New options for financing rural development projects: Simpler but not focused on results
About the report Simplified cost options (SCOs) can bring simplification and may decrease the administrative burden for both beneficiaries and Member State authorities. However, they only constitute a small part of rural development spending during the 2014-2020 period. By basing payments on output, SCOs shift the focus away from invoices but do not increase the focus on results. We found that SCOs can keep the costs of rural development projects under control, but only if set at the right level and based on a fair, equitable and verifiable methodology.
Simplified Cost Options (SCOs) are a new method of reimbursement for certain rural development measures. Projects under these measures were, before 2014, reimbursed on the basis of costs incurred.II
Granting of support on the basis of reimbursement of costs incurred is difficult and prone to error. As a result, there has been great interest in looking at simpler methods of calculating the EU financial contribution to projects and activities. Member States may now (in the 2014-2020 period) choose from three new methods (known as SCOs) to establish the support payable:
- standard scales of unit costs;
- lump sums; and
- flat-rate financing.
This report presents the findings of our audit of SCOs in rural development. Our main objective was to assess whether SCOs lead to simplification while ensuring economy and producing better results. We examined whether SCOs:
- simplify administration;
- ensure economy; and
- are widely used and increase the focus on policy objectives.
Overall, we conclude that using SCOs can bring simplification and may decrease the administrative burden for both beneficiaries and Member State authorities. By basing payments on output, SCOs shift the focus away from invoices but do not increase the focus on results.V
We found that SCOs can keep the costs of rural development projects under control, but only if set at the right level and based on a fair, equitable and verifiable methodology. However, as the role of the Certification Bodies in auditing SCOs is not specified, this creates a risk which needs to be addressed.VI
We also noted that the new SCOs remain a marginal part of rural development spending. The main reasons for this are the diverse nature of rural development projects and the investment needed for developing methodologies.VII
Based on these findings, we make the following recommendations:
- The Commission should update its guidance on SCOs to cover key principles for developing methodologies.
- The Commission should clarify who is required to check the methodology and calculations for SCOs.
- To facilitate the appropriate use of SCOs, the Commission should explore the options for developing more optional off-the-shelf SCOs and update its definitions of key and ancillary controls to reflect the use of SCOs.
- The Commission should examine the potential for moving away from reimbursement of costs incurred towards reimbursement based on results, taking on board experience gained to date.
EU rural development policy01
The aim of the EU’s rural development policy is to help rural areas in the EU to address a wide range of economic, environmental and social challenges. The EU spends around 14 billion euro on this policy each year through the European Union (EU) budget. Rural development spending accounts for around 25 % of common agricultural policy (CAP) spending. Member state co-financing represents a further 7 billion euro annually.02
For around half of the spending on rural development from the EU budget, payment is based on farmed areas or animal numbers. For the remainder, support may take the form of fixed amounts or percentages linked to activities undertaken, or to the costs incurred by the beneficiary. Box 1 sets out the mechanisms involved.
How rural development support is paid
For the measures paid based on area or animals, support is granted annually and paid per hectare or livestock unit. The support is, according to the relevant legislation2, calculated on the basis of standard additional costs and income foregone.
The rural development regulation introduces fixed payment methods for certain measures3. For example, start-up aid for young farmers, new non-agricultural activities in rural areas and the development of small farms are paid as predefined amounts.
The remainder of the rural development support relates to investment measures in agriculture and forestry, basic services and village renewal, and cross-cutting measures such as knowledge transfer, innovation and cooperation. Projects funded under these measures were previously typically based on a system of reimbursement of costs incurred. This means that at the payment claim stage, the beneficiary submits the invoices and the Paying Agency checks their eligibility. The expenditure found eligible is then multiplied by the applicable support rate to arrive at the amount actually paid to the beneficiary.
