As part of the Agenda 2000 reforms package, significant steps were taken towards a further decentralisation of the management of the EU Structural Funds. In essence, the Member States have become, even more than before, the authorities primarily responsible for ensuring effective implementation and management of the Structural Funds programmes. The role of the European Commission has been restricted to its involvement in strategic decisions and supervision of daily management by the Member States. This further decentralisation constituted an important message to both the current Member States and the candidate countries. In practice it has turned the issue of administrative capacity into one of the main eligibility criteria for EU financial support.
This book, which is part of EIPA's series of publications on the theme of "Capacity Building for Integration", assesses the main implications of the Agenda 2000 reforms of the Structural Funds for current and future Member States. It analyses the present process of preparations of the candidate countries for their forthcoming management of the Structural Funds, and argues that the candidate countries will have to make considerable efforts, predominantly in the pre-accession period, in order to establish the necessary institutional, legal and budgetary frameworks that are required to effectively manage the Funds.
As the Funds are based on a loosely-defined partnership principle, the (current and future) Member States can tailor their respective management structures to their specific political and administrative contexts. Hence, significant differences can be noted between the present Member States in terms of: how the Structural Funds are managed; the division of responsibilities between the central government authorities; the division of responsibilities at national, regional and local level; and the involvement of the various partners in different stages of the programming cycle. Whatever structure is applied, what matters is that each country can provide evidence that it has the necessary administrative capacity to ensure effective management of the Structural Funds.