The future of EU Funds for Cohesion and a Just Transition: with or without workers?
TRADE UNION GUIDE TO COHESION POLICY FUNDS 2021-2027
The Trade Union Guide to Effective Use of Available Funds for Cohesion Policy is meant to provide well formulated and clear guidance for national, regional and sectorial trade unions on Cohesion funds, ultimately contributing towards improving the orientation, programming, implementation and evaluation of these funds thanks to a more effective trade union involvement in all phases.
The Guide reflects challenges that were identified by the ETUC affiliates in relation to trade unions’ involvement in the governance of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds, it provides recommendations for EU- and national-level policy makers and Managing Authorities on how to improve management of the Cohesion Policy Funds in order to allow for better engagement of trade unions in different stages of the implementation of the funding programmes (design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation) and, consequently, on how to support EU Cohesion Policy to better target the socio-economic needs of the EU regions and territories. Furthermore, the Guide primarily targets trade unions and it has an objective to be used by trade unions as a tool for finding relevant information regarding the EU Cohesion Policy, for promotion and raising-awareness about the importance of the Cohesion Policy Funds for trade unions, and for formulation of their own demands and actions towards the relevant authorities responsible for the Cohesion Policy Funds in their respective countries and regions.
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The ETUC project The Future of EU Funds for Cohesion and Just Transition: with or without workers? had an objective to involve the ETUC affiliates (national trade union confederations) in discussions about the involvement of trade unions in the management process of the Cohesion Policy Funds (design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation of the funding programs) and to – based on received inputs from the target audience (trade unions) – formulate a comprehensive tool (a Trade Union Guide) that would be used by trade unions as a resource for capacity-building (training) on trade union involvement in the Cohesion Policy Funds, resource of information and knowledge, and resource of policy recommendations addressed to relevant authorities (governments, EU institutions, Managing Authorities) in the field of the management of the Cohesion Policy Funds.
The far-reaching objective of the project was therefore also to contribute to the shaping of the EU Cohesion Policy by presenting to decision-makers at EU, national and regional levels the demands and needs of trade unions and, consequently, to contribute to a more effective EU Cohesion Policy, as by putting attention (through institutional, procedural/administrative and policy considerations) on the well-being of workers and to the socio-economic development of the EU regions would make the Cohesion Policy Funds more successful in reaching their objectives.
Key objectives and priorities of the Project:
The aim of the European Union’s cohesion policy is to help reduce disparities between regions and to promote a society with full employment, equal opportunities, social inclusion, economic and social cohesion, upward convergence and hence, more broadly, the European Pillar of Social Rights, foundation of the European Social Model.
Following the outbreak of COVID19, the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, the European Green Deal, the Just Transition Fund, the Recovery and Resilience Facility, and eventually all EU Funds have a key role to play to face recovery and transition towards a greener and more digital economy.
Cohesion Policy is the EU’s main investment policy, crucial to a full post-pandemic recovery and face the global, millennial challenges. Workers are part of the EU relaunch!
The project was therefore contextually placed in the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 for the EU Funds (including the funding framework of the NextGenerationEU that was established as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic), within which it had a focus on the funding programmes for the Cohesion Policy that, in general terms, aim at securing the development of the EU as a whole by providing resources to the EU regions that are facing the biggest development challenges. Furthermore, within the EU Cohesion Policy Funds, the project focused on those Funds that are particularly relevant for the social development and have thus particular relevance for the trade unions - European Social Fund Plus, European Regional Development Fund, Cohesion Fund, Just Transition Fund and Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.
HOT TOPICS for trade unions with respect to Cohesion Funds
The implementation of the Partnership Principle
Workshop 1: The Partnership Principle in the context of the Cohesion Policy funds - barriers, challenges and potentials
The first workshop on the 8th of February 2023 in Bucharest focused on the European Code of Conduct on Partnership Principle in regard to the management of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds. Since 2014 the Partnership Principle presents a framework for Member States to meaningfully involve all stakeholders in the preparation and implementation of the EU funding programmes under shared management.
In the workshop participants identified challenges for the involvement of social partners in the management and in the use of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds.
In many national and regional partnerships the impact of social partners is diluted by lack of acknowledgement that public authorities give to social partners’ specific role and competences. Trade unions are often addressed by public authorities in general consultations with wide sphere of non-public stakeholders.
