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2 The contribution of structural policies to economic and social cohesion: results and prospects

Since their creation, the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund have represented the main instruments of social and economic cohesion policy, which is a priority objective of the Union. These are aimed at strengthening the structural factors which determine competitiveness and therefore the growth potential of less advantaged regions.

Over 10 years have passed since the reform of the Structural Funds in 1988. A first evaluation of the results was presented in the First Report on Social and Economic Cohesion. This showed the progress made in terms of convergence and cohesion and the contribution of structural policies to the attainment of these objectives. The report had also suggested possible ways of improving the effectiveness of structural policies and these were integrated into the new regulatory framework.

The Berlin Council (March 1999) confirmed the will to continue pursuing this political priority, made even more necessary by future enlargement because of the substantial differences in the level of development. Given the scale of the financial transfers involved, it is important to assess the effectiveness of the policies pursued in reducing regional disparities and increasing economic convergence.

At the same time, the system for managing the Structural Funds has become more decentralised, with a clearer division of responsibilities and, as a result, the creation of stronger instruments for monitoring, control and evaluation.

This chapter is divided into four sections. The first examines the scale of the effort made to improve economic and social cohesion; the second assesses the results achieved over the period 1994 to 99; the third attempts to draw lessons from the establishment of the new method of programming for the period 2000 to 2006; the fourth section considers the different financial instruments created to assist the enlargement process.

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