Cohesion policy aims at increasing opportunities for economic and social development to reduce gaps and disparities between European territories and regions, acting in particular in less developed areas and for the most fragile communities and persons. It is based on the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (art. 174) and the Italian Constitution (art. 3 paragraph 2 and art. 119 paragraph 5), which foresees special interventions to promote harmonious development and to correct economic and social imbalances.
It is a policy with medium-term objectives which involves various levels of government (central and local) and attributes a formal and fundamental role to economic and social partnership, financing plans, programmes and single projects managed by central, regional or local administrations.
Since the end of the 1980s, cohesion policy has been promoted and supported by the European Union by the means of the Structural Funds, which finance programmes on a system of shared responsibility between the European Commission and each Member State. The Structural Funds require compulsory national co-financing which in Italy is largely ensured by the national fund (so called “Revolving Fund”) for the implementation of European policies. In addition to these resources, and since mid-1998, it is in force national Development and Cohesion Fund which responds to a principle of fund additionality, as to allow the underdeveloped areas to catch up with delays and reduce the gaps.
Cohesion policy affects the entire national territory, but its financial allocation is more significant in the South, where the allocations of resources from both the European Structural Funds and the national cohesion funds are concentrated.
Cohesion policy is organized, both at European and national level, in multiannual programming periods. The general strategic structure of each period is defined by the general orientation document, currently called the Partnership Agreement, which defines the programming carried out at national and regional level. This document sets the investment priorities and the allocation of resources in each of the Operational Programmes. At the Italian national level, the reference documents for the planning of cohesion dedicated resources are the Resolutions of the Interministerial Committee for Economic Planning and Sustainable Development (CIPESS). At last there are European and national rules and regulations which define the general approach, methods of implementation, monitoring, evaluation and transparency.
At the European level, starting from the 2007-2013 programming period, there are two macro Objectives of the cohesion policy: the current Investment Objective for jobs and growth, on which the greatest amount of resources is concentrated, and the European Territorial Cooperation.