The Value added of Ex ante conditionalities in the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI funds)
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The effectiveness of public investments and the durability of their results depend also on having in place suitable policy, regulatory and institutional conditions. Indeed, unsound policy frameworks and regulatory, administrative and institutional weaknesses are major systemic bottlenecks hindering effective and efficient public spending.
It is therefore of the utmost importance that such systemic weaknesses are identified upfront and addressed in a proactive manner so that the prerequisites for an optimal use of resources from the EU budget are in place.
This is why, one of the key reforms for the 2014-20 programming period of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds), was the introduction of ex ante conditionalities (ExAC), setting sector-specific and horizontal conditions to be met at an early stage of implementation and by the end of 2016 at the latest.
While linked to support from the ESI Funds and beneficial thereto, ExAC have had a much wider impact.
They tackled persistent bottlenecks to investment, both horizontal (e.g., linked to public procurement, State aid and Small Business Act) and sectoral (e.g., in the areas of transport, digital economy and energy) and in doing so contributed to delivering the Investment Plan for Europe.
ExAC provided an incentive for Member States to implement structural changes and policy reforms, including those linked to the relevant Country-specific Recommendations. They effectively addressed delays and shortcomings in transposition of the EU acquis (e.g., in the energy, water and waste sectors), thereby improving the quality and legality of relevant investments, not only those co-financed by ESI Funds.