the aim of this paper is to provide a review of the preparation, content and delivery implications of the PAs and OPsfor 2014-20, and to provide an update on the financial and physical progress of the 2007-13 OPs. After two years of intense negotiations, the agreement reached with the Parliament on 20 November provides certainty on the regulatory framework for Cohesion policy in the 2014-20 programme period. Programming has of course been underway for a year or more, as Member States, national and regional authorities have been developing their new Partnership Agreements (PAs) and Operational Programmes (OPs), while engaging in informal dialogue with the European Commission. Progress with the drafting of Partnership Agreements is generally on schedule and the aim is to submit formally the majority of PAs towards the end of 2013. Although programming has progressed in parallel with the development of the PA, formal negotiations are not due to start until after the PA has been approved by the Commission. Most partners are expecting OP approval by the end of 2013 or early 2014.
The thematic concentration requirements do not pose major challenges to programme implementation structures. In recent months, developments have taken place in terms of: changes to the number (Niederösterreich) and responsibilities of Intermediate Bodies (Finland), introduction of decentralised Structural Funds management (France) or a centralised agency to rationalise and concentrateresources (Portugal) or a change of national Government (Czech Republic). The most significant changes in programme architecture – including both a reduction in the number ofOPs and the introduction of multi-fund programmes – is planned in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland and Slovenia. The introduction of multi-fund programmes has been reasoned on grounds of taking a more integrated approach to Cohesion policy management and implementation. The programming of Community-Led LocalDevelopment (CLLD), and Integrated Territorial Investments (ITIs) is at mixed stages. CLLD plans expand on the existing LEADER approach. Most partners have decided to implement ITIs to combine different priority axes within one programme and to bundle funding from ERDF and ESF. Implementation of SUD is planned through ITIs or a separate priority axis.
The focus for 2007-13 programmes over the last six months has been on achieving and maintainingfull levels of commitment, which may involve the recycling of funding, and accelerating payment levels. Many IQ-Net partners are progressing closure preparations with the preparation of domestic closure guidance and setting internal closure deadlines. Both Commission and domestic training has taken place, and other means of information dissemination have been developed. Closure preparations are perceived as making heavy demands on staff time, especially given the parallel preparations for 2014-20, so a number of programmes have (or intend to) reallocate or appoint staff specifically for closure.