Public and private entities have access to a pool of legacy money in the form of competitive grants awarded from the European Commission (EC) to part-finance, or in exceptional circumstances fully-finance, projects that adhere to European Union (EU) sectoral policies or the EU 2020 strategy. Some funds are allocated to Member States and are left for Member States to administer, whereas others are administered directly by the European Commission. Several grants targeting, among other things, research and development, employment, health, education, social inclusion, agricultural, humanitarian, maritime, and environmental issues exist and competitive calls for the allocation of such funds are launched from time to time. Although equal treatment is given to all applicants, EU funding application calls have become very competitive and it is vital that the information provided is not only relevant and correct, but also relevant to the specific call and worded in way that would maximise the likelihood of funding. Information requirements vary between applications and there are a number of grant- specific rules and conditions that must be adhered to in order to make an application eligible for funding.
It is worth noting that at times even small administrative mistakes can result in a rejected application and therefore in no funding being given. The timing of the application is also very important as grants usually have strict deadlines. Furthermore, grants cannot be awarded retroactively for projects that have already been completed. At Equinox Advisory, we can help you with the full lifecycle of an EU Funding application from monitoring of calls through to the entire application procedure and the management of the project, which is administratively complex and burdensome once the project is financed. The latter includes, the efficient allocation of awarded finances, the generation and retention of a bulletproof audit trail for all works and expenses and the monitoring and control of the time frames of the milestones of the project.
Since the money making up the different funds and grants is collected from compulsory taxation and other transfer payments, it is important for the funds to have an element of objectivity and transparency in the process of applying for and using the funds. Accordingly, there are strict regulations that manage and control EU funds. Almost 80% of the budget allocated to grants are managed in collaboration with national authorities mostly through the five main EU Structural Funds, namely; the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Cohesion Fund (CF), the European Social Fund (ESF), The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). The money allocated to beneficiary countries (which sometimes include non-EU Member States) by the EU must be managed and distributed effectively and transparently by the same country. It is the national government’s responsibility to ensure that annual audits and regular checks are carried out to ensure that there is no misuse of awarded grants. The rest of the funds are managed solely by the EU and are awarded in the form of grants relating to EU policies and in the form of Contracts issued by European institutions through calls for tenders.
The European Social Fund is one of the European Union’s largest funds. It finances over €10 billion to improve and support jobs within the EU. This is done through the re-skilling and up-skilling of the current workforce to the benefit of both job-seekers and job-providers. The ESF ensures that disadvantaged workers such as the elderly, the disabled, and ethnic minorities have equal opportunities when looking for a job. It also focuses on creating adaptability of workers, improving access to employment, and creating opportunities for young people who may find it difficult to enter the labour market by improving their skill-base through the support of vocational training opportunities. Projects meeting the priority requirements of the ESF should promote employment, support labour mobility, promote social inclusion and invest in education, skills, and lifelong learning. The ESF usually funds local, regional, and national employment-related projects but is not limited to local and regional authorities.
The European Regional Development Fund aims at reinforcing economic, social, and territorial cohesion by supporting the development and structural adjustment of regional economies. The ERDF focuses on several key priority areas such as innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for SMEs, and the low-carbon economy. These priority areas will allow a specific region to generate economic growth and create jobs in a smart, environmentally-sustainable and inclusive manner. The ERDF finances several Member States’ cohesion and development policies. Having said that, several entities are eligible to apply for ERDF funding, including research centres, SMEs, and non-profit organisations.
Similarly to the ESF and the ERDF, the Cohesion fund is a European Union regional fund. This fund targets Member States whose Gross National Income per inhabitant is less than 90% of the EU average. The 2014-2020 Cohesion Fund targets 15 Member State and allocates a total of €63.4 billion to support infrastructure and environmental projects with a view to bringing regions that are lagging behind the rest of the Union in terms of economic development in line with the other regions.
The Connecting Europe Facility is a new 2014-2020 programme which invests in EU networks and infrastructure that strive to increase European competitiveness with a global budget of around €30.4 billion. It supports the Digital Single Market, as well as energy and transport interconnectivity and promotes regional infrastructural integration between regions and Member States. Projects targeted under the CEF include the Digital Service Infrastructures projects in areas such as interoperable health services, electronic identification, and online dispute resolution, projects that contribute to the deployment and modernisation of broadband networks, projects that result in the building of new infrastructure with significant cross-border impacts in gas and electricity and projects related to transport with a significant cross-border impact. Annual Work Programmes for the CEF are implemented depending on the priorities and actions required. Prior to being funded, projects need to make it through a screening process. Those that manage to go through this process are awarded Project of Common Interest (PCI) status.
The Horizon 2020 program is an EU Research and Innovation programme with an approximate budget of €80 billion for the 2014-2020 period. Horizon 2020 is an instrument that helps implement Europe’s Innovation Union, a strategy which strives to increase European competitiveness. The Horizon 2020 program is carried out through multiannual work programmes. These work programs are set based on several pillars, such as: excellent science, industrial leadership, societal challenges, spreading excellence and widening participation, science with and for society, cross-cutting activities, and Euratom (nuclear research and training) among others.
The programme for the Competitiveness for Enterprises and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises provides access to finance to SMEs throughout their lifecycle. It has a planned budget of €2.3 billion for the 2014-2020 time horizon. COSME enables the creation and expansion of European SMEs by supporting entrepreneurship and improving business environment. The program has two financial instruments; a Loan Guarantee Facility that facilitates access to loans, and the Equity Facility for Growth which provides equity finance for SMEs. COSME is not limited to European Union Member States since several third countries have signed an agreement and are participating in the program.
The LIFE Program is an EU financial instrument which offers support for environmental, nature conversation, and climate action projects. For the 2014-2020 period a budget of €3.4 billion was allocated to the LIFE Program which will be distributed over a multiannual work programme. Approximately €2.5 billion have been allocated to the Environment sub-programme which includes environmental and resource efficiency; nature and biodiversity; and governance and information. Under this sub-program priorities such as biodiversity; water; waste; green and circular economy; environment and health; and air quality and emissions are eligible for funding. Approximately €860 million have been allocated to the Climate Action sub-programme which includes adaptation, mitigation, and governance and information.
The INTERREG MED Cooperation Programme 2014-2020 has a total program budget of €254 million of which €224 million are allocated under the ERDF. INTERREG, also known as the European Territorial Cooperation, comprises of 57 Mediterranean regions divided among ten EU member states and 3 IPA countries. This program focuses on coastal areas, urban areas, islands, and rural areas which face challenges due to their resources, or other economic difficulties. Through the INTERREG MED Programme the EU is promoting sustainable growth, low carbon, cultural resources, and good governance in these Mediterranean regions.
The European Neighbourhood Instrument supports the European Neighbourhood Policy by financing political decisions taken to promote prosperity between Europe and its neighbouring countries. The ENI has a budget of approximately €15 billion for the 2014-2020 period. The ENI has several priority areas that collectively aim at fostering six broad ENI targets. These targets include the fostering of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the good management of people mobility, reducing poverty, institution building, and enhancing cross-border collaboration.
The European Observation Network for Territorial Development and Cohesion (ESPON) co-finances projects in development and cooperation with a clear territorial dimension by providing evidence-based policy studies, while promoting knowledge transfer and policy learning to several stakeholders including public authorities. ESPON covers the entire territory of all twenty-eight EU Member States, as well as the four Partner States of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein. ESPON is co-financed by the ERDF with an amount of €41.3 million for 2014-2020 Programming Period. When this is consolidated with Member and Partner States’ financial contribution which would make a total budget of approximately €50 million.
The ERASMUS+ programme focuses on education, training, youth and sports within the EU for the 2014-2020 programming period. The program has an approximate budget of €14.7 billion which combines seven EU education, training and youth programmes, while introducing sport as an action priority. An annual budget is adopted based on the current annual work programme. The ERASMUS+ programme focuses, among other things, on the mobility of individuals, including learners and staff; the cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices; and the support of policy reforms in the field of education, training and youth.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the EU’s agricultural policy’s implementing instrument. Funding under the CAP can be obtained through the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). Given that the major form of EU funding in agriculture is awarded through direct funding, farmers can capitalise on this fund to support their incomes while adhering to EU standards and cross-compliance criteria. The EAGF provides direct financing to farmers while also financing measures to regulate agricultural markets. The EAFRD co-finances Member States’ rural development programmes. Under the 2014-2020 rural development policy, a budget of over €95 billion is allocated to rural development.
