Cohesion policy action against coronavirus
The Coronavirus outbreak presents a major challenge to the entire European Union. National, regional and local communities are on the frontline in countering the disease. Solidarity and responsibility across our societies and between Member States are key to overcome this challenge. The benefit of collective and coordinated action as a community outweighs individual and parcelled responses.
The Commission has, therefore, launched in April 2020 two packages of measures: the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) and the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus (CRII+), which were swiftly endorsed by the European Parliament and the European Council. This was supplemented on 27 May with the presentation of the REACT-EU package, which is currently under negotiation with the two institutions.
“Three months after the adoption of the CRII+ and pending agreement on the REACT-EU package, Member States are making full use of the flexibilities and liquidities offered by Cohesion funds to help those most impacted: healthcare workers and hospitals, SMEs, and workers. The initiative is ongoing and Member States continue to adopt measures in line with the evolving needs. While standard cohesion support focuses on long-term investments for regional convergence, the CRII provided emergency response where it was most needed. We have excellent examples on the mobilisation of funds and the measures introduced in many cities and regions across Europe”.
(Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms)
As of 9 October, 22 Member States and the UK have requested 224 amendments to their Cohesion Policy programmes using the flexibilities offered by CRII and CRII Plus. The Commission has modified its internal procedures to allow for a swift treatment of all requests under lighter, faster procedures. The administrative burden has been alleviated through extension of deadlines, enlargement of project scope and other simplifications. All Member States automatically benefit from these measures regardless of whether or not they introduce any changes.
For more information on how the funds have been used so far, visit the Coronavirus Dashboard on the Open Data Platform.
Some examples on the ground
CRII ensured the reallocation of more than €20 million of cohesion policy funding to strengthen the healthcare sector’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Thanks to this funding, the Bulgarian Ministry of Health purchased new top class medical equipment, life-saving medication and personal protective equipment for health care facilities all over Bulgaria, including more than 377 ventilators, over 2 million face masks and 177,000 test kits.
Thanks to the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, €400 million are now being mobilised to tackle the current crisis and its effects. €40 million have been invested in increasing the use of online tools in primary and secondary education in Croatia - enabling the Croatian students and teachers to enjoy continuity in the educational process also during lockdown. Another €48 million from the European Regional Development Fund have been invested in a world-class health research centre for children. The Children’s Hospital in Srebrnjak, on the outskirts of Zagreb not only ensures better treatment of common and chronic diseases in children and adolescents, but also makes possible the research on and development of new medicines, thus retaining talented medical researchers and practitioners in Croatia.
The European Regional Development Fund supported the purchase of equipment for health infrastructures (masks, respirators) and provided economic support for SMEs. Further support measures will continue the purchase of urgent health equipment or support to the working capital of SMEs (either with grants or through financial instruments). The support to SMEs could also help them to reconvert their activity towards the local production of urgent health products (masks, gloves, disinfectants). In a few case they will also concern support by the European Social Fund of the training of health staff with remote digital equipment.
The European Commission has approved the modification of thirteen 2014-2020 Regional Operational Programmes and two national Operational Programmes in Greece. These modifications make €1.14 billion available to address the effects of the coronavirus crisis in the Greek economy through the funding of entrepreneurship support actions. The €1.14 billion of EU Cohesion policy funds (allowing for more than €1.50 billion total investment with the inclusion of the national contribution) will finance actions in favour of the Greek SMEs through the Operational Programme (OP) “Competitiveness, Entrepreneurship and Innovation”.
Hungary reallocated € 320 million from different thematic objectives to provide working capital loans to SMEs. The move aims to provide much needed liquidity support to companies hit by the current economic crisis.
Hungary also widened the scope of eligible beneficiaries for non-repayable support (grants). Up until now, only SMEs active in the manufacturing sector were eligible for grant support (except for the least developed regions territories of the country). With the amendment, the support has became available to a wider range of companies, notably in the service sector, which had been particularly hit by the crisis.
