The long-term effectiveness of EU cohesion policy : assessing the achievements of the ERDF, 1989-2012

Bachtler, John and Begg, Iain and Charles, David and Polverari, Laura (2016) The long-term effectiveness of EU cohesion policy : assessing the achievements of the ERDF, 1989-2012. In: EU Cohesion Policy. Regions and Cities (1st). Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon., pp. 11-20. ISBN 978-1-138-22464-3

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Abstract

One of the major challenges for EU Cohesion Policy is that, after 25 years of implementing the policy, the evidence for its effectiveness is so inconclusive. Academic research and evaluation studies have reached widely differing conclusions on the results of interventions through Structural and Cohesion Funds. At the same time, political and public debate on the performance of the policy has increased, most evident in the discussions on the reforms of Cohesion Policy for the 2007–13 and 2014–20 periods and the pressure on EU and national policy-makers to improve performance. This give rise to several questions: is it correct that substantial Cohesion Policy resources have been spent without adequate strategic justification? If so, why has this been the case? And will the new reforms make a difference? This paper seeks to answer these questions based on an evaluation of the main achievements of Cohesion Policy programmes and projects over the longer term. Drawing on research undertaken in 15 selected regions of the EU15, it is the first longitudinal and comparative analysis of the implementation of the Funds from 1989 to 2012, covering almost four full programme periods. Specifically, it involved analysis of the relevance, effectiveness and utility of each of the Cohesion Policy programmes implemented in each of the regions. In assessing the achievements of the programmes, the study adopted a ‘theory-based evaluation’ approach, going beyond the formally stated objectives of programmes to uncover the mechanisms or theories of change underlying the design of programmes, as well as identifying the ways in which objectives were actually operationalised in practice.