Between development and social policies: the impact of European Structural Funds in Objective 1 Regions
European regional support has grown in parallel with European integration. The funds targeted at achieving greater economic and social cohesion and reducing disparities within the European Union (EU) have more than doubled in relative terms since the end of the 1980s, making development policies the second most important policy area in the EU. The majority of the development funds have been earmarked for Objective 1 regions, i.e. regions whose GDP per capita is below the 75% threshold of the EU average. However, the European development policies have come under increasing criticism based on two facts: the lack of upward mobility of assisted regions and the absence of regional convergence. This paper assesses, using cross-sectional and panel data analyses, the failure so far of European development policies to fulfil their objective of delivering greater economic and social cohesion by examining how European Structural Fund support is allocated among different development axes in Objective 1 regions. We find that, despite the concentration of development funds on infrastructure and, to a lesser extent, on business support, the returns to commitments on these axes are not significant. Support to agriculture has short-term positive effects on growth, but these wane quickly, and only investment in education and human capital – which only represents about one eight of the total commitments – has medium-term positive and significant returns.
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