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What are the EU Structural Funds (SF) ?
Overview of Periods

Update 2018.

Index of this Page:

· What are the Structural Funds: Read

· Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund in the period of 2000-2006: Read

· Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund in the period of 2007-2013: Read
· Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund in the period of 2014-2020: Read

What are the Structural Funds (SF) ?
Structural Funds (SF) are the European Union's basic instruments for supporting social and economic development in EU member states. They account for over a third of the European Union budget. They are the result of the EU's regional policy which is based on financial solidarity where part of Member States contributions to the EU budget goes to the less prosperous regions and social groups.

The European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI funds) consist of five funds: European Regional Development Fund (ERDF); European Social Fund (ESF); Cohesion Fund (CF); European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD); European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). Three of the funds fall under the EU's cohesion policy: ERDF, ESF and CF. All EU regions are eligible for ERDF and ESF funding but only less-developed regions are eligible for CF support. All funds work together to support economic, social and territorial cohesion and deliver the objectives of the EU's Europe 2020 strategy to generate smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The period of the Structural Funds are: 2000-06, 2007-13, and 2014-20.

Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund in the period of 2000-2006:

For the 2000-2006 period, the total budget of SF was account for one third of the EU budget, or 213 billion EUR. (Part of this budget - 18 billion EUR was spent by the Cohesion Fund.)
Up to 195 billion EUR was spent by the four Structural Funds: European Regional Development Fund (ERDF),
European Social Fund (ESF), Guidance Section of the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF), later called EAFRD) Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG), later called EMFF.

ERDF: Principal objective of ERDF is to promote economic and social cohesion within the European Union through the reduction of imbalances between regions or social groups.

ESF: This fund is the EU's financial instrument for investing in people. Its mission is to help prevent and combat unemployment, to equip Europe's workforce to face new challenges, and to keep people in touch with the labour market.

EAGGF: This fund contributes to the structural reform of the agricultural sector and to the development of rural areas. The name of the fund changed to European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).

FIFG: This is the specific EU Fund for the Structural reform of the fisheries sector. The name of the fund changed to European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF)

The four funds work together to support economic and social development across EU.

The Structural Funds concentrate on clearly defined priorities:
69,7 % of the funding goes to regions whose development is lagging behind (Objective 1);
11.5% of the funding assists economic and social conversion in areas experiencing structural difficulties  (Objective 2);
12.3% of the funding promotes the modernisation of training systems and the creation of employment (Objective 3) outside the Objective 1 regions where such measures form part of the strategies for catching up.

There is a special allocation of funds for the adjustment of Financial Instrument of Guidance in the Fisheries Sector (FIFG) outside the Objective 1 regions (0.5%).

During the 1994-1999 Structural Funds period there were 13 different Community Initiatives which were implemented by more than 500 single programmes (5,35%). In line with the new regulations, these were reduced to a mere total of four:

INTERREG III: Trans-European co-operation for balanced development (4875 million EUR);
EQUAL: Human resources development (2847 million EUR);
LEADER +: Assistance for rural development (2020 million EUR);
URBAN II: Economic and social regeneration of cities and of urban areas in crisis with a view to promoting sustainable urban development (700 million EUR).

There are also provisions for innovative actions and technical assistance to promote and experiment with new ideas on development (0.65%).

The Structural Funds finance multi-annual programmes and they act on economic and social structures with the aim to:
develop infrastructure, such as transport and energy;
extend telecommunications services;
help firms and provide training workers;
disseminate the tools and know-how of the information society.

Development activities financed by the SF must meet the specific needs identified on the ground by regions or member states. All initiatives must respect the environment and promote equal opportunities. Implementation is decentralised, which means that it is usually the responsibility of the national and regional authorities.

Cohesion Fund (CF) is a structural instrument that helps Member States to reduce economic and social disparities and to stabilise their economies since 1994. The Cohesion Fund finances up to 85 % of eligible expenditure of major projects involving the environment and transport infrastructure. This strengthens cohesion and solidarity within the EU. Eligible are the least prosperous member states of the Union whose gross national product (GNP) per capita is below 90% of the EU-average.

For the Cohesion Fund 15.9 billion
EUR (in 2004 prices) are available for the years 2004-2006. More than half of the funding ( 8.49 billion EUR) is reserved for the new Member States.

Based on the regulation No 1164/94 of 16 May 1994, a Member States is eligible for Cohesion Fund, which:
has a per capita gross national product (GNP), measured in purchasing power parities, of less than 90 % of the Community average,
has a programme leading to the fulfillment of the conditions of economic convergence as set out in Article 104c of the Treaty establishing the European Community (avoidance of excessive government deficits).

Four Member States: Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland were eligible under the Cohesion Fund from 1 January 2000. The Commission`s mid-term review of 2003 deemed Ireland (GNP average of 101 %) as ineligible under the Cohesion Fund as of 1 January 2004. On 1 May 2004 with the EU enlargement, all new Member States (Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) were qualified for the Cohesion Fund.

Cohesion Fund support is conditional. The funding granted to a Member State is liable to be suspended if the country fails to comply with its convergence programme for economic and monetary union (stability and growth pact) running i.e. an excessive public deficit (more than 3% of GDP for Spain, Portugal and Greece, this threshold is being negotiated separately for each of the ten new Member States according to their own public deficit at the moment of the accession). Until the deficit has been brought back under control, no new projects might be approved.

Projects to be eligible must belong to one of the two categories:
a) Environment projects helping to achieve the objectives of the EC treaty and in particular projects in line with the priorities conferred on Community Environmental policy by the relevant Environment and Sustainable Development action plans.
The Fund gives priority to drinking-water supply, treatment of wastewater and disposal of solid waste. Reforestation, erosion control and nature conservation measures are also eligible.
b) Transport infrastructure projects establishing or developing transport infrastructure as identified in the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN) guidelines.
There has to be an appropriate funding balance between transport infrastructure projects and environment projects.