Italy is dedicating € 40 million for the protection of visitors and personnel of cultural sites across the country to minimize the risks related to the COVID-19 outbreak and to ensure the safety of visiting tourists during the holiday season.
Latvia has used the flexibilities offered by CRII and CRII Plus to reshuffle €500 million of the cohesion funding by directing unused funding mainly towards healthcare, business support and employment. Specifically, Latvia has allocated €30 million for strengthening health services including renovations of hospitals and hiring of additional medical staff, €35 million for SME support and €20 million in support of employment measures. Latvia is also investing €45 million for the expansion of broadband access to rural areas to allow remote learning, temporary work, tackling unemployment and continued education.
€250 million of the ESI Funds have been redistributed to address the urgent needs of the medical sector such as the acquisition of personal protective equipment (PPE), test kits, laboratory equipment, and medical devices as well as measures to support employment and jobs through wage subsidy co-financing, sickness benefits, guarantees and support to income of vulnerable groups. In addition, business support and economic stimulus packages are being expanded and the speed of EU-funded interventions has been increased in various sectors to boost the demand and fuel economy.
In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the EU cohesion policy has turned into a crisis response tool. The European Commission proposed numerous changes to its cohesion policy rulebook so that Member States can fully use all available funds to fight the pandemic. The European Commission has agreed to reallocate Cohesion Policy funds in 16 regional programmes (ROPs) and in 5 centrally managed EU programmes: Knowledge, Education and Development (OP KED), Smart Growth (OP SG), Infrastructure and Environment (OP I&E), Eastern Poland (OP EP), Digital Poland (OP DP) to help tackle the effects of the coronavirus crisis in Poland.
€ 500 million (from 16 ROPs and OP I&E) Cohesion Policy funds targeted support to health services and other actors involved in managing the COVID-19 epidemics.
So far 1105 respirators, 1101 cardio monitors, 159 ambulances, 1696 intensive care beds, container tomographs, defibrillators, virus diagnosis and laboratory equipment, 83 buffer tents, disinfection and decontamination facilities, as well as personal protective equipment were purchased.
Rescue services, such as sanitary inspectorates, police and fire brigades, were also benefiting from these measures by co-financing purchases of disinfectants, vehicles and containers for the transport of infectious materials, or personal protective equipment.
EnterprisesApproximately € 2,356 billion were directed to the support of companies and protection of employees against the negative economic consequences of the pandemic.
- In the area of grants:
- € 555 million was directed to working capital for companies affected by COVID-19 (OP SG and OP EP).
- € 44 million for entrepreneurs and scientists in medicine, pharmacy and biotechnology working on the diagnosis and treatment of the corona virus (OP SG).
- € 77,8 million support for companies which decided to work on development of innovative technologies despite the crisis (OP SG).
- € 22,2 million for investment aid to entrepreneurs for building or upgrading their infrastructure for developing and testing products and preparing for mass production of products necessary to fight the COVID-19 epidemic (OP SG).
- € 33,3 million to assist entrepreneurs from 5 Eastern Poland regions in the production of medicinal products and therapies, pharmaceutical active ingredients, medical devices, hospitals and medical equipment (including respirators, protective clothing and equipment and diagnostic tools) (OP EP).
- in the area of financial instruments:
- € 133,4 million: extension of provisions in the existing guarantee fund offering SMEs guarantees up to 80% of the value of not only investment loans but also revolving loans (OP SG).
- € 511 million: introduction of a new loan fund at preferential conditions (OP SG).
- Support to wages and social security:
€ 444 million was directed to support wages and social security contributions for employers and workers. Support was given to entrepreneurs, as well as to social economy actors, NGOs, to cover part of the salaries of employees, as well as for those working for agricultural production cooperatives. (OP KED and 16 ROPs).
€ 40 million was directed to the regional Social Welfare Offices and other care institutions to finance the purchase of personal protective equipment and other equipment needed to fight the pandemic outbreak, financing the evacuation procedures of the dependent living in the social housing, constructing additional quarantine facilities, psychological and therapeutic support for patients and staff, and financing of salaries and/or meals (16 ROPs).
