Member States are failing to target EU funding designed to create new jobs in rural areas at the worthiest projects meaning they have had only a limited impact, according to a new report* by the European Court of Auditors (ECA). The Luxembourg-based Court said countries were allocating spending according to demand, rather than picking rural diversification projects that generated the most value for money. Published yesterday, the ECA’s special report entitled ‘Have the Member States & the Commission achieved value for money with the measures for diversifying the economy?’ focuses on spending programmes in 6 countries – Cz, Fr, It, Pol, Swe & UK. Planned EU expenditure for rural diversification measures for the 2007-2013 period totalled €5 billion, with a further €2bn earmarked from national budgets. “The overarching priority of job creation was not properly targeted”, the ECA said. The Court also criticised the evaluation system for failing to justify the effectiveness of the measures. Excessive administration burdens on applicants & payment delays were among other flaws singled out by the auditors. Examples of failed projects in the report include the funding of a new wine tasting room in France although such facilities already existed & a school sports programme in Poland that did not fulfil the stated aim of attracting new tourists. The ECA calls on Member States to draw up tighter evaluation criteria & make clear why the programmes should fulfil their goals. Targets for job creation should be realistic & clearly monitored, the auditors add. The report calls on the EU’s executive to ensure countries have effective systems for checks on reasonableness of costs.
In response to the comments, the EU’s executive says that “lessons have been learned which will be applied for the next programming period 2014–2020 especially through guidance within the programming process”. But the Commission stresses that rural development funding is not only designed to create jobs but also to ensure diversification of activities & to improve rural life.