For the years 2000-2006 the European Union provides over 28.212 million
EUR (in 2004 prices) for the Cohesion Fund. The funds available for the countries are as follows:

Cohesion Fund for the four eligible Member States in average, 2000–06 (1):





3 388

12 357


3 388

(1) Ireland only until the end of the year 2003 (million EUR commitments in 2004 price)

Cohesion Fund for the ten new eligible Member States in average, 2004–06:

Czech Rep.















1 112,67


4 178,60



(million EUR commitments in 2004 price)

Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund in the period of 2007-2013:

For the period 2007-2013, the budget allocated to regional policy amounts to around 348 billion EUR, comprising 278 billion EUR for the Structural Funds and 70 billion EUR for the Cohesion Fund. This represents 35% of the Community budget and is the second largest budget item.

There are two Structural Funds:
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is currently the largest. Since 1975 it has provided support for the creation of infrastructure and productive job-creating investment, mainly for businesses;
The European Social Fund (ESF), set up in 1958, contributes to the integration into working life of the unemployed and disadvantaged sections of the population, mainly by funding training measures.

(Map pdf file 94 kB)


Based on the European Commission proposal, the Cohesion Fund will be more integrated into the operation of the mainstream Structural Funds.
On one hand, the regulation proposal establishing the Cohesion Fund retains the eligibility criteria (threshold of 90 % GDP), the grant limit (85 %). Besides this the conditionality of Cohesion Fund assistance will also continue to apply.

On the other hand, the Commission proposes a switch from project-based support to programme-based support. The Commission approval will be required only in the case of major projects (25 million EUR for environmental and 50 million EUR for transport projects). Therefore, the Cohesion Fund managing authorities will have increased responsibility in terms of selection, appraisal, grant award, monitoring, management and ensuring speedy implementation to avoid loss of assistance as programming spending discipline will apply.

The assistance will not only cover major transport and environmental protection infrastructures, but also projects in the fields of energy efficiency, renewable energy and intermodal, urban or collective transport.
The Commission proposal earmarked 26 % of the total allocation for the Structural Policy instruments to the Cohesion Fund (70 billion EUR).

EU Map
(Map pdf file 82 kB)

The Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund will be used to finance regional policy between 2007 and 2013 in the framework of the three new objectives, namely:
The "convergence" objective to accelerate the convergence of the least developed EU Member States and regions by improving growth and employment conditions. This objective is financed by the ERDF, the ESF and the Cohesion Fund. It represents 81.5% of the total resources allocated. The co-financing ceilings for public expenditure amount to 75% for the ERDF and the ESF and 85% for the Cohesion Fund;
The "regional competitiveness and employment" objective to anticipate economic and social change, promote innovation, entrepreneurship, environmental protection and the development of labour markets which include regions not covered by the Convergence objective. It is financed by the ERDF and the ESF and accounts for 16% of the total allocated resources. Measures under this objective can receive co-financing of up to 50% of public expenditure;
The "European territorial cooperation" objective to strengthen cooperation at cross-border, transnational and interregional levels in the fields of urban, rural and coastal development, and foster the development of economic relations and networking between small and medium-sized enterprises (SME's). This objective is financed by the ERDF and represents 2.5% of the total allocated resources. Measures under the Territorial Cooperation objective can receive co-financing of up to 75% of public expenditure.

Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund support for the three objectives always involves co-financing. The rates of co-financing may be reduced in accordance with the "polluter pays" principle or where a project generates income. All projects must of course comply with EU legislation, particularly with regard to competition, the environment and public procurement.

The problem is that although interest and demand in EU funding is on the rise, the result is that EE and RE projects are being contracted and spent very slowly. You can find more information about the distribution of the Structural Funds and the final evaluation until 2010 here.

Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund in the period of 2014-2020:

On January 1, 2014 the Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 applies for the period 2014-20. This common provisions regulates the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the Cohesion Fund (CF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

For the period 2014-2020, the available funding under EU cohesion policy (ERDF, ESF, and CF) amounts to ˆ351.8 billion. The two further funds, the EAFRD (under the common agricultural policy, ˆ85 billion) and EMFF (under the common fisheries policy, ˆ6.5 billion), are specifically targeted at the needs of rural and maritime regions respectively.
The aim of the regulation is to set out the common principles, rules and standards for the operation of the ESI funds for the period 2014-2020.

The shared objective of investments under the ESI funds is to provide support for the delivery of the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The shared objective;
• sets out common rules for the ESI funds to improve coordination between them and other EU policies and programmes, e.g. Horizon 2020;
• defines the tasks, priority objectives and organisation of the funds;
• draws particular attention to the relationship between this regulation and the other regulations specific to each fund;
• puts a stronger focus on results:
- a performance framework with objectives and targets is established;
- an annual review meeting takes place between each EU country and the European Commission;
- a performance review of the programmes will be carried out in each country in 2019;
• introduces ‘conditionalities’ (requirements designed to ensure that the necessary means to make effective use of EU support are in place);
• sets out the allocation of resources for the investment for growth and jobs goal among three categories of regions, according to their GDP per capita: less developed regions, regions in transition and more developed regions.

For more information, see the following European Commission sources:

European Structural and Investment Funds regulations 2014-2020.

Official texts and commentaries regarding European Structural and Investments Funds 2014-2020.

Strategic Reports

Return to INFORSE-Europe's Structural Fund Description
More on Structural Fund Project Database