The implementation of ESIF programmes has accelerated, although some thematic areas lag behind, as do payments. The average percentage of the total allocated to selected projects/operations under ESIF programmes is 54 percent (EU and IQ-Net average). EU average expenditure eligible for reimbursement stands at 12 percent (IQ-Net average 14 percent). Changing market conditions, institutional reform, new domestic legislation and new policy initiatives continue to impact on ESIF programme implementation. The process of programme revision has become almost continuous, especially in the run-up to the Performance Review. Project uptake is improving in most programmes, and peak project flow has already been passed in several. Regional and thematic variation continues especially under low carbon, environment, climate change and RTDI themes, and where labour market changes have been experienced. New implementation mechanisms introduced in 2014-20 continue to affect uptake e.g. around implementation of ITI.
Other implementation issues are still posing challenges, including approval of the MCS, audit burden, State aid, public procurement and delays in certification. Varied use is made of Article 70 but it appears to be most useful where a Member State has several OPs each covering different regions within the country. Good progress is reported in implementation of financial instruments, although funds have often been slow to reach final recipients and many implementation challenges still exist, relating to administrative complexity and unpredictable demand. Evaluation activity is underway in most programmes, especially with a view to informing future policy and the Performance Reserve.
The main priorities for programme managers over the next six months include n+3, meeting the Performance Reserve milestones, progressing OP modifications and accelerating programme implementation. While achieving the mid-term targets set for the Performance Reserve is not expected to cause difficulties for several IQ-Net programmes, most report being at risk of not meeting targets. Discussion on the post-2020 reform of Cohesion policy has been ongoing, and recent publication of the concrete legislative proposals for 2021-27 now provides a focus for continued engagement and debate on this topic by IQ-Net programmes