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When Evaluations Do Not Function as Learning Exercises:2

3. The response of national and regional administrations to the new rules and regulations governing cohesion policy As we have suggested above, the system of governance applied to the administration of cohesion policy during the two programme cycles was not uniform in all member states and regions. The learning curve varied for different levels of government and different regions within member states as is evident from the number of evaluation studies conducted on the implementation of the Objective 1 programmes and Community Initiatives during the 1989-93 and 1994-99 periods. The findings will be used to formulate an overall view of what has happened in practice and how national and regional administrations have reacted to the new planning and implementation procedures introduced by the more detailed Regulations 2082/93 and 2074/97. Figure 4 attempts to describe from a purely theoretical perspective the three potential responses that may have been generated at the national and regional levels with the initiation of the EU’s cohesion policy and the implementation of the Structural Funds according to the new rules and procedures. It should not be assumed (as was the optimum case represented in Figure 3) that just because new funds are made available for regional development there is an automatic response or acceptance of the new rules and procedures on the part of the administrative systems. As we have already seen for the funds still to be spent from the previous two funding cycles, the mere availability of funds does not always guarantee they will be spent at all, to say nothing about whether they will be spent efficiently and effectively. Figure 4 proposes three types of possible responses that we have termed negation, adaptation and learning. These three potential systems of response can, in turn, be differentiated according to the impact that they have: (1) at the individual level—i.e., individual members of the administrative structure or political leadership responsible for the policy--; (2) at the level of the organisational structure or the rules and procedures governing the activities of the public administrative responsible for the implementation of the policy; (3) the type of impact on management outputs, and (4) on socio-economic outcomes or the ability to stimulate growth and development—i.e., the nature of the economic shock delivered and the response of the local and regional economy. We hypothesize that if a regional or national administration were to adopt a “negation” or “denial of change” strategy it signifies that the national/regional political and administrative elites have, in essence, rejected the incorporation of the new rules and procedures into the way they manage the implementation of the cohesion policy and undertake to use or not use the available funds. Rejection on the part of the administration or political elites may be caused by fears that the new approach will significantly undermine established internal procedures and political equilibrium painstakingly created over time. Thus, the “costs” of the new policy in terms of undermining the status quo and generating internal conflicts are evaluated to be counterproductive vis-à-vis the benefits produced by using the funds according to the rules and procedures suggested. In essence, the costs to the internal equilibrium within the political institutions and administrative structures are immediate and therefore considered to be greater than the external benefits to be accrued by civil society and the economy in the medium to long term. In this manner, the immediate internal administrative/political costs outweigh the medium to long term external socio-economic benefits produced by adhering to the rules and principles of the new policy. We hypothesize in the Figure that such a lack of response will most likely lead to a non-use of the resources and that the net impact on socio-economic change or growth is nil. The second major form of response has been labelled an “adaptation” to the new rules and procedures of the policy in a fairly passive manner. In contrast to the “negation” response, the new rules and procedures are incorporated by the national and regional administrations through a minimalist approach that attempts to innovate as little as possible and to segment or compartmentalize the new policy into a narrow area of the public administration and political decision making rather than permitting it to have a more general impact on existing practices. The emphasis in this approach is to accept the formal adoption of the changes but to limit the impact of their implementation in day-to-day administrative behaviour. As with the previous response, the maintenance of the administrative status quo is considered to be a higher good than the full implementation of the policy. Therefore, change is reduced to a minimum and what change is introduced is carried out in an incremental and gradual fashion. The outcome of this approach is that the bureaucracy is only capable of engaging in a partial expenditure of funds due to the lack of adequate planning, management or reporting procedures. The consequence is that only a limited impact is produced on the local social and economic structure. Finally, the third response, defined as “learning”, reflects a fuller compliance with the new rules and regulations than the previous two types of response. In most cases the third type of response requires a significant restructuring of the available