Mainstreaming and expenditure tracking

The European Commission pursues several policy objectives through the EU budget. Such objectives stem from

  • Commission policies
  • political priorities
  • international agreements

Some of these are pursued through one or more dedicated budgetary programmes, for examples the common agricultural policy, student exchanges, or research.

The Commission has also decided to mainstream other policy objectives. This means that policies such as climate, biodiversity and gender are considered in the design, preparation, implementation and evaluation of each programme. Instead of having a dedicated programme, these priorities will be integrated into the design of all its spending policies horizontally.

Often, the Commission is required to provide an answer to the question of how much money it is spending on specific policy objectives. While that question is easy to answer for dedicated programmes, it is more complex for policy priorities or for priorities to which more than one programme is contributing. Finding and calculating the relevant spending is called expenditure tracking.

Currently, the Commission is tracking expenditure linked to

  • climate
  • biodiversity
  • clean air
  • migration

For gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Commission is already providing qualitative information in the framework of the Draft Budget. A more robust methodology is in development to provide better tracking.

The implementation of policy mainstreaming in budgetary policies automatically implies double counting of expenditure. This is not an error but a feature of mainstreaming. A Euro spent through the common agricultural policy to provide support to farmers planting hedges and tree rows in their fields helps agriculture, biodiversity and climate. This should be reflected in the amount from the EU budget spent on each topic.

Contributing to multiple priorities at the same time is inherent to the idea of meaningful and well-designed mainstreaming. Such overlap demonstrates the efficiency of EU budgetary spending where resources contribute to a number of political objectives at the same time. That means however, that expenditures on horizontal priorities cannot simply be added up.

Green methodology

A comprehensive methodology is the first step towards proper tracking. Without it, programmes cannot properly report on their contributions.

The methodology for climate, biodiversity and clean air is based on the EU Climate coefficients. These are coefficients to monitor and report on the development finance flows, based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Rio markers that were designed in 1998 to target the themes of the Rio Conventions. The EU markers are designed to quantify expenditure contributing to climate, biodiversity and clean air objectives.

Given the range of implementing procedures (e.g. centrally managed, shared management, financial instruments, programmable actions), the approach to implementation varies across programmes and the methodology is refined to reflect the specific implementation modes.

The markers are assigned with the following overall approach:

  • 100% ("substantial contribution") when the activity’s expected results make a substantial contribution to climate mitigation or adaptation objectives and/or comply with the Taxonomy technical screening criteria as incorporated in the EU climate coefficient. A substantial contribution could be considered if an activity has a very substantial impact on climate mitigation or adaptation either directly through reducing the emissions from the activity overall – e.g. for example in activities such as energy generation or transport – or indirectly – e.g. for example in research and development or education
  • 40% ("moderate contribution") when the activity’s results are moderately contributing to climate mitigation or adaptation objectives. A moderate contribution could be considered if an activity does not fully comply with the necessary conditions for the 100% coefficient but would still be expected to have a positive impact on climate mitigation or adaptation
  • 0% means that the activity was examined but found to have no or an insignificant impact on climate objectives

This methodology is independently applied to track climate, biodiversity and clean air expenditure in a wide range of programmes. Each methodology applies the coefficient at different levels of granularity.

See also the European Parliament's study on Documenting climate mainstreaming in the EU budget (July 2020) 


The 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and NextGenerationEU include an overall 30% climate target based on the Rio marker methodology.

Climate tracking is the most advanced of the policy objectives for which the Commission is already calculating budgetary mainstreaming across the EU budget:

  • specific ex-ante expenditure targets are set in the legal bases of many EU programmes
  • an adjustment mechanism to safeguard the target is in place, which guarantees the achievement of the overall target
  • tracking of the climate contribution in provided for in the accounting system
  • dedicated reporting will be prepared starting in 2021

Climate mainstreaming

How the EU budget contributes towards the fight against climate change.


Biodiversity mainstreaming is more complex to track than climate, as it is newly established and fewer programmes have biodiversity objectives.

