"Cohesion Policy: A Closer look at awareness and impact
The Eurobarometer survey confirms that Europeans hold a positive view regarding the funding of regions by the EU. With sustainable awareness levels at 39% across Europe, this article examines the perspectives and tangible benefits experienced by member states. The 2023 edition of the survey, conducted every two years, reveals that the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund are the second most recognized funds after Erasmus. Around 46% of respondents have heard about ERDF or the Cohesion Fund. Awareness of projects funded by the EU varies significantly by country, ranging from 15% in Denmark to 80% in Poland. Since 2021, it has decreased by four percentage points or more in five member states – Hungary, Bulgaria, Finland, Latvia, and Germany – with the largest decline (eight percentage points) in Hungary. Conducted in June 2023, the Eurobarometer survey included 25,718 telephone interviews with citizens aged 15 and above in the 27 EU countries."
Benefits of EU funding for regions
The EU's cohesion policy aims to build a smarter, greener, more connected, and socially closer Europe that is nearer to its citizens. It enhances economic, social, and territorial cohesion by reducing disparities between regions. For 2014-2020, the EU invested 352 billion euros in its regions and cities. This has increased to 392 billion euros for 2021-2027, around one-third of the EU budget.
The Eurobarometer revealed that about 16% of the respondents say they have benefited in their daily lives from a project funded by the ERDF or the Cohesion Fund. In Poland, 59% claim they have benefited. The percentage in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Slovakia, and Slovenia ranges between 32% and 36%.
Significantly, 57% responded that EU-funded projects contribute to them feeling like EU citizens, with 22% saying they feel "to a large extent" and 35% "to some extent".
In 25 EU countries, the impact of European Union support is viewed positively by at least 75% of respondents, reaching 95% in Poland. Italy and the Netherlands make an exception, with the impact of EU support figures being 56% and 61% respectively.
Poland also has the highest number of respondents (59%) saying that an ERDF or Cohesion Fund project has improved their lives. The corresponding figure for the EU as a whole is 16%. EU-funded projects contribute to the sense of being a citizen of the EU for 57% of respondents.
The internet and television are the most important sources of information for EU-funded projects: 38% of respondents who had heard about EU-funded projects obtained information via the internet. 36% received it from national television. Other key sources include local and regional newspapers and tabloids, each providing information to 24% of respondents, and local or regional television, through which 20% received this information.
Knowledge about funds
Regarding awareness of EU funds, 46% of respondents have heard of the ERDF or the Cohesion Fund, and 45% have heard of the European Social Fund (ESF+). Around 29% of respondents have heard of the Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and Territories in Europe (REACT-EU) or Next Generation EU. Interreg and the Just Transition Fund (JTF) are recognized by 11% and 12% respectively.
Overall, 66% of respondents are familiar with at least one common management fund. The same percentage is aware of EU support related to COVID-19. Concerning common management funds, national figures vary from 90% in Slovakia to 36% in Denmark. For COVID-19 support, they range from 81% in Cyprus and Greece to 46% in the Netherlands.
Regarding priority regions, 63% of respondents say the EU should invest in all regions; 33% believe it should invest only in the poorest regions. The percentage of those who believe the EU should invest in all regions is consistent with 2021 (64%) and has increased by five percentage points since 2019. The majority of respondents in all EU countries except two, say the EU should invest in all regions. Exceptions are Bulgaria, where 55% believe investments should target the poorest regions, and Portugal, where 48% say investments should go to all regions, while 49% say they should go only to the poorest regions.
Regarding regions to prioritize, 65% of respondents would prioritize those with high unemployment. Following are deprived urban areas and remote rural or mountainous areas (both 53%) and border regions (29% – six percentage points more than in 2021). Preserving and improving the competitiveness of developed regions is considered a priority by 22% of respondents.
The majority of respondents view all listed policy areas in the survey as important for their city or region. Investments in education, health, or social infrastructure are considered important by 93%. They are followed by the environment (89%), renewable and clean energy (85%), research and innovation (84%), support for SMEs (83%), and vocational training (82%).
Regarding priorities for the coming years, education, health, or social infrastructure, and the environment are again on top of respondents' minds: 51% and 39%, respectively, view them as important. Other priorities include renewable and clean energy (34%), support for SMEs (28%), transportation facilities (27%), research and innovation (26%), and vocational training (24%).
A small majority of respondents believe that decisions regarding regional EU policy projects should be made at sub-national levels: 30% opt for the regional level, and 24% for the local level.
A total of 26% of respondents are aware of cooperation between regions in different countries resulting from EU funding, with the highest level in Poland (63%). The same percentage is aware of at least one out of the four macro-regional strategies of the EU, addressing common challenges faced by specific geographical areas. Awareness levels range from 7% in Portugal to 64% in Finland.
Finally, 35% of respondents were able to mention at least one of the more distant regions of the EU. This is mainly driven by high levels of awareness in France and Spain, which together account for seven of the nine outermost regions. In 18 member states, fewer than one in four respondents can mention one of the more distant regions.