This paper provides a review and assessment of the EU Budgetary and Cohesion policy reform developments over the past year and the preparations for the 2014-20 period. The European Council agreement on the long-term EU budget for 2014-20 (in February 2013) and the subsequent ‘political’ agreement with the European Parliament (July 2013) contained significant changes in EU spending. Comparing the 2014-20 allocations with the current allocations reveals marked shifts across EU Member States. Although the overall cohesion budget falls, in six countries there is an increase in funding. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are very significant reductions in expenditure both in absolute and relative terms in a number of countries.
Attention in all Member States is now firmly focused on the preparation of the Partnership Agreements and Operational Programmes for 2014-20. Progress is variable across EU countries, but the aim is to formally submit the majority of PAs towards the end of 2013. A review of the content and delivery arrangements of the new strategies reveals several trends. First, there is evidence of closer strategic alignment across ESI Funds and with Europe 2020 themes. Second, major changes in the programme architecture are planned in several Member States involving a considerable reduction in the number of programmes and/or the use of multi-fund programmes. Third, there are shifts in the allocation of Cohesion policy competences across different levels of governance. Fourth, there is evidence of increased attention to performance issues. Fifth, there is a reinforced sub-regional or local agenda through Community-Led Local Development, Integrated Territorial Investments and sustainable urban development measures. Looking forward, there are some radical developments in the EU’s economic governance agenda with potentially profound implications for the rationale of Cohesion policy.