Granting of support on the basis of reimbursement of costs incurred and paid is difficult and prone to error. We have found that errors in EU spending are concentrated in such support4. As a result, there has been great interest in looking at simpler methods of calculating the EU financial contribution to projects and activities. Member States may now (as of 2014) choose from three such methods5 (known as simplified cost options – SCOs) to establish the support payable:
- standard scales of unit costs;
- lump sums; and
- flat-rate financing.
This means in practice that all or a portion of the amount reimbursed is based on (for example): standard costs calculated according to a predefined method, units of project output, or percentages applied to other costs6 (see Figure 1). Combinations of the different types of SCOs are allowed.
The SCOs introduced in the 2014-2020 period are only relevant for the measures that are not paid based on area or animals or covered by fixed payment methods set out in the regulations (see paragraph 2). Figure 2 presents the planned 2014-2020 rural development funding, indicating the likely share of measures for which some costs may be paid on the basis of SCOs. The use of SCOs for these measures is a new development in rural development policy but other funds7 already used them during the 2007-2013 period.
1Discontinued measures are payments related to projects started during the 2007-2013 period for measures that are not used in 2014-2020 (early retirement of farmers and farm workers, meeting standards and training and information).
NB: The figure presents a rough split, as, fixed payment methods are established for parts of some measures, but no breakdown of the budgeted amounts at sub-measure level is available.
Source: ECA based on financial information from the Commission (retrieved 20 November 2017).06
- based on a fair, equitable and verifiable calculation method;
- set in accordance with the SCO rules applicable in other EU policies for a similar type of operation and beneficiary;
- set in line with a Member State’s national grant schemes for a similar type of operation and beneficiary;
- based on rates set by the regulations.
SCOs are not mandatory – the Member States are free to decide whether or not to use them.
Audit scope and approach08
Our audit covered the design and the first three years (2015-2017) of paying rural development support through SCOs. The measures concerned are included in Annex I.09
Our main objective was to assess whether SCOs lead to simplification while ensuring economy for the EU budget, and whether better results are achieved by using SCOs. To answer this main audit question, we examined whether SCOs:
- simplify administration;
- ensure economy; and
- are widely used and enhance the focus on policy objectives.
To obtain an overview of the use of SCOs, we screened the 118 Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) and selected 2010 of them for desk review11. We selected the following six RDPs for an audit visit: Flanders (Belgium), Denmark, Saxony (Germany), Canary Islands (Spain), Languedoc-Roussillon (France) and Sweden. During our audit visits, we compared Member State procedures and guidance for beneficiaries before and after introducing SCOs. We also compared project files and, in two Member States12, visited final beneficiaries.11
To understand the applicable rules and the Commission’s role, we reviewed the legal framework, Commission guidance to the Member States, and the Commission’s internal procedures and checklists. At the Commission we carried out interviews, reviewed correspondence with the Member States, and attended events where the Commission provided information about SCOs to the Member States.
The use of simplified cost options (SCOs) has simplified administration
They make it easier for beneficiaries to submit claims …12
Receiving aid for rural development projects is a two-stage process. Applicants first submit applications for support to the relevant authorities, which checks and approves projects based on eligibility and selection criteria. After completing the project, beneficiaries submit payment claims, which the Paying Agency checks before payment. This process is illustrated in Figure 3.
Applicants need to provide several documents when applying for support. Where the EU budget will reimburse a share of eligible costs, they often need to provide offers to demonstrate that expected costs are reasonable, and then submit invoices and proofs of payment with their payment claims. For one 2007-2013 project we examined in Sweden, in which a beneficiary built a cow shed, the two payment claims included 134 invoices and proofs of payment. This requirement extends to indirect costs (see Box 2).
Indirect costs are costs incurred by an organisation that are not directly attributable to a project. Examples of indirect costs can be office rent, insurance, office supplies, postage and telephone costs. These costs are eligible for some types of EU-funded project. When claiming indirect costs based on costs incurred, beneficiaries must provide supporting evidence for each item and justify the share of the cost allocated to the project (the distribution key). In addition, they must demonstrate that these costs are reasonable.
