- The Structural Funds budget and the rules for its use are decided by the Council and the European Parliament on the basis of a proposal from the European Commission.
- The Commission makes a proposal after having consulted closely with Member States over the Community strategic guidelines on cohesion. This is the pillar of the policy which gives it a strategic dimension. The guidelines guarantee that Member States adjust their programming in line with the priorities of the Union to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, foster the growth of a knowledge-based economy and create more and better jobs.
- Each Member State prepares a National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF), coherent with the Strategic Guidelines, over the course of an ongoing dialogue with the Commission. The rules outline that, after the adoption of the strategic guidelines, a Member State has five months to send its NSRF to the Commission. That document defines the strategy chosen by the Member State and proposes a list of operational programmes that it hopes to implement. The Commission has three months after receipt of the NSRF to make any comments and to request any additional information from the Member State.
- The Commission validates certain parts of the NSRF that require a decision, as well as each operational programme (OP). The OPs present the priorities of the Member State (and/or regions) as well as the way in which it will lead its programming. An obligation exists however for the countries and the regions concerned by the convergence objective: 60% of expenditure must be allocated to the priorities arising from the Union's strategy for growth and jobs (called the Lisbon strategy). For countries and regions concerned by the competitiveness and employment objective the percentage is 75%. For the 2007-2013 period, around 450 operational programmes will be adopted by the European Commission. Economic and social partners as well as civil society bodies participate in the programming and management of the OPs.
- After the Commission has taken a decision on the operational programmes, the Member States and its regions then have the task of implementing the programmes, i.e. selecting the thousands of projects, and to monitor and assess them. All this work takes place through what are known as management authorities in each country and/or each region.
- The Commission commits the expenditure (to allow the Member State to start the programmes)
- The Commission pays the certified expenditure per Member State
- The Commission monitors each operational programme alongside the Member State.
- Strategic reports are submitted by the Commission and by the Member States throughout the 2007-2013 programming period.
For more information, see the new regulations on the Structural Funds
Additionality is one of the principles driving the functioning of the Structural Funds.