Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund

The Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund are the financial instruments of European Union regional policy, which is intended to narrow the development disparities among regions and Member States. The Funds participate fully, therefore, in pursuing the goal of economic, social and territorial cohesion (see also Cohesion Funds / Cohesion Policy).

For the period 2007-2013, the budget allocated to regional policy amounts to around € 348 billion, comprising € 278 billion for the Structural Funds and € 70 billion for the Cohesion Fund. This represents 35% of the Community budget and is the second largest budget item.

There are two Structural Funds: 1) the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is currently the largest. Since 1975 it has provided support for the creation of infrastructure and productive job-creating investment, mainly for businesses; 2) the European Social Fund (ESF), set up in 1958, contributes to the integration into working life of the unemployed and disadvantaged sections of the population, mainly by funding training measures. Three objectives are being targeted: Under the "convergence" objective activities are funded to accelerate the convergence of the least developed EU Member States and regions by improving growth and employment conditions. Under the objective to foster "regional competitiveness and employment", activities are funded to anticipate economic and social change, promote innovation, entrepreneurship, environmental protection and the development of labour markets. (RTD and innovation activities in regions of EU Member States are funded.) Under the "European territorial cooperation" objective activities are funded to strengthen cooperation at cross-border, transnational and interregional levels in the fields of urban, rural and coastal development, and foster the development of economic relations and networking between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This objective is financed by the ERDF and represents 2.5% of the total allocated resources.

The countries of the Western Balkans are involved in several programmes of the "European Territorial Cooperation" such as the "South East Europe Programme" as well as several cross-border cooperation programmes.