We reviewed applications for support and payment claims for 2014-2020 projects paid through SCOs and compared them to projects from the 2007-2013 period (when SCOs were not used) to assess whether the application and claim procedures became easier. In all six Member States visited, we found that beneficiaries of SCO-based projects do not need to submit offers with their applications nor invoices or proofs of payment with their payment claims. Table 1 provides examples of supporting documents attached to applications for support and to payment claims during 2007-2013 (reimbursement based on costs incurred) and 2014-2020 (reimbursement based on SCOs).
|Type of SCO||Stage||2014-2020 (with SCOs)||2007-2013 (no SCOs)|
|Flat rate: indirect costs paid as 15 % of eligible direct staff costs||Application for support||None||Detailed budget of indirect costs|
|Payment claim||None beyond those required to support the direct costs1||Invoices|
|Proofs of payment|
|Salary slips (if indirect costs include staff costs)|
|Calculation and justification of distribution key (i.e. proportion of indirect costs allocated to the project)|
|Unit costs for livestock housing paid per animal place or m2||Application for support||Template showing number of units, i.e. animal places or m2 (costs calculated automatically)||Detailed budget Offers|
|Payment claim||Intermediary payments (to support starting date and progress of works):||Cost specification Invoices Proofs of payment|
-invoice for the groundworks
-photo for building including floor, roof and walls
-Number of units achieved
1The direct staff costs must be supported by salary slips and evidence of the staff’s employment rate (full/part time), but this is the case irrespective of whether flat rates are based on staff costs.
NB: The table includes only the supporting documents affected by using SCOs.
Source: ECA, based on Member State documentation.15
Flat rate for social charges in Sweden
The Swedish Board of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Swedish European Social Fund Council and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, developed a common rate for social security charges. In Sweden, most projects include salaries and hence also social charges. These costs vary based on type of contract and age; they can involve multiple invoices from several organisations and usually complex calculations. Previously, many small beneficiaries did not apply for these charges as they considered it too cumbersome.
The picture shows the documents submitted by a beneficiary for one single payment claim in the 2007-2013 period when the social charges were not paid based on a flat rate.
… and while authorities face additional workload or costs when preparing methodology …16
Managing Authorities must13, if using SCOs, develop a methodology and calculate levels of payment (see paragraph 45 for an overview of the bodies involved at Member State level). This is additional work that is not needed when grants are paid based on costs incurred. To assess whether the time or costs for preparing the methodology and calculations is proportionate to the time savings throughout the period, we interviewed the Member State authorities visited and examined their documentation of methodology and calculations. Box 4 includes an example of the amount of work involved in developing the methodology.
The Canary Islands Managing Authority developed its methodology in-house
The Canary Islands Managing Authority developed unit costs for eight categories of investments in agricultural holdings (irrigation, adaptation of farms, plant material, farm buildings, general infrastructure, greenhouses and other infrastructure, agricultural machinery and general facilities). Each of these categories consists of multiple subcategories (up to 49 per category, 192 in total); the Canarian authorities calculated one unit cost for each of them. The document describing the methodology is 125 pages long, and includes references to other documents only available electronically.
During our desk review, we asked the authorities responsible for the 20 selected RDPs for their main reasons for not making more extensive use of SCOs.The most frequent explanation was the wide variety of projects and beneficiaries supported. Six14 out of 20 mentioned the administrative burden and time-consumed in designing methodologies.18
Three of the six Managing Authorities visited chose to outsource this task for at least some of their SCOs as they did not have the resources or expertise available in-house: Denmark, Languedoc-Roussillon and Sweden. Despite the additional workload or cost for developing SCOs, the Managing Authorities in the Member States visited found it worth investing in developing the SCO methodology, given the (expected) simplification and time savings at administration and beneficiary level during implementation.19
The legislator can include in the regulations rates and amounts to be used as SCOs. If these SCOs are ready to be used by the Member State authorities without preparing any methodology or calculations, these are called off-the-shelf SCOs. See Box 5 for examples of off-the-shelf SCOs currently available for rural development support15.
