The objectives of the Funds are pursued in the framework of a multiannual programming system organised in several stages comprising the identification of the priorities, the financing, and a system of management and control [Regulation 1083/2006]. The Council establishes at Union level concise strategic guidelines on economic, social and territorial cohesion defining an indicative framework for the intervention of the Funds, taking account of other relevant common policies. For each of the objectives of the Funds, those guidelines give effect to the priorities of the Union with a view to promoting its harmonious, balanced and sustainable development. The Member States present a national strategic reference framework which ensures that assistance from the Funds is consistent with the Union's strategic guidelines on cohesion. Each national strategic reference framework constitutes a reference instrument for preparing the programming of the Funds for the period 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2013. A Member State may present at the same time the national strategic reference framework and the operational programmes.
A national strategic reference framework is prepared by each Member State in partnership (i.e. close cooperation) with the Commission and appropriate authorities and bodies such as: (a) the competent regional, local, urban and other public authorities; (b) the economic and social partners; (c) any other appropriate body representing civil society and non-governmental organisations. The partnership covers the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of operational programmes. The implementation of operational programmes is the responsibility of Member States at the appropriate territorial level, in accordance with the institutional system specific to each Member State. However, the budget of the European Union allocated to the Funds is implemented within the framework of shared management between the Member States and the Commission in accordance with the Regulation applicable to the general budget of the European Union [Regulation 1605/2002, see section 3.4]. In accordance with their respective responsibilities, the Commission and the Member States ensure the coordination between the assistance from the Funds, the EAFRD, the EFF and the interventions of the EIB and of other existing financial instruments.
According to the principle of additionality, the contributions from the Structural Funds must not replace public or equivalent structural expenditure by a Member State. This principle means that the Funds provide assistance which complements national actions, including actions at the regional and local levels, integrating into them the priorities of the Union. In particular, the assistance co-financed by the Funds must target the European Union priorities of promoting competitiveness and creating jobs, including meeting the objectives of the Integrated Guidelines for Growth and Jobs (2005 to 2008) [Decision 2005/600 and Decision 2007/491]. To this end, the Commission and the Member States must ensure that 60% of expenditure for the Convergence objective and 75% of expenditure for the Regional competitiveness and employment objective for all the Member States of the European Union as constituted before 1 May 2004 is set for the abovementioned priorities. At their own initiative, Member States that acceded to the European Union on or after 1 May 2004 may decide to apply these provisions.
The activities of the Funds in the Member States take the form of operational programmes within the national strategic reference framework. An operational programme is a document submitted by a Member State and adopted by the Commission setting out a development strategy with a coherent set of priorities to be carried out with the aid of a Fund, or, in the case of the Convergence objective, with the aid of the Cohesion Fund and the ERDF. Each operational programme must cover a period between 1 January 2007 and 31 December 2013 and only one of the three objectives referred to above [see section 12.3.1], save as otherwise agreed between the Commission and the Member State. The Commission should appraise the proposed operational programme to determine whether it contributes to the goals and priorities of the national strategic reference framework and the Union's strategic guidelines on cohesion.
Operational programmes submitted under the Convergence objective must be drawn up at the appropriate geographical level and at least at NUTS level 2 [see section 12.1.1], but where there is a contribution from the Cohesion Fund, they must be drawn up at national level. Operational programmes submitted under the Regional competitiveness and employment objective must be drawn up at NUTS level 1 or NUTS level 2, in accordance with the institutional system specific to the Member State, for regions benefiting from financing by the ERDF. They must be drawn up by the Member State at the appropriate level if they are financed by the ESF. Operational programmes submitted under the European territorial cooperation objective for cross-border cooperation must be drawn up, as a general rule, for each border or group of borders by an appropriate grouping at NUTS level 3, including enclaves. However, interregional cooperation and exchange of experience programmes must relate to the whole territory of the European Union.
As part of an operational programme, the Structural Funds may finance expenditure in respect of an operation comprising contributions to support financial engineering instruments for enterprises, primarily small and medium-sized ones, such as venture capital funds, guarantee funds and loan funds, and for urban development funds, that is, funds investing in public-private partnerships and other projects included in an integrated plan for sustainable urban development. The Member State or the managing authority may entrust the management and implementation of a part of an operational programme, as a global grant, to one or more intermediate bodies, designated by the Member State or the managing authority, including local authorities, regional development bodies or non-governmental organisations.
A major project is an operation comprising a series of works, activities or services intended in itself to accomplish an indivisible task of a precise economic or technical nature, which has clearly identified goals and whose total cost exceeds EUR 25 million in the case of the environment and EUR 50 million in other fields. Operation is a project or group of projects selected by the managing authority of the operational programme concerned or under its responsibility according to criteria laid down by the monitoring committee and implemented by one or more beneficiaries. The beneficiary is an operator, body or firm, whether public or private, responsible for initiating or initiating and implementing operations. Intermediate body is any public or private body or service which acts under the responsibility of a managing or certifying authority, or which carries out duties on behalf of such an authority vis-à-vis beneficiaries implementing operations. Public expenditure is any public contribution to the financing of operations whose origin is either the budget of the State, of regional and local authorities or the budget of the Union. Irregularity is any infringement of a provision of European law resulting from an act or omission by an economic operator which has, or would have, the effect of prejudicing the general budget of the European Union by charging an unjustified item of expenditure to the general budget.