Applications for funding may be submitted by several types of persons, both natural and legal. Small businesses and entrepreneurs can apply for grants, guarantees, loans, and equity funding on both the national level and through direct EU support. This form of EU financing is provided to local financial institutions who make the financing decisions to help support local business growth. NGOs whose aims coincide with EU interests are also eligible for EU support. These range from cultural, educational, justice and citizen’s rights, all the way to science and technology, environmental, and business interests. The research and development (R&D) area, underpinned by the EU’s R&D policy, as well as the network incentives across Member States funded by the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) are also worth mentioning as they are at the forefront of the EU’s interest in R&D and in fostering cross-border infrastructural networks. Researchers can apply for funding from the allocated €80 billion budget mainly through the Horizon 2020 programme under the 2014-2020 programming period, whereas those seeking to build cross-border infrastructure can make use of the 30.4 billion EUR (€22.4 billion for Transport, €4.7 billion for Energy, and €0.3 billion for Telecoms) made available under the CEF.
Governments and private sector entities of Member States make use of EU funding to part-finance investments and large-scale infrastructure projects that might never take place if it were not for the grant. Funds such as the Structural Funds and the Cohesion Fund (CF) are available for projects that will bring about economic and social development and cohesion in the European Union. The ERDF has several ‘key priority areas’ which it is more likely to finance than others, including Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), the digital agenda, innovation and research, and the low-carbon economy. Member States with a Gross National Income less than 90% of the EU average can apply for funding from the € 63.4 billion allocated to the CF. This fund is purely aimed at reducing regional disparities between European economies while promoting sustainable development. Member States’ governments can also apply for funding from the ESF, the EMFF, and the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF).
The team at Equinox Advisory can help you fund your project by helping you find the EU funding scheme that complements your needs and by drafting and/or optimising your submission to maximise the likelihood of success. There are several grants and schemes that a project may be eligible to apply under. It is not always clear-cut which one of these many funds a project can be proposed for, since the project would have secondary or indirect impacts on elements such as the environment, health, or employment. This means that it is not always advisable to apply for the bigger and more obvious funds, since there may be a higher probability of success if an alternative fund is chosen. Overall, it is paramount to target the best possible funds for the prospective application(s) as under a significant number of funds, only one grant may be awarded for the same action.
Our services are designed to guide our clients through the whole funding process from the identification of funds to the drafting and optimisation of the application for funds and post-funding assistance. Our involvement will ensure that long-term initiatives are managed well from the outset. Through the application of different economic methodologies, such as Cost-Benefit-Analyses, Feasibility Studies and Economic Impact Assessments, all of which are often a requirement for successful EU funding applications, Equinox Advisory can provide you with complete EU funding support.
The economics and EU funding experts at Equinox advisory can help you in your EU funding process by:
- Determining which fund or grant is applicable for you and whether you meet the required criteria to apply for funding;
- Giving advice on ways to develop ideas/projects to become eligible for EU Funding;
- Helping clients find international project partners so as to become eligible for specific funding schemes;
- Consulting the client on how the idea/project can be pitched to fit the identified fund’s criteria, the policies and the overall EU 2020 strategy;
- Aiding the client in the information collection process;
- Following up Cost-Benefit Analyses and Feasibility Studies with assistance in their EU funding applications;
- Helping SMEs and entrepreneurs secure financing through EU funds such as Horizon 2020, Creative Europe, EaSI, ESI, Eurostars, and the COSME Programme;
- Helping Governments and private infrastructural operators tap into funds related to infrastructure;
- Helping specific sectors target industry-specific funds;
- Helping NGOs locate and apply for EU funding schemes depending on the policy area their work falls under;
- Providing training, seminars, and workshops on EU funding, fund mechanisms, and the relevant funding schemes available based on the client’s needs;