“Off-the-shelf” SCOs in rural development
Indirect costs: Member States authorities can calculate them as a flat rate of up to 15 % of eligible direct staff costs without having to prepare any calculation to justify the rate used.
Staff costs: Member State authorities can calculate the hourly rate by dividing the latest documented annual gross employment costs by 1 720 hours.
For off-the-shelf SCOs provided for in the regulation, such as flat rate compensation for indirect costs, the Managing Authorities do not need to justify the percentage used. This is particularly advantageous for the Member State authorities as they do not need to prepare any methodology, yet can reap the benefits from a simplified application and payment procedure.
… they save time during administrative checks21
Staff of the relevant authorities needs to carry out administrative checks on applications for support and payment claims. We investigated how these checks change when payments are made with SCOs, by examining relevant legislation16, Member State procedures and checks carried out for projects paid with and without SCOs. Table 2 provides examples of this.
|Type of SCO||Stage||2014-2020 (with SCOs)||2007-2013 (no SCOs)|
|Flat rate: indirect costs paid as 15 % of eligible direct staff costs||Application for support||None||Check on reasonableness of costs and justification of the distribution key|
|Payment claim||Calculation of 15 % of eligible staff costs1||Check on costs incurred and payments made:|
-Examination of invoices, proofs of payment, salary slips and time sheets (if salaries are included in indirect costs)
-Examination and recalculation of distribution key for indirect costs
|Unit costs for livestock housing paid per animal place or m2||Application for support||Verification of number of units compared to the project scope (costs calculated automatically)||Check on reasonableness of costs, through comparison of offers or another evaluation system such as reference costs|
|Payment claim||Verification of quantities claimed||Check on costs incurred and payments made:
-Examination of cost specification, invoices and proofs of payment
1The eligibility of the direct staff costs must be checked, but this is the case irrespective of whether flat rates are based on staff costs.
NB: The table includes only the administrative checks affected by using SCOs.
The Paying Agency staff in the six Member States visited told us that checking the reasonableness of costs17 used to be time-consuming, especially in the cases where clarifications were needed or the offers were not of sufficient quality. At the payment claim stage, Paying Agencies save time by not checking invoices or proofs of payment when payments are based on SCOs.23
Before making a payment, Paying Agency staff check compliance with the conditions for receiving support. They compare the completed operation with the operation for which support was granted and normally carry out a visit to verify that the operation has in fact been completed18. These checks do not change when using SCOs.24
For payments based on unit costs, Paying Agency staff needs to verify quantities. Member States can decide for themselves how to check this. Many of them use visits to the beneficiaries to verify the quantities and to ensure that the completed operation is in line with the aid decision. For operations not visited, the Member States need to find other means to verify the quantities involved and that the operation is genuine. The Canary Islands Paying Agency, for example, uses registers of agricultural vehicles to verify ownership, and Denmark uses satellite images to verify the existence of manure storage facilities.25
When using flat rates, the eligible costs are calculated as a percentage of other categories of eligible costs. All six19 RDPs selected for an audit visit use flat rates for indirect costs, and the Member State authorities cited this as a good illustration of simplification. An example is provided in Box 6.
Example of documentation for indirect costs
In Flanders, we compared payment claims, including supporting documentation, from before and after the flat rate was introduced. For the former, we found a single item of 12 euro which was supported by nine documents.
When using flat rates, beneficiaries do not have to submit such documents and the Member State authorities do not need to verify them.
