The European Commission announced on January 7 that it had approved its mid-term review of the most generous Structural Funds, those granted to the European Union's poorest and most sparsely populated areas. But the review also hints at where the Commission feels funding could be focused in the next period of programming, for 2000-2006.

The 39-page report provides overview of the mid-term evaluations carried out during current Structural Funds programming period for the so-called Objective 1 grants (for the EU's poorest areas), and Objective 6 (for the sparsely-peopled areas in Sweden and Finland). "The report shows important achievements, e.g. when it comes to reducing disparities in basic infrastructure, energy diversification or environmental improvements", it says. It also says explicitly that the analysis will lead "where necessary, to the adjustment of priorities and reallocation of budget within these programmes." In previous exercises, they have enabled a more effective deployment of resources, involving transfers in favour of the best 'performing' programmes as well as notable improvements in their quality, the report says. "The Mid-Term Evaluations are not an end in themselves but a means to improve the quality and relevance of programming."

The report looks at the impact of the aid from a number of perspectives: support for jobs, protecting the environment, promoting equal opportunities, training and retraining, and building infrastructure like telecommunications and transport links. Among the findings are:

* Economic activity in 1999 is expected to be 2% higher in South Italy and 5% in Spain compared to what it otherwise would be. Similarly, employment in East Germany will have risen by 1.5% and in Ireland by more than 3 %.

* There are important achievements in reducing disparities notably in basic infrastructures, e.g. in transport (improvement of four major corridors in Ireland; completion of the Athens-Thessalonika motorway built to date)

* telecommunications (in Portugal, the average density of...

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