure better access to and utilisation of European (structural and investment) funds;
  • improve the EU’s urban knowledge base, thereby leading to cities increasing their level of cooperation and sharing best practices.

In response to this agenda, the European Commission has developed a one-stop-shop for cities and an urban data platform.

For more information:
Urban agenda for the EU

Rural development in the EU

Having outlined EU policy developments in relation to cities and urban areas, this next section looks at policy developments for rural areas. The final chapter in this online publication presents information on rural areas in the EU, as defined by the degree of urbanisation, it covers the following subjects: poverty and social exclusion, housing, health, education, the labour market and the digital divide and focuses on real and perceived advantages which may attract people to live in rural areas and juxtaposes these against a range of (potential) drawbacks to living in the countryside.

There are considerable differences across the EU Member States as regards their rural–urban territorial divides. Some Member States — for example, Ireland, Sweden or Finland — are very rural in character. By contrast, the Benelux Member States and Malta have a high degree of urbanisation. Equally within individual Member States there can be a wide range of different typologies, for example, the densely-populated, urbanised areas of Nordrhein-Westfalen in western Germany may be contrasted with the sparsely-populated, largely rural areas of Brandenburg in eastern Germany.

The EU’s rural development policy is designed to help rural areas in the EU meet a wide range of economic, social and environmental challenges; it complements the system of direct payments to farmers and measures to manage agricultural markets. Indeed, rural development policy was introduced as the second pillar of the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) during the Agenda 2000 reform.

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) provides finance for the EU’s rural development policy which is used to promote sustainable rural development and to contribute towards the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. For the period 2014–2020, the EAFRD has been allocated EUR 99.6 billion. If national contributions are included, the funding available for this second pillar of the CAP amounts to EUR 161 billion for the whole of the programming period 2014–2020, with France (EUR 11.4 billion) and Italy (EUR 10.4 billion) the largest beneficiaries.

The EAFRD is intended to help develop farming and rural areas, by providing a competitive and innovative stimulus, at the same time as seeking to protect biodiversity and the natural environment. There are six priority areas for the EU’s agriculture and rural development policy, namely, to promote:

  • knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture and forestry;
  • the viability and competitiveness of all types of agriculture and support sustainable forest management;
  • the organisation of the food production chain, animal welfare and risk management in farming;
  • the restoration, preservation and enhancement of agricultural and forest ecosystems;
  • the efficient use of natural resources and support the transition to a low-carbon economy;
  • social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas.

As with other structural and investment funds, from 2014 onwards, rural development policy is based on the development of multiannual partnership and operational programmes which are designed at a national/regional level by individual EU Member States. Each programme should cover the priorities set by the EU and their contents are the subject of negotiations with the European Commission. Once the general programmes are agreed, national/regional managing authorities in each of the EU Member States are responsible for selecting, evaluating and monitoring individual projects.

For more information:
Rural development 2014–2020

European Committee of the Regions

The European Committee of the Regions is the EU’s assembly of regional and local representatives. It was created in 1994 and is composed of 350 members who are regional presidents, mayors or elected representatives of regions and cities in the 28 Member States of the EU. Successive European treaties have broadened its role: indeed, since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty it has to be consulted throughout the European legislative process.

The European Committee of the Regions works closely together with the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, and in the EU Member States with the various tiers of authority, in order to promote multi-level governance. It aims to ensure that European policy developments uphold the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality and promotes economic, social and territorial cohesion in the EU through autonomy for regional and local authorities, encouraging decentralisation and cooperation at a regional and local level.

With a view of the important role that may be played by Europe’s regions and cities for achieving the EU’s objectives of achieving ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’, the European Committee of the Regions has adopted five political priorities for its current mandate (2015–2020):

  • A fresh start for the European economy: to achieve its goal of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, the EU needs to involve local and regional authorities more deeply. Smart investment should be based on local needs, draw on best practice at the grass roots level, and encourage a new entrepreneurial spirit across Europe, while considering the opportunities offered by new digital technologies to boost growth.
  • The territorial dimension of EU legislation matters: bearing this in mind, the European Committee of the Regions aims to help narrow the knowledge gap between regions and cities as a means of reducing the urban/rural divide. It will also assess what impact EU legislation has on the ground — including its impact on cities — and encourage cross-border cooperation through the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC).
  • A simpler, more connected Europe: the European Committee of the Regions will promote the role of local government in European policymaking, encourage the EU to make its business environment friendlier and explain the benefits of the EU at a local level.
  • Stability and cooperation within and outside of the EU: in order to contribute to a more stable international and regional environment, the European Committee of the Regions will help develop economic and political ties with the six Eastern European and south Caucasus countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership and explore what can be done at the local level to promote cooperation with countries around the Mediterranean; it will also help would-be members of the EU to prepare for membership.
  • Europe of citizens is Europe’s future: the European Committee of the Regions believes that a broader, richer dialogue is needed between the EU institutions, its citizens and local and regional authorities. The European Committee of the Regions aims to demonstrate how the EU can improve the lives of individuals and their communities.

Moreover, the European Committee of the Regions has set up a Europe 2020 monitoring platform to analyse the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy and the European semester at a regional and local level, from the perspective of local and regional authorities; they are responsible for over 50 % of public investment, have powers in many key policy fields, and play a direct role in the implementation of over one third of country-specific recommendations that are issued. The monitoring platform follows recent developments and provides examples of how this involvement could take place. It also delivers results, by means of surveys, consultations and testimonies from on the ground. On 11 May 2017, the Committee proposed a code of conduct for the involvement of local and regional authorities in the European semester at the EU and Member State level.

The European Committee of the Regions joins forces with stakeholders at national, regional and local level to build an alliance for a modern, strong and ambitious EU cohesion policy after 2020. Based on an opinion adopted on 11 May 2017, its aim is to highlight the added value of EU cohesion policy, to provide for its effective and simplified delivery, and to safeguard its share in the EU’s budget.

European Week of Regions and Cities

The European Week of Regions and Cities is an annual four-day event which allows regions and cities to showcase their capacity to encourage growth and job creation, implement EU cohesion policy, and provide evidence of the importance of the regional level for good European governance.
European week of regions and cities 2017.JPG
The event was created in 2003 by the European Committee of the Regions, which joined forces with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy one year later. It has become a networking platform for regional and local development, which is viewed as a key event for policy practitioners. The 15th European Week of Regions and Cities will be held under the title, ’Regions and cities working for a better future’, with three principal subthemes:

  • building resilient regions and cities;
  • regions and cities as change agents;
  • sharing knowledge to deliver results.

For more information:
European Week of Regions and Cities

See also

Further Eurostat information

Data visualisation


Main tables

Dedicated section

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information

External links