The Commission is already tracking biodiversity expenditure in a number of programmes on the basis of the Rio markers, but no target exists. The Interinstitutional Agreement of December 2020 sets out that the Commission, European Parliament and Council should work toward a target of 7.5% of annual spending for biodiversity objectives in 2024, and 10% in 2026 and 2027.

More information on Biodiversity financing

Biodiversity mainstreaming

How the EU budget contributes to tackling biodiversity loss and restoring ecosystems.


The Commission is fully committed to promoting gender equality. Gender equality is a core value of the EU, a fundamental right and key principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights. To underpin our commitment, the Commission has published the 2020-2025 Gender Equality Strategy in early 2020.

For the first time ever, President von der Leyen has appointed a Commissioner with a dedicated equality portfolio, supported by a Task Force on Equality with representatives from all Commission Services. Part of their task is to work that policy initiatives are as conducive as possible to gender equality. Better Regulation guidelines will be updated this year to ensure that ex-ante impact assessments of all relevant spending programmes duly consider the effects on gender equality.

The 2021-2027 multi-annual financial framework promotes gender equality either through dedicated programmes (such as the Daphne strand of the Citizens, Equality, Rights & Values programme) or as an important additional effect of EU financing. The Commission is working on a systematic data catalogue to identify available information as well as potential data gaps to later allow an assessment of the effects EU financing has had on gender equality.

In line with the inter-institutional Agreement accompanying the 2021-2027 MFF, the Commission is developing a methodology to measure the contribution of each relevant programme to gender equality. The Commission is set to test this methodology on some programmes in 2022 and use it for reporting as of 2023. The methodology will cover the entire budget by the end of the current MFF at the latest.

These are all critical steps to ensure that current spending programmes, as well as those in future multi-annual financial frameworks, will make important, positive contributions to gender equality in the EU.

On 26 May 2021, the European Court of Auditors has published its special report on Gender Mainstreaming in the EU budget. The Court of Auditors shares the Commission’s ambitions regarding gender mainstreaming in the EU budget.

In its analysis, the European Court of Auditors rightly points out shortcomings in several areas concerning gender equality in the 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework. The European Court of Auditors recognizes that the present Commission has stepped up its commitment to gender equality, though it finds that in some areas progress could be faster.

The Commission fully shares the Court’s emphasis on the importance of advancing towards gender equality. In spite of the shared vision, the Commission has not been able to fully accept a number of the Court’s recommendations. That is not due to any substantial differences with respect to what we would like to achieve, but to differences as to how best to implement some of the necessary steps or the impossibility for the Commission to commit today to the content of legislative proposals in a far future.

The Commission is convinced that none of these differences will result in a less ambitious outcome. Instead, the Commission strongly believes that its strategy will greatly advance the cause of gender equality through the EU budget by 2025, in line with the expectations of our stakeholders, the European Parliament and Council, but also the European Court of Auditors.

Sustainable Development Goals

The Commission is committed to working towards the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 SDGs cover all major policy areas, so virtually all EU policies and most of the spending programmes contribute to at least one SDG.

The Commission has started exploratory work on developing a tracking system allowing the tracking of expenditure through the structure of the SDGs.

Sectoral tracking

The Commission is already tracking a number of other objectives:

  • COVID-19: as from May 2020, the Commission has started tracking expenditure for the programmes it manages directly. Information from the Member States on the programmes they manage will be added ex post.
  • Clean air: the Directive on National Emission Ceilings (NEC Directive 2016/2284) creates an obligation for the Commission to report every four years, starting from 2020, on “the uptake of Union funds for clean air”. A methodology has already been developed for the 2014-2020 MFF and reporting is done in the programme statements attached to the annual draft budget and the NEC Directive report.
  • Digital: in the State of the Union address of September 2020, President von der Leyen committed to spending 20% of the recovery effort on the digital transition.
  • Migration: due to the sharp increase of migration-related expenditure since 2015, the European Parliament and Council asked for more transparency on migration expenditure in the current MFF. Rio markers are assigned to expenditure in relevant programmes and a report is published yearly. See the latest Financial Report on the Migration and Refugee Crisis (2015-2020)

While continuing these practices, the development of a broad-based tracking system as described above could bring these more ad-hoc measures into a single tracking system.