Aspects of cohesion funding that are specifically linked to the needs of workers are not separately discussed with national and regional trade unions.
Besides the composition of partnerships, and consequently the effectiveness of trade unions in management of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds, the issue that was highlighted during the workshop relates also to the way the involvement of social partners is implemented. Consultations that are not timely and have only informative nature prevent trade unions to act as an equal partner of public authorities.
Departing from identified challenges, participant formed several recommendations to improve the implementation of partnership principle in countries and regions where trade unions experience lack of involvement in the funding process.
The European Code of Conduct on Partnership itself should more clearly define the role of social partners, distinguished from other stakeholders, in the context of Monitoring Committees and other public structures for management of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds at national and regional level.
Meaningful and quality consultation process should be ensured by enabling conditions put in place by the governments and Managing Authorities.
Trade unions should be given the capacity to be proactively involved in the partnership process for management and implementation of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds.
Dedicated and well implemented resources for Capacity Building
Workshop 2: Capacity building in the use of the Cohesion Policy funds: strengthening the role of TUs and other actors for the effectiveness of Cohesion Policy
The second workshop on the 9th of February 2023 in Bucharest focused on the capacity building of trade unions for effective participation in the management and implementation of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds and was thus linked to the discussions on the involvement of trade unions through European Code of Conduct on Partnership in the first workshop.
The challenges that were identified by participants of the workshop were linked to the lack of resources for capacity building that would specifically address the needs that trade unions have in managing and using the EU Cohesion Policy Funds.
In many cases there is a lack of training opportunities for trade unions that would specifically address range of skills and technical knowledge needed for the management of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds.
Furthermore, existing training and learning models are not adapted to the reality of trade unions and are missing strategic focus when it comes to the design, management and implementation of the funding programmes.
Recommendations put forward by participants highlighted the importance of available training models for trade unions that focus on the specific aspects of the funding management process and are as such enhancing the skills and knowledge that are needed for effective involvement of trade unions at national and regional level.
EU Cohesion Policy Funds and the needs of EU Regions
Workshop 3: EU regions and their needs - use and effectiveness of Cohesion Policy funds to meet the needs
The third workshop on 8th of March 2023 in Naples focused on the Cohesion policy funds’ main purpose, which is to support under-developed regions and territories of the EU to overcome their economical and social pitfalls and to ensure upward convergence of the EU as a whole.
The southern and eastern regions of the EU are suffering from economic decline or stagnation that is resulting in higher unemployment rates, low innovation performance, shrinking working-age population, and high risks of poverty and social exclusion.
Participants of the workshop stressed that internal territorial disparities with Member States as well as social and economic inequalities among countries should be tackled by making EU Cohesion Policy more effective.
One of the most important recommendation on how to make better use of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds so that the needs of regions and countries - especially the ones lagging behind - would be met, is connected to the creation of the environment and structures that enable strong social dialogue through involvement of trade unions.
To effectively support regional development, trade unions need to receive quality capacity building and need to be meaningfully involved in the decision making process on how to spend available funds.
EU investments for capacity building of trade unions need not only to become more substantial, but they also need to be trickled down to regional and local levels, which requires building synergies between national, regional and local actors that are responsible for governance of the EU Cohesion Policy.
More effective use of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds also means that available financial resources are actually spent on projects and activities that contribute to the realization of the main EU objectives of socially just and sustainable development. This should be done by ensuring that access to the EU Cohesion Policy Funds is given to programmes and projects that are respecting certain social conditionalities.
Aligning Cohesion Policy objectives and Trade Union Priorities
Workshop 4: EU Cohesion Policy and Trade Union priorities - Trade Union actions to maximise the effectiveness of Cohesion Policy funds
The fourth workshop on 9th of March 2023 in Naples continued the discussions of the workshop on the use of the EU Cohesion Policy Funds for the needs of the EU regions by looking at how the EU Cohesion Policy can address the most pressing priorities of Trade Unions, and vice-versa – how Trade Unions can support the EU Cohesion Policy in tackling socio-economic disparities among and within countries and regions.
Participants of the workshop agreed that the EU Cohesion Policy should put at the forefront the challenges of skills shortages and poor employment conditions that are often resulting in high unemployment rates, social exclusion and general under-development in certain EU regions.
With the support of trade unions the EU Cohesion Policy should also address the lack of coordination between the local level and higher levels (regional, national, EU), which makes the impact of funding less effective for the workers and for the people.
From the perspective of trade unions and their priorities, the EU Cohesion Policy should be based on the strategy for social and economic convergence with short-term, medium-term and long-term objectives, on the European Code of Conduct for Partnership and on the capacity building for social partners.
To strengthen the role of trade unions in supporting the achievement of the EU Cohesion Policy objectives, the EU-level and national authorities could set-up a platform for sharing information regarding the management of funds. Furthermore, also trade unions itself should be proactive as much as possible in gaining information and in making their voice heard within Managing Authorities and other public bodies responsible for design, management and allocation of funds.
Trade unions also need stable financial resources to be able to participate in co-financed projects, and they need to be provided with adequate knowledge for management of the funds and for project implementation.
When it comes to the issue of trade unions’ participation in responding to project calls for proposals and in successfully managing projects funded under EU Cohesion Policy, the reporting indicators set at the level of public authorities should take into account the specificity of social actions (for example, more quality indicators should be introduced).
Trade Union Involvement in the Just Transition Fund
The webinar on the 16th of March 2023 had a focus on the Just Transition Fund that has significant relevance for trade unions due to its objective to support territories most affected by negative socio-economic consequences of the transitions towards climate neutrality.
Participants were discussing challenges that trade unions have been facing during the design and implementation of National Just Transition Territorial Plans.
As it was stressed by trade unions already in past ETUC consultations on this topic, the budget of the fund remains vastly insufficient compared to its objective, which is addressing the social, employment, economic and environmental impacts of the transition.
The scope of the Just Transition Fund remains too limited as it does not cover other important sectors that will need to radically transform to achieve climate neutrality, such as automotive and transport, agriculture, tourism, and energy intensive industries.
In many countries trade unions organisations have not been involved in the design of their Just Transition Territorial Plans or their involvement has not been sufficient, meaningful and appropriate.
To improve the involvement of trade unions in the implementation of the Just Transition Territorial Plans, the participants recommended to set up Just Transition Observatory to look at the implementation and comprehensive involvement of trade unions and other stakeholders.
Trade Unions are calling to adopt Just Transition Legal Framework as part of the EU Green Deal to operationalize ILO guidelines on Just Transition. This should be based on systematized mapping of the effects that transition has on employment and skills in different countries, regions and sectors, including on subcontractors and the supply chain, and to have concrete proposals for mobilizing private and public investments at national and EU level to support sectors and regions affected.
Public authorities at national and regional level need to ensure well-functioning and inclusive social dialogue that will give weight to trade unions in steering the paths to just transition for all workers in all affected sectors.
Enhancement of resources and tools for capacity building and knowledge-sharing is needed for trade unions to be able to have an impact on the management and implementation of the Just Transition Fund.
The Final Conference on 13th April 2023 concluded the project by giving overview of the main outcomes, findings and recommendations through discussions between the trade union representatives and European stakeholders. Here are some key messages given by speakers and participants:
The objectives and priorities of EU semester need to be linked to Cohesion policy funds in the period 2021-2027.
The EU needs reorientation in terms of social rights and the trade unions need to take ownership of available tools using, amongst other, the Partnership Principle.
There is a lack of appropriate indicators to measure social progress and the lack of meaningful involvement of social partners in the context of the EU semester process.
Innovation and the twin - digital and green - transition requires investments, especially in some countries in Eastern Europe, to fill employment gaps and tackle poverty related issues.
The need of expanding the scope of the Partnership Principle so as to cover not only the Cohesion Policy funds but all other EU funds as well.
Cohesion Policy reached its goals, but not at regional level where more advantaged regions were the ones that profited the most because there is lack of capacity in less developed regions to absorb the funds.
There is very little visibility from national level about how the funds on twin transition are operating; Trade Unions need more transparency in this area in the future.
There is a need for capacity building of trade unions for participating in Monitoring Committees.
When public money is discussed, the role of the social partners therein is essential; clear connection needs to be done between social dialogue and Monitoring Committees.