CARE – Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe

The Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) supports Member States and regions in providing emergency assistance to people fleeing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

CARE is introducing the necessary flexibility in the 2014-2020 Cohesion policy rules to allow a swift reallocation of available funding to such emergency support. On top, the 2022 allocation of €10 billion of the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe (‘REACT-EU’) funds can also be used to address these new demands within the overall aim of post-pandemic recovery. 

CARE will help Member States to provide emergency support covering the basic needs of people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. These needs include access to services such as temporary accommodation, food and water supplies or medical care. CARE may also enhance the administrative capacity of Member States to cater for the needs of refugees by supporting e.g. additional infrastructure equipment or staff necessary to cater for the needs of refugees. Moreover, Member States may use this funding to develop tailor-made solutions for the long-term integration of people with a migrant background, through investments in housing, education, employment, health, social inclusion and care, or other social services. Cohesion policy assistance will complement support from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and other funding sources.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has created large-scale economic and social disruptions that have significant repercussions all across the EU and the long-term policies of each Member State. Millions of people from Ukraine are seeking shelter in the EU, crossing borders with Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania every day. While at the beginning of the war the highest concentration of refugees was registered in cities and regions of Member States that border Ukraine, more and more refugees are moving further into the EU. This is generating new demands for reception centres, accommodation, basic food and hygiene items as well as social services to facilitate access to employment, medical and psychological support all over the EU.

It is clear that Member States cannot handle this complex situation solely from the national budget – EU support is needed. Cohesion policy specifically aims at supporting the most disadvantaged regions and cities to help them catch up with the more developed regions of the EU. This is the case in the long term, as well as in short-term emergency situations, such as this one.

In March 2022, the Commission put forward two regulatory amendments to the Common Provisions Regulation, as well as to the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) regulation to help Member States tackle the different socioeconomic challenges. These two modifications - Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) and the increased pre-financing from REACT-EU resources and the establishment of a unit cost (informally known as CARE 2) – were approved by the European Parliament and the European Council in record speed and came into force only a few weeks later, in April 2022.

The CARE amendment, proposed on 8 March 2022, made it possible for the Member States to:

  • claim from the EU budget certain expenses already incurred (via retrospective eligibility) from the national budget as of 24 February 2022. Otherwise a prior approval from the European Commission would have been needed.
  • finance 100% of any costs (not only the ones linked to support to the refugees) for another accounting year (1 July 2021 - 30 June 2022) in order to alleviate the pressure from Member States’ national budgets.

The CARE proposal also allowed cross-financing of activities between the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), so that the fund with most available resources can be used to finance the activities normally only eligible under the other fund. For example, unallocated resources from the ERDF – usually used for infrastructure projects, business development, sustainable urban transport, etc - can be used to cover access to basic services, language courses and employment orientation – typically ESF-type activities.

The following amendment (CARE 2), proposed on 31 March, aimed at providing additional liquidity and simplified use of EU funding with lighter reporting requirements for faster disbursement. The EU approved a scheme to increase the pre-financing from the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe (REACT-EU), from the already high rate of 11% to 15% to all Member States, but it was increased to 45% to the nine Member States which are the most impacted: Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia due to the direct border with Ukraine and Czechia, Estonia, Lithuania, Austria and Bulgaria due to the high number of Ukrainian refugees arriving in their territory. In total, €3.5 billion were disbursed immediately in this manner through the three funds - ERDF, ESF and FEAD.

In addition, a new simplified unit cost declaration mechanism was introduced which allows national governments to claim from the EU budget €40 per week per refugee for a maximum of 13 weeks, without the need to report on every single purchase separately. This allows the Member State, for example, to purchase hygiene items, blankets, compensate NGOs and reimburse transport fees with virtually no additional administrative burden. At a time when officials are working around the clock just to provide basic necessities to the displaced people, this simplification has a high impact. It was later proposed, through FAST-CARE, to increase the unit cost to €100 per week, per refugee for up to 26 weeks. The proposal is yet to be adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council.

To achieve the highest added value for the refugees, various EU funds can complement each other to offer comprehensive support. Cohesion policy is working hand in hand with the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and the Internal Security Fund – Borders and Visa, which are under the responsibility of DG HOME.

Using these synergies, Member States can finance first reception and immediate relief activities such as food, basic material assistance, accommodation, transport, immediate healthcare, information and translation services. Such services are eligible predominantly under DG HOME and DG EMPL funds. In addition, FEAD can provide  food and basic material assistance to address the basic needs of affected persons.

Following first assistance measures, the welcome and integration of the displaced people can be financed mainly by AMIF, ESF and ERDF. The three funds complement each other in providing transport to further destinations, construction or refurbishing of reception centres, accommodation and staff costs for running the facilities and integration activities (including NGOs).

In the longer-term, access to mainstream non-segregated services is mainly provided by cohesion policy for actions such as health-, social- and childcare, social housing, access to labour market, education and training. AMIF can complement access to specialised services aimed at vulnerable groups and unaccompanied minors, while FEAD can finance social inclusion services such as mental health, psychological care and community-based support.

It is not possible to estimate the extent and duration of Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. As the situation deteriorated since 24 February 2022, including shortage of raw materials and increased energy prices, it became clear that more long-term solutions were needed, together with more funding. As a result, the Commission proposed on 29 June the Flexible Assistance for Territories (FAST-CARE) – the third and latest element of the CARE package. Due to the extent of the crisis, the proposal aims at amending both programming periods – the still ongoing 2014-2020 and the new 2021-2027 programming period which is yet to reach its full speed.

Several technical simplifications were made for the 2014-2020 Common Provisions Regulations which aim at simplifying and removing some thematic and location requirements, increasing flexibility for projects which have gone over-budget, encourage supporting the local authorities and civil society organisations as beneficiaries through increased share of EU compensation, further extend flexibilities regarding the unit cost (see above) and allowing reimbursement  of already completed operations without the need for prior approval.

Similarly, the changes to the new programming period 2021-2027 also include additional liquidity with an increased share of pre-financing for specific priorities aimed at supporting the integration of third country nationals through local authorities and civil society organisations, as well as increased flexibility to phase uncompleted projects from the previous (2014-2020) period to the new one (2021-2027).

Additional simplifications are envisaged through new and updated guidance on the legal framework of public procurement (in collaboration with DG GROW) and developing Simplified Cost Options (SCOs) or financing not linked to costs for operations on education, training of unemployed people, training of employees and job-related counselling services, to be supported under the ESF+ (in collaboration with DG EMPL).

The two CARE amendments are already in force and Member States can use them to their full extent. As regards the latest element, FAST-CARE, the proposal is currently being evaluated by the European Parliament and the European Council. Its adoption and entry into force is foreseen before the end of 2022.

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