A partnership agreement is defined by the European Commission as an agreement negotiated between the European Commission and national authorities of a Member State, following consultation of various levels of governance, representatives from interest groups, civil society and local and regional representatives.
The Commission states explicitly that in order to have maximum impact, national, regional and local authorities in EU countries must work together closely and in partnership with trade unions, employers, non-governmental organisations, and other bodies that promote, for example, social inclusion, gender equality and non-discrimination:
‘… involving partners in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating EU-funded projects enables EU countries to focus funds where the need is greatest and to make optimum use of resources’.
The starting point for partnership agreements was a position paper produced by the Commission services in 2012 for each Member State setting out how EU investments should support smart, sustainable and inclusive growth by focusing on key advantages and important growth sectors in regions and Member States.
The framework for partnership agreements comprises a new regulation (Regulation 1303/2013 of 17 December 2013) that came into force on 22 December 2013, governing EU investments for 2014–2020. These set out common rules for the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), ensuring a more strategic and complementary use of different sources of EU funding, and combining and simplifying their use for a better impact on growth and jobs. Under these rules, Member States are required to draw up and implement strategic plans (partnership agreements) with investment priorities covering five ESI Funds (the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development).
The regulations require each Member State to submit its partnership agreement to the Commission within four months from the entry into force of the Regulation – by 22 April 2014.
The Commission will then make observations within three months of the date of submission of the partnership agreement and will adopt it no later than four months from its submission, provided that the Member State has adequately taken into account the observations made by the Commission. Until the Partnership Agreement is adopted, no operational programmes cannot be approved. Operational programmes break down the investment priorities and objectives of the partnership agreements into concrete actions.
Progress on partnership agreements between the Commission and EU Member States can be tracked on the European Commission’s website.