COVID-19 emergency response strategy with cohesion policies

The European Union, taking note of the serious consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, has recently introduced substantial changes to the regulations governing the use of European Structural and Investment (ESI) funds of the 2014-2020 programming period. The purpose of these changes is to enable the actions aimed at reinforcing the healthcare systems and mitigate the economic and social effects caused by pandmic, while also facilitating the reprogramming of ESI funds. This was achieved, in particular, by way of two regulations approved in March and April 2020:

- Regulation (EU) 2020/460 amending the Regulation (EU) No. 1301/2013, Regulation No. 1303/2013, and Regulation No. 508/2014;
- Regulation (EU) 2020/558 of the European Parliament and of the Council amending the Regulation (EU) No. 1301/2013 and the Regulation No. 1303/2013.

In addition to the two packages amending the main above mentioned EU Regulations (https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/newsroom/coronavirus-response/), namely the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII) and the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus (CRII+), the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe (REACT-EU) package dated May 2020  increased 2014-2020 EU cohesion funding up to €55 billion, out of which €14 billion are allocated to Italy for financing operations and measures to combat the crisis and promote economic green, digital and resilient recovery.

One of the main flexibility measures adopted by the European Commission to support the Member States is represented in the introduction of temporarily increase of the EU co-financing rate up to 100% and to the use of the cohesion-policy funding for supporting the sectors at greatest risk due to the pandemic, such as healthcare, SMEs, and the labour market.

In Italy
At national level the Article 241, on the use of development and cohesion funds to combat the COVID-19 emergency, and Article 242, on the contribution of European Structural Funds to combat the COVID-19 emergency, of law decree no. 34/2020 of 19 May 2020, converted into law no. 77 of 17 July 2020, have been introduced. These articles provide mechanisms to facilitate reprogramming in order to ensure the original objectives of the programmes and allow streaming the national resources of the Development and Cohesion Fund (FSC) to address the current crisis with reprogramming that, for the same purposes, national and regional bodies are putting in place within the scope of the operational programmes of the 2014-2020 Structural Funds.

Within this regulatory framework, specific agreements have been signed by the Minister for Southern Italy and Territorial Cohesion and by national and regional governments aimed at establishing common rules for reprogramming while maximising the response of cohesion policies to the COVID-19 emergency and mobilising additional funds in sight, in part, of the results of the assessment and verification of implementation of the FSC funds of the various programming periods (i.e. 2000-2006, 2007-2013 and 2014-2020) envisaged under Article 44 of Italian Legislative Decree 34/2019, as amended. The reprogramming pursued by the ministries and regions in relation to both the ERDF and the ESF has reached €5.4 billion from the various NOPs. With the regions, the amount has reached roughly €6.5 billion from the ROPs, for a total of about €12 billion (data updated as at 1 February 2021).

Within the scope of these agreements, funds are expected to be allocated to measures to combat the health emergency (e.g. to purchase healthcare equipment and materials, to create temporary healthcare facilities, and to reinforce local healthcare networks and systems), to support the education and training (e.g. to purchase goods and equipment to close the digital divide and to upgrade the facilities and capabilities of schools and other training centres), to support the entrepreneurship (e.g. by establishing or enhancing regional sections of the Central Guarantee Fund), to support the employment (e.g. to provide support to employee wages by way of social safety nets, mechanisms for reconciling work, education and childcare, agile forms of working, and internships), and to support the social issues (e.g. food aid for smaller municipalities, support services for disadvantaged people whose circumstances have been worsened by the emergency, and support for other at-risk segments of society).

At the CIPE meetings of 28 July 2020 and 29 September 2020, various measures were approved which pursue the national strategy for financial support for COVID-19 measures through the contribution of European Structural Funds and the Development and Cohesion Fund (SFC) for national and regional governments.

Specific monitoring guidelines have been provided for all the measures envisaged under European and Italian cohesion funds for the COVID-19 emergency as reported in information note RGS-IGRUE n.17 of 28 July 2020, which is available in the section of the portal dedicated to the National Monitoring System.