Following the landmark agreement achieved at the Special European Council in June 2020, the remainder of 2020 was dominated by the inter-institutional negotiations, requiring further EUCO meetings to resolve application of the rule of law conditionality, before agreement in December 2020. The Cohesion Policy Regulations for 2021-2027 were adopted by the co-legislators on 24 June 2021, and entered into force on 1 July 2021.
With respect to implementation, a priority for Cohesion Policy policymakers in 2020 was using ESIF funding to support investment during the crisis. The CRII/+ packages of administrative flexibilities facilitated liquidity and spending under the 2014-20 programmes. Substantial levels of funding have been reprogrammed and mobilised.
REACT-EU continues and extends the COVID-19 crisis response measures while aiming to provide a bridge to preparing economic recovery. 22 countries have so far received REACT-EU payments, regarded as valuable but placing a strain on management and absorption capacity.
The European Commission has identified strengthening coordination, ensuring clear demarcation and developing complementarities between EU Funds and instruments as fundamental objectives for the 2021-27 Multiannual Financial Framework. A key challenge for Cohesion Policy is its future relationship with the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) – which has the objectives of promoting short-term recovery and long-term economic and social development. The RRF has implications both for Cohesion Policy programming in 2021-27 and the post-2027 architecture of EU intervention.
The Cohesion Policy reform debate for the post-2027 period is likely to commence in the coming months. The most important factor influencing reform are decisions on the future of the RRF beyond 2023. Alongside the evolving experience of the RRF a key question is also the evidence of how well Cohesion Policy has performed in 2014-20. A number of scenarios can be envisaged to highlight potential post-2027 reform directions with respect to the financing, objectives, governance and implementation arrangements of Cohesion Policy.