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10 recommendations to unlock Structural Funds for support services

EASPD announces its newest report aiming to support the work carry out within the European institutions to simplify access to EU funding. The report, developed by an independent expert, presents key recommendations from service providers in seven EU countries on how to enhance access to the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF).

The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities (EASPD) fully supports the creation by the European Commission of a High Level Group of Independent Experts on Monitoring Simplification for Beneficiaries of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). Simplifying and improving access to ESIF for innovative projects in social service provision is essential to maximise the EU’s capacity to improve social cohesion and inclusion in Europe.


To provide constructive input into the work of the High Level Group, as well as the broader activities the European Institutions are doing to ensure an efficient and effective use of their funds, EASPD has asked an independent researcher to examine what are the main barriers for social service providers in terms of access to ESIF. A direct involvement of NGO organisations and user groups in discussions on the management and implementation of ESIF would contribute to the more successful take-up of the funds as a whole.


To include on-the-ground input into the report, the researcher collated input from social and disability service providers in several countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Hungary, Slovakia and Spain (Basque Country and Catalonia).


The first outcome of this research was that progress in terms of simplification was already visible in several countries. Nonetheless, one key recommendation appeared in all Member States assessed: the necessity to enhance access to structural and investment funds for smaller private not-for-profit support and care services and user organisations.


The report breaks down this key recommendation into 10 specific action points, necessary to enhance access to ESIF funds for social service providers and user groups:

  1. Bring together all information on ESIF programmes, requirements and funding opportunities on one central website per country;
  2. Ensure that the information available on ESIF is written in a non-bureaucratic language, especially for an inexperienced audience;
  3. Organise information and training days on ESIF for interested yet inexperienced stakeholders;
  4. Inform regularly about forthcoming Calls for Proposals and guarantee adequate preparation time for applications;
  5. Provide clarity on the role and tasks of different bodies involved in ESIF within a Member State;
  6. Clarify in accessible language the ESIF rules and regulations that apply within an Operational Programme, as well as the reporting requirements and expectations in terms of project accounting;
  7. Reduce the reporting duties, particularly with regard to a possible audit of the financial expenditure, especially for smaller projects to avoid disproportionate red-tape;
  8. Speed-up the payment schedule of ESIF funds, through pre-payments, earlier last-payment, and easing the own-contribution requirements;
  9. Pay more attention in the selection of applications to the outcomes, aims and objectives of the proposal and to the project results delivered in the report, rather than on the bureaucratic processes and procedures;
  10. Structurally involve social service providers and user groups –in the framework of the Partnership Principle in the development of the structure, the composition and the management of the Operational Programmes and monitoring committees, in particular for initiatives taken to enhance the simplification of ESIF.

EASPD calls on relevant stakeholders, particularly those involved in the High Level Group, to consider these action points within the framework of their discussions to simplify access to the ESIF funds.


The full report will be available very soon on EASPD’s website and will provide a more detailed explanation and specific examples for each point. We also wish to thank all those who have participated in the study.


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Note to editors

The European Association of Service providers for Persons with Disabilities is a non-profit European umbrella organization, established in 1996, and currently representing over 12.000 social and health services for persons with disabilities. EASPD advocates effective and high-quality disability-related services in the field of education, employment and individualised support, in line with the UN CRPD principles, which could bring benefits not only to persons with disabilities, but to society as a whole.


For more information, please contact:

Nieves Tejada Castro, EASPD Communications Officer at  nieves.tejada(a)
Thomas Bignal, EASPD Policy Officer at thomas.bignal(a)