Cohesion Policy & ESIF

Cohesion Policy, enshrined in the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (Article 174), is the EU’s main investment policy and strategy to support the harmonious development of its Member States and regions. It aims to strengthen economic and social cohesion. Since 1988, Cohesion Policy is structured according to a multi-annual programming process, following the EU seven-year budget cycles. For the period 2014-2020, approximately EUR 460 billion has been allocated to the five European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), which support Cohesion Policy as well as rural development and fisheries’ polices. These funding instruments are aligned with the Europe 2020 Strategy of ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’ and are managed in partnership between the European Commission, the Member States and stakeholders at the local and regional level. For the next EU budget 2021-2027, the European Commission proposes to modernise Cohesion Policy, introducing five main thematic objectives relating to smart, sustainable and green development, better social and climate policies, and improved connectivity.

Policy analysis based on comprehensive and reliable data and information, as well as guidance and capacity-building services for stakeholders have an important role in ensuring and contributing to the effective implementation of ESIF investment programmes. Milieu’s team of policy and economic experts has considerable experience in the analysis and evaluation of these funding programmes, and a wide range of contacts with programme managers and other stakeholders across the EU.

In recent years, Milieu has implemented several projects involving analysis and evaluation of the ESIF, especially in the areas of environmental and health policy. Some examples are:


Evaluation of spending outputs and results is enshrined in the regulations governing EU funds. ‘Ex-post’ evaluations are conducted at the end of each Cohesion Policy programming period with the aim of tracking how the spending programmes collectively contribute to EU strategic objectives and the implementation of specific policy aims and targets.

In 2014-15, Milieu was part of the team that carried out the ex-post evaluation of Cohesion Policy in the theme of environment. To carry out the analysis, Milieu reviewed all spending data from programmes in 23 Member States and compared them to the available data on the implementation of key EU legislation in the areas of drinking water, wastewater treatment and waste management. The complex analysis of data included an in-depth review of spending in six Member States/regions, as well as qualitative assessment of the reasons behind key trends.

The analysis is available online.

Cohesion Policy spending has important implications for the environment and sustainability in the EU. The funds contribute to the implementation of EU environmental legislation, in particular heavy-investment needs in the areas of water, waste and nature protection but also to wider sustainability goals through research and development, sustainable transport and education and training.

Milieu worked with COWI to provide DG Environment with an in-depth assessment of the integration of environmental concerns in Cohesion Policy across three financing perspectives: 2000-2006, 2007-2013 and 2014-2020, including all environmental policy sectors. The study also contributed to evaluation of progress with respect to implementation of the 7th EAP to be completed by 2019 and to the preparation for the next round of EU budget negotiations post-2020. In 2019, Milieu and COWI provided DG Environment with an update of this study based on newly available data.

The study is available online.

The health sector cuts across many policy sectors and health policy objectives are critically inter-linked with policies in employment, social inclusion, education and training and environment, among others. Because health objectives are pursued across different policy areas, tracking ESIF spending in the area of health is a complex undertaking.

Milieu implemented a two-year initiative for the European Commission to investigate the ways in which ESIF 2014-2020 contributed to health policy through investment. The work included detailed quantitative data collection and analysis of health-related projects across all EU Member States, the identification of good practice projects, and a capacity-building programme aiming for better programming and project development in the area of health.

A dedicated project website contains a broad range of materials developed including country factsheets, descriptions of exemplary projects and a range of reports: