Four key principles underpin cohesion policy:
This principle has three aspects:
- Concentration of resources: the greater part of structural fund resources (70% for 2014-2020) are concentrated on the poorest regions and countries.
- Concentration of effort: Targeting Investments on Key Growth Priorities
- Concentration of spending: at the beginning of each programming period, annual funding is allocated to each programme. These funds must be spent by the end of the second year after their allocation (known as the N+2 rule)
Cohesion policy does not fund individual projects. Instead, it funds multi-annual national programmes aligned on EU objectives and priorities.
For more information on how programming works, see regional policy stages: step-by-step.
Each programme is developed through a collective process involving authorities at European, regional and local level, social partners and organisations from civil society.
This partnership applies to all stages of the programming process, from design, through management and implementation to monitoring and evaluation.
This approach help ensure that action is adapted to local and regional needs and priorities.
Financing from the European structural funds may not replace national spending by a member country.
The Commission agrees with each country upon the level of eligible public (or equivalent) spending to be maintained throughout the programming period, and checks on compliance in the middle of the programming period (2018), and at the end (2022).
The objective is to set realistic but ambitious targets for structural public spending to ensure that contribution of the structural funds really does add value. As a rule, average annual spending in real terms should not be less than in the previous programming period.