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Cohesion policy support for sustainable energy

Maud Skäringer of DG Regio & Ramon Luis Valcárcel Siso, president of the Committee of the Regions, at Open Days 2013

Earlier this month, during Open Days, the Covenant of Mayors, together with DG Regio and DG Energy, organised a conference on the new 2014-2020 Multiannual Financial Framework and its implications for sustainable energy investment in Europe.

Ramon Luis Valcárcel Siso, president of the Committee of the Regions, who opened the event, spoke about the job-creating potential of renewable energy, and singled out regions and municipalities as having a lead role here. But Siso also pointed out the problems that local and regional authorities are facing as a result of fiscal austerity and lack of access to finance.

The Commission’s draft legislative package for cohesion policy in 2014-2020 is designed to ensure that these EU funds—which make up the great bulk of EU spending—are targeted at Europe's long-term goals for growth and jobs: Europe 2020. Through so-called Partnership Agreements arranged with the Commission, member states have committed to focus on fewer investment priorities in line with these objectives.

Among the top priorities is sustainable energy. According to Maud Skäringer of DG Regio, upwards of EUR 20 billion will be allocated to investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy in the new funding period. The investments are intended to act as a trigger to leverage private funding and encourage the use of financial instruments in member states. The goal is to complement private investment rather than crowd it out. (Skäringer also described several priority investment areas, which include the wider use of Energy Performance Contracting in the public building and housing sector and promoting energy efficiency and renewables for SMEs.)

While cohesion funds are part of the EU budget, the way they’re spent is based on a system of shared responsibility between the European Commission and member state authorities. It is the interplay between the different political levels—European, national and regional—that is crucial in determining the priorities of the funds; for instance, whether they go towards supporting sustainable energy projects.

To unpack this a bit: Once the aforementioned Partnership Agreements have been negotiated between the Commission and Member States, Operational Programmes are drafted that set out each region's priorities for delivering the funds. The correct implementation of these Operational Programmes are then the responsibility of the Managing Authorities (several per country), a role that is often assigned to national or regional ministries of finance, economy or regional development—though this depends on the country.

Member states alone select and implement projects in line with priorities of the Operational Programmes. According to Skäringer, energy experts at the regional level—including energy agencies—must be involved at this stage of the process, not only development professionals in Brussels. This sentiment was echoed by Adam Szolyak of DG Energy who stressed the importance of cities and municipalities developing and maintaining good relationships with their respective Managing Authorities.

More information

Know thy Managing Authority: http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/manage/authority/authority_en.cfm

Want to better understand the new opportunities for investing in energy efficient building renovations in the new funding period? Read Renovate Europe’s new flyer: http://www.renovate-europe.eu/uploads/Renovate%20Europe%20Structural%20Funds%20Leaflet.pdf

Check out this great presentation on investing in sustainable energy with the 2014-2020 cohesion policy, by Mathieu Fichter of DG Regio: http://www.managenergy.net/lib/documents/807/original_Presentation_Mathieu_Fichter_DG_REGIO_Pres_EE_and_CP14_20_mfichter_ppt.pdf?1381486384