LIFE needs design and implementation improvements, say EU Auditors

LIFE needs design and implementation improvements, say EU Auditors

A report published today by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) calls on the EU Commission to increase the effectiveness of the LIFE programme by improving the dissemination and replication of successful environmental projects.

“The dissemination and replication of LIFE projects is clearly insufficient, and this significantly reduces the programme’s capacity to act as a catalyst for environmental changes, which is its overarching objective.”stated Mr Jan Kinšt, the ECA Member responsible for the report.

The EU’s environmental policy is integrated across its main spending policies, such as the structural funds and the common agricultural policy. LIFE (L’Instrument Financier pour l’Environnement), and in particular its environment component, is a specific financial instrument designed to serve as a platform for developing and exchanging good practices and to catalyse and accelerate developments of EU environmental policy. Its effectiveness is therefore strongly determined by whether funded projects serve as catalysts for environmental change. LIFE is managed directly by the Commission.

The latest LIFE programme covered the period 2007-2013 and had an average annual budget of € 239 million for financing projects – less than 1.5 % of estimated overall environmental related expenditure by the EU –.

The audit found that the lack of a mechanism to target scarce resources on pre-selected objectives resulted in a lack of critical mass of good projects to promote meaningful developments in EU environmental policy. Also, the indicative national allocations hampered the selection of best projects because projects were not only selected based on their merit but also on their Member State of origin.

The EU Auditors pointed out that the Commission did not sufficiently justify the selection of projects and that, even if some supported projects achieved positive results, the programme did not fulfil its fundamental role to ensure their effective dissemination and replication.

Notes to the editors:

European Court of Auditors (ECA) special reports are published throughout the year, presenting the results of selected audits of specific EU budgetary areas or management topics.

This special report (SR 15/2013) is entitled “Has the Environment component of the LIFE programme been effective?”. It examined whether its design and implementation contributed to programme effectiveness. In auditing projects funded between 2005 and 2010, the EU Auditors visited the Commission’s relevant services and five Member States from among the largest beneficiaries of LIFE (Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the United Kingdom), representing 55 % of the LIFE budget and 15 % of its projects.

The Court found that overall, the LIFE Environment component was not operating effectively because it was not sufficiently well designed and implemented.

Based on its findings, the ECA recommended that:

  • In the establishment of the multi-annual work programmes foreseen in the new LIFE programme, the legislative authorities should enable the Commission and the Member States to restrict eligible applications to limited strategic priorities, and to set clear, specific, measurable and achievable objectives for projects to be funded. A limited number of priorities fixed for a number of years would streamline the selection process, concentrate the efforts on specific issues and facilitate the evaluation of the programme impact.

  • The Commission’s proposal for the new LIFE programme ends the national allocation for traditional projects but keeps a geographical balance for Integrated projects. In its application, the Commission should ensure that Integrated projects are selected based on their merit, and that geographical balance should not breach the principle of equal opportunities for applicants.

  • The Commission should improve the project selection evaluation forms and require the evaluators to provide separate assessments and scores for major project aspects (such as innovative or demonstrative character of the proposal, the quality of the dissemination actions planned, or the potential for the replication of results), in order to improve the quality and transparency of the selection process and to ensure that selected projects have the potential to contribute most towards the achievement of the programme objectives.

  • The Commission should improve its programme management tools and consider introducing adequate common output and result indicators as well as follow-up information at project level, in order to facilitate an appropriate monitoring of the programme. To the extent possible, such indicators should be relevant, accepted, credible, easy and robust (“RACER” criteria).

  • The Commission should improve its assessment of the reasonableness of claimed personnel costs, particularly for comparable projects, by making better use of information collected during the monitoring phase. This could then be better used to facilitate the identification of excessive costs.

  • The Commission should require the monitoring team to include in its assessments a critical analysis of the dissemination, sustainability and replication measures proposed by the beneficiary and of the potential barriers that might hinder them, both in its evaluation reports during the project implementation as well as in its ex-post visit reports.

  • The Commission should consider how to better encourage the dissemination and replication of project results by private beneficiaries who wish to protect their commercial interests.

  • The Commission should consider how to require the beneficiaries to electronically submit simple and updated information after the project completion (i.e. whether the project remains operational, whether the project is replicated, and if yes, how many times,). This would enable the Commission to efficiently improve its ex-post information on programme effectiveness.

The ECA has previously audited the sustainability and the Commission’s management of the LIFE-Nature projects in Special Report No 11/2009 available here: Report&y=2009

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