information base and the internalisation of the new norms and procedures at the individual level and a substantial modification of existing procedures and behaviour within the organizational structures. The status quo and internal equilibria are sacrificed to the task of fully implementing the policy in the hope of generating substantial socio-economic impacts on the current economic structure. Immediate administrative/ political costs are accepted in the hope of reaping medium to long term socio-economic returns. The “learning” response helps to facilitate the institutionalisation of the policy at the national and regional level and permits the full realization of “institution building” in line with the multi-level and multi-subject governance patterns that are required in EU policy making. The lack of discrepancies between the EU rules and procedures and those in place at the national and regional levels can facilitate the full and expedient expenditure of the funds and the delivery of the maximum financial stimulus to the local economy. Based on the framework presented in Figure 4 we can look at some specific examples of national and regional administrative behaviour in Italy that illustrate the variety of responses described. The implementation of a resistance or negation response seems to be unacceptable for political reasons in being unwilling to respond to funding opportunities provided by the programmes, but examples of this type of response are plentiful if we look at the difficulties encountered during the late 1980s with the implementation of the Integrated Mediterranean Programs (IMPs) that were forerunners to the 1989 Structural Funds reform. Evaluations of the implementation of the IMPs showed that regional elites feared that the adoption of an integrated planning approach and a strong coordination among sectorial departments would significantly undermine the autonomy and authority of individual political/administrative departments. The top administrators felt that the cost of compliance with the new rules would be too high in terms of redistributing power and influence. In Sicily and in the other three large southern Italian regions it was impossible to create a coordinated approach among the regional assessorates as required by the logic of the IMPs. It was felt that coordination would undermine the individual authority of the assessors and lead to a concentration of power in the assessorate responsible for coordination and planning. The result was that after five years the implementation of the programs proved to be minimal. The Italian regions, as a whole, had spent only 17.5% of their allocations vis-à-vis 68.1% of the Greek and 57.8% of the French regions. But among the largest regions of the South the expenditure levels were below 5%. Other examples of “negation” can be found in the first planning cycle in Italy for Objective 1 programmes and Community Initiatives such as Interreg. In these cases, the implementation of the programmes underwent long periods of delay of over two years before the authorities could come to terms with the new procedures. Finally, the threat of loosing the funds allocated and the fear that the prospect of finally engaging in a sustained development process convinced many regional and national politicians and administrations to adopt a change of heart and start to make the necessary changes to internal rules and procedures. A processes of adaptation can be found in the initial negotiations between the Commission and individual member states: the UK, Germany and Italy who had initially different views on what should be the role of the Commission and what constituted a regional policy in the experience of the member states prior to 1989. This “lack of fit” between the Commission’s rules and procedures and those of the individual member states was then repeated in delaying the start-up of both the 1994-1999 programmes in all three countries and the 2000-2006 programmes in a number of member states. Another example of difficult adaptation is provided by the operationalisation of the partnership principle in Italy’s Objective 1 programmes. In the past the private sector was considered to be a beneficiary of the policy rather than an integral part of the decision-making and implementation process. In Italy during the first two programme cycles the private sector involvement was translated for the national CSF Objective 1 program as participation by national economic bodies, such as the state railway, road and telephone authorities and not by companies in the private sector. Participation by the private sector was much more common in regional operational programmes where the project could be scaled to a level (i.e., local) appropriate for the financial resources of a private entrepreneur. The nature of the administrative response to the implementation of the cohesion policy can change over time. In fact, Figure 3 posited the prospect of a continuous learning loop as the policy was implemented and refined over the three recurring programming cycles. It is completely feasible for countries and regions to have had initial difficulties in fully understanding and incorporating the policy at the beginning as we have seen above. However, over time and through the accumulation of experience those policy instruments can be increasingly incorporated and institutionalised into the way the policy is implemented by national and regional administrations. Examples of “learning” are provided by the significant restructuring of administrative systems which took place in Ireland and Portugal during the