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Historically the European Union has developed its regional policy activities and distributed cohesion policy funding through a partnership process, which includes significant input from the Member States.

Partnership working covers the whole programming process, from the preparatory stage through to the implementation and assessment of results. This approach should lead to better programme outcomes and help ensure that money from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) is spent efficiently.

In the 2014-20 programming period, the partnership principle has been strengthened even further, including not only Member States, but also stakeholders such as trade unions, employers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other bodies that promote, for example, social inclusion, gender equality, and non-discrimination. The Commission has drawn up a European Code of Conduct on Partnership which has to be respected by the Member States when preparing and implementing their operational programmes. In addition, each Member State has adopted a Partnership Agreement with the European Commission which sets out how the national authorities plan to use and distribute funding from the ESIF in the 2014-20 programming period.