- € 82 million was distributed to municipalities to buy computer equipment (laptops, mobile internet access etc.) to provide pupils and teachers with proper conditions for remote schooling (project called #RemoteSchool).
- € 26,7 million was directed towards the extension of the functionality of the major project “eHealth programme“ (for digitalization of medical services: e-prescription and e-registration, e-medical consultation).
- € 3,7 million was allocated for the “Construction of an IT system for countering the COVID-19 epidemic” which will enable the collection of data on persons subject to compulsory quarantine and domestic isolation and the e-prescription of COVID-19 testing to specialized laboratories.
- € 89 million was earmarked for broadband loans granted on preferential terms to telecommunications companies.
In addition, under the 16 Regional Operational Programmes, funds have been reallocated for specific measures:
- Grants for purchase of work equipment for telework, e.g. laptops, relevant software (e.g. ROP Małopolskie, ROP Zachodniopomorskie, ROP Podlaskie).
- Grants for remote education: complimentary measures to the #remoteschool project from the OP Digital Poland (e.g. ROP Małopolska, ROP Podlaskie, ROP Opolskie, ROP Wielkopolska, ROP Mazowsze).
- Telemedicine solutions for the elderly and dependent, for example life bracelets or Senior-Phones (e.g. ROP Lubuskie, ROP Kujawsko-Pomorskie, ROP Śląskie).
- Grants for State and Voluntary Fire Services for the purchase of additional COVID-19 equipment needed in rescue actions (e.g. ROP Kujawsko-Pomorskie, ROP Opolskie, ROP Małopolska).
- Research and development projects dedicated to COVID-19 (e.g. ROP Podlaskie, ROP Zachodniopomorskie, ROP Podkarpackie, ROP Wielkopolska).
- Support for enterprises from the tourism sector that suffered loss of income due to the lockdown (e.g. ROP Małopolska, ROP Pomorskie, ROP Zachodniopomorskie, ROP Śląskie, ROP Dolny Śląsk).
Slovakia has been making good use of the flexibilities offered by the CRII and CRII plus by channelling € 330 million of unspent funds to fight the COVID crisis through innovative use of existing financial instruments.
Moreover, Slovakia has launched a call for proposal in the value of € 80 million specifically to support COVID-related research.
Thanks to the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, in total €275 million are now being mobilised to tackle the current crisis and its effects. Slovenia aims at helping those most in need by launching an ESF financed project to develop innovative solutions for addressing the issues encountered by the most vulnerable groups due to the outbreak. Within the projects, solutions such as psycho-sociological counselling, field work improvements, establishment of new safe points with social distancing possibilities, digital solutions, etc. will be supported to the amount of € 1.93 million.
In addition, € 4 million are made available to support pupils, students and teachers by providing 4220 ICT devices to facilitate distance learning and improving the capacities of the academic, research and educational network of Slovenia (ARNES).
Thanks to the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, Member States can immediately address three key priorities in the fight against the current emergency and its economic consequences: spending on healthcare, support to short time work schemes, and support to the SMEs working capital.
To make this money available, the Commission proposed to mobilise quickly unspent cash reserves from the EU funds. This provided immediate liquidity to Member States' budgets and helped to frontload the yet unallocated €37 billion of cohesion policy funding within the 2014-2020 cohesion policy programmes, thus providing a much needed boost to economic investments.
The Commission has also madeall Coronavirus crisis related expenditure since February 1, 2020 eligible under cohesion policy rules. The rules for cohesion spending are applied with maximum flexibility, thus enabling Member States to use the funds to finance crisis-related action. This also means providing greater flexibility for countries to reallocate financial resources, making sure the money is spent in the areas of greatest need: the health sector, support for SMEs, and the labour market.
The EU Solidarity Fund provided additional assistance of up to €800 million to the worst affected countries in order to alleviate the financial burden of the immediate response measures.