first planning cycle and the creation of management bodies and the use of extensive external technical expertise in Greece in order to guarantee a smoother implementation of the CSF during the second planning cycle. In Italy learning took place in a number of national and regional contexts. Significant changes have been undertaken at both the national and regional levels. At the national level the principle changes were associated with the adoption of a bottom-up process in formulating the programmes, the conduct of an extensive ex-ante evaluation of the CSF, and the awarding of evaluation contracts to oversee all of the operational programmes. On the 2-4 December 1998 the national government organised a conference in Catania to gather ideas from regional and local governments and groups representing civil society. The conference was followed up by an intensive period of negotiations on the national, regional and local levels to gather inputs from a wide number of groups and interests in order to make certain that the formulation of the Objective 1 programmes for the 2000-2006 period reflected a bottom-up rather than a top-down process. At the end of September 1999 the Department for Development Policy and Cohesion, responsible for the management of Italy’s cohesion policy for the Ministry of the Treasury presented a detailed ex-ante evaluation of the development programme (PSM) that served as the basis for the formulation of the Italian CSF. And by the beginning of 2003 all of the contracts for the evaluation of the Objective 1 operational programmes had been signed and rendered operational. Thus, the national level was in a position to systematically oversee the implementation of the programmes. In contrast to the two previous programming cycles, the same thorough bottom-up formulation of programmes, ex-ante evaluations and quick stipulation of evaluation contracts were carried out at the regional level. Thus the current implementation of the Objective 1 programmes has the support of systematic evaluation that fully reflects the cohesion policy conceptual scheme presented in Figure 3. 4. The impact of cohesion policy on policy making and institutions Over the past fourteen years cohesion policy has played a crucial role in involving and broadening the base for the participation of a variety of socio-economic groups in European policy making, but it has also been important in empowering sub-national levels of government in the area of EU decision-making and implementation with regard to cohesion policies. This process of empowerment has not been limited to only temporary effects on administrative structures but has instead been translated at times into constitutional change leading to a restructuring of nation-states. Such has been the outcome in relation to the recent Italian constitutional reform which has substantially changed the nature of ties between central and regional governments. The ex-post evaluation of the 1994-1999 programmes has argued that the existence of decentralized forms of government and administration does help to fine tune programmes to individual regional needs and to involve a broader base of grass roots organizations in the selection of priorities and participation in the implementation of projects. The existence of sub-national forms of government capable of managing the implementation of Structural Funds also provides a greater legitimacy and transparency to the process. The participation of local groups and institutions is a lot easier if there are multiple regional programmes rather than if there is one, large national programme. At the national level there is a greater chance that local interests and priorities will be crowded out by national considerations and groups. When decision making is centralised at the national level it is more difficult for local civil society to become involved in the development process. Thus, the importance of the EU’s cohesion policy is to be found in both its potential socio-economic impact as well as in its political-institutional one. The treaties have emphasized in the past the socio-economic objectives in increasing the production of wealth and a better balance in well-being among the regions of Europe. But the objective of reducing socio-economic disparities is not merely restricted to the economic field. Instead, it also reflects a basic political commitment to institutional reform in order to make public institutions and policy making more responsive to the needs of the electorate. In this context, we would argue that cohesion policies in Italy have essentially contributed to the political goal of empowering regional and local institutions and have brought decision making closer to the people. Of particular importance in the current planning cycle is the allocation of a significant portion of the regional operational programmes to “integrated territorial programmes” or PITs that have been allocated to local governments to formulate and implement. Thus, Italy (as well as other member states) has been able to systematically learn from the mistakes committed during the previous two CSF cycles but undertaking to significantly altering the methodology for formulating the programmes, the contents of the programmes, and the means by which the programmes are being applied. It does now have the basis for learning from future mistakes in making adjustments to current programme contents and procedures, and it is hoped that this new approach will produce better programmatic outputs and socio-economic outcomes.


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