Against a background of inconclusive evidence of the results of EU Cohesion policy since 1989, the aim of this study has been to evaluate the main achievements of EU Cohesion policy programmes and projects and their effectiveness and utility over the longer term in 15 selected regions of the EU15. Specifically, the main objectives of the study were twofold: (i) to examine the achievements of all programmes co-financed by the ERDF and, where applicable, the Cohesion Fund, which have been implemented in the 15 selected regions from 1989 to 2012 (regional programmes and national programmes implemented in the regions); and (ii) to assess the relevance of programmes and the effectiveness and utility of programme achievements. The research demonstrated improvements in the sophistication of strategies (evidence base, analysis and strategic focus) and programme management (project selection, monitoring, evaluation) over the study period, with considerable learning over time, albeit unevenly across the 15 regions. All of the regional case studies cited examples of successful interventions or projects, collectively spanning the spectrum of economic development support.
However, there were also many examples of poor practices where regions were slow to learn from what was happening elsewhere. A major difficulty, reported in almost all regions, was the fragmentation of funding across too many interventions or small projects. Over time, there was greater recognition of the need to concentrate funding or fewer and larger projects. The most important lesson is the benefit of sound and rigorous strategic planning. The research also highlighted the importance of a development model which recognises that structural adjustment is a societal as well as an economic process, the need for realism about the long-term timescale required for structural change, and the need for strategies to be flexible.
A further important factor is an enabling domestic policy framework and the existence or development of institutional capacity and leadership, crucial to successful programming and implementation. Capacity deficits were particularly evident in project generation, appraisal and selection, the monitoring of physical outcomes and the development of an evaluation culture.