22 Nov 2022
ECA report finds synergies between Horizon Europe and Structural Funds not yet fully exploited
The European Court of Auditors (ECA) published a report on "Synergies between Horizon 2020 and European Structural and Investment Funds" on 21 November 2022. The report finds that the full potential of these synergies is not yet exploited.
According to the ECA, various building blocks needed to create these synergies were not yet in place in the 2014-2020 period. One issue is that the European Commission and authorities which manage funds in EU countries do not cooperate thoroughly, another is that fundmanaging authorities in the Member States "often work in compartmentalised, silo-based structures that prevent them from using the funds in a complementary way". This, so the ECA finds, limits the implementation and impact of research and innovation-related investments, and hampers efforts to close the R&I divide in Europe.
Between 2014 and 2020, the EU dedicated 12 % of its budget to R&I. Of this, €76.4 billion came from Horizon 2020, and almost €41 billion from the ESIF. The auditors checked whether the Commission and managing authorities in EU countries had taken the requisite steps to create synergies between the funds in order to ensure that they produced a greater effect than individual interventions. The auditors found that a number of factors instrumental to creating synergies between the funds had not yet been in place in the 2014-2020 period. These include the following:
- The funds’ rules were not well aligned. The Commission has taken steps to remedy this in the 2021-2027 period, but it remains to be seen whether the changes will bring the expected impact.
- The ECA finds that cooperation within the Commission improved during the 2014-2020 period, but cooperation between the Commission and Member States, and within Member States themselves, was often patchy.
- Although it is essential to have information on projects and beneficiaries funded both by Horizon 2020 and the ESIF, no comprehensive database of all projects financed by the ESIF existed until March 2022. The database introduced since then is still not compatible with the Horizon 2020 database, according to the ECA.
- Expertise and managerial capacities of managing authorities in EU countries were found wanting, despite the support provided by the Commission.
- The ESIF’s strategic planning documents made few references to synergies with Horizon 2020. In addition, the priorities set out in these strategic documents were often too broad, which made it difficult to focus investments and create synergies.
- The use of ESIF funding to exploit R&I results from Horizon 2020 projects was a particularly neglected area. One key reason for this was that the ESIF managing authorities simply did not know how to create synergies or how to find Horizon 2020 project results. The auditors see this as a missed opportunity for translating R&I results into practice.
- The Seal of Excellence, a quality label for positively evaluated Horizon 2020 proposals that were not funded due to a lack of resources, has the potential to facilitate funding under the ESIF, but was only used to a small extent. Some other synergies, such as ESIF support for research centres to help projects compete for the more selective Horizon 2020 funding, had generally been realised.
The report on synergies between Horizon Europe and ESIF complements the ECA special report 15/2022 on measures to widen participation in Horizon 2020.
For more information:
ECA special report 23/2022: "Synergies between Horizon 2020 and European Structural and Investment Funds: Not yet used to full potential"