European cohesion policy, or regional policy, has its origins in the 1957 Treaty of Rome which established the European Economic Community and requires "special interventions" to promote a "harmonious development" of the Community's territories. On that occasion, the European Social Fund (ESF) was established with the aim to support employment and ensure equal job opportunities.
In 1975, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) was also created, to finance projects chosen by the Member States.
In 1988 was launched a reform which defined the cohesion policy itself and the Operational Programmes for the 1989-1993 period with priority and geographical objectives. Four fundamental principles are introduced: concentration on the most underdeveloped regions, involvement of the economic and social partnership, multi-annual planning and additionality of resources which must not replace the ordinary resources of individual Member States.
With the 1994-1999 period, at European level, a further strengthening of cohesion policies can be observed, with a greater involvement of territorial government levels and the establishment of the Cohesion Fund for the reduction of economic and social disparities and for the promotion of sustainable development. The Cohesion Fund assists Member States with a gross national income per capita below 90% of the European Union average and therefore does not apply to Italy.
In the 1994-1999 period, the resources of the structural and cohesion funds doubled when compared to previous periods, making one third of the EU overall budget. The resources of the Structural Funds are always accompanied by resources of the single Member State in the form of mandatory national co-financing for which and in each programming period are set minimum and maximum thresholds for the eligible territorial areas.
At the national level, with the Law n. 208/1998 (articles 60 and 61) Italian National fund (so-called “revolving fund”) is established for the financing of entrepreneurial promotion programmes in underdeveloped areas, which is followed by the Constitution, with the Law n. 289/2002 (financial law for 2003), of the Fund for underused areas (FAS, with Legislative Decree no. 88/2011 renamed Fondo Sviluppo e Coesione - FSC).
The allocation of FSC resources to plans, programmes or projects is attributed to CIPESS (formerly CIPE) on the proposal of the current Department for Cohesion Policies of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, pursuant to law no. 122/2010 (art. 7, paragraphs 26 and 27).
Data and information on projects financed by European and national cohesion policies starting from the 2007-2013 period are published on OpenCoesione, as well as the allocations to the Regions of the former Fund for underutilized areas made in the 2000-2006 period as included in the Development and Cohesion Plans approved during 2021.