The authorities in Saxony told us that the time taken to check payment claims has been cut by at least 50 % due to the reduced checks on indirect costs. In the previous period, verifying each invoice during checks on indirect costs took at least 10 minutes. If a beneficiary claimed rent costs for one year, the administrator would have to check 12 invoices and proofs of payment, which would take approximately 120 minutes. Now, the administrator only needs to check that the calculation of the 15 % indirect costs is correct and that no indirect costs are included in the list of invoices declared for direct costs, which takes about 10-15 minutes.27
The Swedish authorities estimated that checking indirect costs based on costs incurred took 3-5 hours per payment claim, compared to some 50 minutes using a flat rate.28
Our audit shows that using SCOs can lead to simplification and time savings, mainly for beneficiaries but also for relevant authorities. However, the advance investment needed for the Managing Authority to develop an SCO methodology needs to be proportionate to the expected time savings for authorities and beneficiaries from applying SCOs. This is one of the reasons for the low uptake of SCOs in rural development policy, as discussed below in paragraphs 48 to 50, 55 to 56.
Good use of SCOs can help contain the cost of rural development projects29
For projects funded on the basis of reimbursement of incurred costs, national authorities are required to check at the approval stage whether expected costs are reasonable. Both DG AGRI and ECA reports have highlighted weaknesses in these checks (see Box 7).
Reasonableness of costs when grants are paid based on costs incurred
For projects supported based on reimbursement of costs incurred and paid, national authorities typically check whether the project costs claimed are reasonable by: a) examining offers submitted by the applicant together with the application for support, or b) by comparing them with reference prices20.
For the 2014-2016 period, out of 193 projects examined, 66 (34 %) provided insufficient evidence showing that costs were reasonable21. The Court has previously questioned22 whether the Commission and the Member State authorities use the most effective approaches to keep the costs of rural development grants under control.
When SCOs are used, these checks are considered covered by developing a sound methodology. Effective use of SCOs can keep the costs of rural development projects under control. Achieving this requires SCOs to be set at the right level, based on a sound methodology, regularly reviewed and updated when needed. Errors in the calculations would mean all projects using the rates would be affected by the same error.
We found good examples of methodology and calculations …31
We set out to examine the methodologies developed by the Member States visited. We noted that most of the measures supported by the EARFD during the 2014-2020 period are similar to those supported in 2007-201323. Many Member States therefore have access to historical data on actual costs incurred and paid for operations in the previous period. An example of unit costs based on historical data is provided in Box 8.
Methodology based on historical data in Denmark
Some areas are particularly important for biodiversity. In Denmark, farmers are paid to fence off such areas for grazing on the basis of unit costs. Danish authorities used data from previous projects to develop such unit costs. The calculation is based on the cheapest offers submitted together with 82 applications for support during 2013-2014. They split the offers for these applications into 1-2 wire (52 offers) and 3-4 wire (30 offers) fences, and calculated unit costs as an average of these offers. The calculations resulted in unit costs of 19 DKK (around 2.50 euro)/m for 1-2 wire fences and 28 DKK (around 3.75 euro)/m for 3-4 wire fences.
If fewer than 20 offers of good quality were available for a specific type of expenditure, they carried out market research. They also analysed the spread of the data to ensure the equitable treatment of beneficiaries and concluded that the variation in costs between different regions and for the different materials used was not large enough to justify diversifying SCOs on that basis. Danish authorities plan to assess the need to update their SCO calculation before each annual application round and consider adjusting their SCOs based on a price index.
Member States using SCOs generally do not have the means to continue monitoring actual costs. This is because when Paying Agencies switch to making payments based on SCOs, they cease collecting information on real costs. They therefore may not have relevant data available to update their calculations. Because of this in Saxony (Germany), authorities had involved consultants to develop new methodologies based on external expert data in order to update their SCOs when historical data is no longer available.
… but in some cases the underlying data were not available …33
To assess whether a methodology is fair and equitable, it has to be verifiable. Auditors need to have access to the data underlying the SCO calculation as long as the SCO is used24. We selected individual elements of the calculations and traced them back to the source data in order to check verifiability.34
The methodology described in Box 8 (see paragraph 31) provides an example where we could easily trace the selected items back to the underlying data. However, we found issues with the verifiability of some of the methodologies developed for unit costs. DG AGRI’s auditors reported similar findings on verifiability in two25 of the six audits that they have carried out to date covering SCOs.35
In our limited selection of examples, the issues we found related to cases where authorities had outsourced calculations. In Sweden, the Managing Authority had no access to the data underlying some of the calculations and instead relied on independent reviews. In Denmark, the set-up of the outsourcing involved three layers of consultants and complicated the verification process, as explained in Box 9.
Involving multiple consultants can complicate verification
The Danish authorities outsourced the development of SCOs to Consultant A. No historical data was available for livestock housing. Consultant A hired a subcontractor (Consultant B) to define unit costs, whom, in turn, requested data from Consultant C. In addition, an independent body reviewed the calculations based on its own expertise and data sources. The figure below gives an overview of the parties involved in developing the unit costs for livestock housing in Denmark.
Around one third of the underlying data was not available at the time of our audit. The Danish authorities informed us that they would need to sign a new contract with the third layer of consultants (Consultant C) in order to obtain the underlying data to support the estimates. Outsourcing and using data from a hierarchy of consultants complicated the process of verifying the calculations and made it time-consuming. The Danish authorities could have avoided this by requesting the underlying data from Consultant A, with whom they signed a contract, or stipulating in the contract that the calculations had to be verifiable.
… or data used for the calculations were not sufficiently justified36
Calculations are fair if they are based on reality, and the assumptions and data used for the methodology are well justified26. We set out to examine whether this was the case by checking the methodology for selected SCOs in the Member States we visited. We also tested the calculations by tracing a sample of items back to the source data (see also paragraphs 33 to 35). In most cases, we found that the methodology and calculations were sound.37
In one Member State visited, authorities could not justify the data used. The Canary Islands’ methodology for unit costs and lump sums states that three offers or invoices are sufficient to establish an SCO. The amount of data used in the actual calculations varies, but on several occasions, the authorities could not justify why and how the specific data used had been selected. An example is provided in Box 10.
Member State authorities could not always explain their selection of data for the SCO calculations
In one calculation of unit costs for greenhouses, the Canarian authorities used 12 source documents (invoices and offers), of which only four were invoices from past projects. They could not provide us with the total number of invoices available from the 2007-2013 period. Nor were they able to explain how and why they had selected the 12 source documents used in the calculation.
To calculate a lump sum for organising one-day events, the authorities used an average of offers from three hotels, two of which belong to the same hotel group. The Canarian authorities could not explain how or why they had selected those three hotels. Furthermore, the offers used for the calculations included VAT, which is not eligible for rural development support27.
In other cases, for calculating the SCOs the authorities used offers that are not comparable. An example is provided in Box 11, which also shows that using SCOs does not always bring added value compared to the reimbursement of costs incurred.
Lump sum based on incomparable offers that did not lead to any savings
On the Canary Islands, local action groups that participate in at least two fairs can receive support through a lump sum payment covering the participation fees. The Canarian authorities calculated the lump sum as the average cost of five events multiplied by two. The five events are related to agriculture and livestock, crafts and restoration. Beneficiaries receive the lump sum payment for visiting any two of the events.
Had these activities been reimbursed based on costs incurred, the beneficiary would probably have had to submit two invoices and proofs of payment to substantiate the costs. He or she would also probably have had to submit an invoice or attendance certificate to prove that he or she had attended the two fairs in order to receive the lump sum payment. In this case, using a lump sum payment hardly reduced the volume of documents the beneficiary needed to submit or the number of checks the Paying Agency needed to carry out. Nor did it help to keep project costs under control, as the variation between the offers demonstrates.
Abolition of the independent certification requirement brings new challenges39
An independent check is important to ensure that SCOs are based on fair, equitable and verifiable methodologies. Independent checks on the design of an SCO can be carried out before the implementation (‘ex-ante’) or during or after the implementation (‘ex-post’). We set out to obtain an overview of the checks carried out on SCO methodology and found that, for rural development, there had recently been a change in the rules.40
The introduction of SCOs for rural development was accompanied by a mandatory independent body statement28. This was the only independent ex-ante control measure. Recent changes to the legislation29 mean that investment measures are no longer covered by these statements. As a result, from 2018 onwards there will be no mandatory independent checks on SCO methodologies and calculations. However, the Managing Authorities will still have the option of involving an independent body to establish or review the methodology and calculations.
The Commission does not examine methodology and calculations during approval of RDPs, but only in some selected audits …41
The Commission reviews and approves RDPs30. Validation of the SCO calculations is not part of the RDP approval process.42
The Commission carries out audits to verify that payments are in conformity with applicable laws31. The Commission auditors examine methodologies and calculations if they select expenditure made using SCOs. In 2017, most of the expenditure covered in the audits still related to measures from the 2007-2013 period and was paid based on costs incurred.43
Errors in an SCO methodology may affect all projects using the SCO in question. Several Member States32 expressed concerns about potential financial corrections and mentioned this as a barrier to using SCOs. Like other financial corrections imposed by the Commission’s auditors, their impact is limited to 24 months of expenditure33.44
For the European Social Fund, the Commission can, at the request of a Member State, validate the SCO methodology and calculations ex-ante. It does this by adopting a delegated act34, which creates legal certainty for the Member State. As none of the other European Structural and Investment Funds opted for this mechanism in the Omnibus proposal35, it will remain limited to the European Social Fund.
… and the role of Certification Bodies in auditing SCOs is not specified45
Three national bodies are involved in the management and control of funds; their responsibilities relating to SCOs are described in Figure 4.
Independent Certification Bodies issue an annual opinion covering the Paying Agencies’ annual accounts, the functioning of the internal control system and the legality and regularity of expenditure36. The Commission’s guidelines37 for the Certification Bodies do not mention SCOs38.47
To ensure that costs are kept under control, it is important to set SCOs at the right level. The issues we found with the calculations show that an independent check is needed.
The new SCOs covered a small part of total spending on rural development48
At the time of our audit the Commission did not have an overview of the proportion of spending covered by SCOs. Our selection of RDPs included those with the highest apparent use of SCOs39, yet we did not find any examples of a full measure being implemented by SCOs.49
Each rural development measure is divided in several sub-measures, which in turn cover many different types of projects. From our desk review of 20 RDPs we found that the use of SCOs was limited to certain types of projects or expenditure. See Figure 5 for an example.
When only part of a sub-measure or a specific type of costs are reimbursed by SCOs, it is not possible to trace the amounts involved. Budgeting within RDPs only extends down to measures, and Member States generally only monitor payments per project (i.e. not for each type of expenditure). However, to demonstrate the impact of SCOs on one particular RDP (Wallonia), in which there are two measures using SCOs, Figure 6 shows the proportion of the budget for these two measures accounted for by SCOs. For these two measures, the programme uses a 14 % flat rate for indirect costs.
The measures where SCOs are used in the 20 RDPs selected for our desk review are included in Annex I. The most frequently used SCOs are off-the-shelf ones (see paragraph 19); most of the 20 RDPs use flat rates for indirect costs. Figure 7 shows how the different types of SCOs are commonly used.
Unit costs are mostly used for staff costs40, travelling costs or accommodation allowance41. For full projects, unit costs are mostly used for investments in physical assets42. Figure 8 shows the types of SCOs used in the six RDPs selected for an audit visit.
SCOs were not given priority in the preparation of the 2014-2020 RDPs, but the Commission does encourage their use53
Parliament and Council approved the rules for the 2014-2020 period in December 201343. The four DGs44 responsible for the European Structural and Investment Funds prepared a common guidance document45 (the Commission guidance on SCOs), and published the final document in September 2014. Figure 9 shows the timeline for the preparation of the 2014-2020 RDPs.
The four DGs managing the European Structural and Investment Funds have commissioned a study on SCOs, which is currently ongoing. The study collects information, through a survey, about measures and types of SCOs used in each of the funds, the amounts involved and the projects implemented using SCOs, as well as the benefits of using SCOs. The Commission aims to use this information when developing the rural development framework for the next period (post-2020).
The wide variety of measures and beneficiaries make it difficult to use SCOs, but they can be used for a wide range of investments55
For the 2014-2020 period, there are 118 different RDPs in the 28 Member States, with 20 single national programmes and eight Member States opting for regional programmes46. Depending on specific economic, natural or structural conditions, RDPs can include up to 20 measures contributing to the achievement of the EU’s rural development priorities47.56
Using SCOs makes most sense when there are a certain number of similar operations or types of expenditure. The authorities responsible for the 20 RDPs selected for our desk review cited diverse types of operations and beneficiaries as the main reason for not using SCOs more extensively. The measures supported by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) are divided into sub-measures. There are 49 different sub-measures for which SCOs can be used (listed in Annex I). Many different types of projects and/or expenditure can be supported under each sub-measure.57
Despite the diversity of projects and types of expenditure in rural development policy, we found examples of where SCOs had been developed for a wide range of investments. For instance, the Canary Islands RDP includes unit costs for eight categories of investments in agricultural holdings, see Box 12.
Unit costs can be developed for a wide range of investments, but they only bring advantages when applied to a certain number of projects
The Canarian authorities have developed separate unit costs for eight categories of investments in agricultural holdings: irrigation, adaptation of farms, plant material, farm buildings, general infrastructure, greenhouses and other infrastructure, agricultural machinery and general facilities. Each of these categories consists of multiple sub-categories (up to 49 per category, 192 in total); the Canarian authorities calculated one unit cost for each of them.
However, when the number of projects is limited for a certain type of investment, SCOs do not add any value. For example, the Canarian authorities have developed a unit cost for purchase of a mist collector. The unit cost is based on one offer from the only supplier available. At the time of our audit, only one project had purchased a mist collector. Rural development projects make least use of lump sums. Three of the six Member States visited48 indicated that they chose not to use lump sums because they considered them riskier. In order to receive a lump sum payment, a beneficiary must fulfil all conditions – partial payments are not possible.59
The Member States also have the possibility of combining different types of SCOs for one type of project, so can limit lump sums to activities where all conditions need to be fulfilled in order to achieve the desired results. For example, the Canary Islands RDP includes all three SCO types – unit costs, lump sums and flat rates – for projects supported under the measures on cooperation and on support for Leader local development (see Box 13). The option of combining different types of SCOs provides flexibility in the way SCOs can be used.
Example of how different SCOs can be used for one project
For projects supported under the measure on cooperation, beneficiaries on the Canary Islands can receive payments combined from the three types of SCOs. For example, a payment for a project creating and developing short supply chains and a local market could be made up of:
- A lump sum for promotional activities in written press and specialised magazines to raise awareness about, and communicate the benefits of, the short supply chain and local market;
- Unit costs for staff costs involved in the project; and
- A flat rate of 15 % for indirect costs.
Member State authorities can take advantage of methodologies or rates already developed for national or EU schemes when they introduce SCOs. We found several RDPs49 using travel allowances or unit costs for staff costs from national systems. However, based on our desk review of 20 RDPs, Member State authorities rarely use experience from other policy areas when developing SCOs. We found just two examples of this (see Box 14).
Examples of using an existing methodology
Tuscany’s RDP uses unit costs and lump sums50 for supported projects promoting vocational training and skills acquisition. The RDP uses three different unit costs for training activities, depending on their length (less than 20 hours; 21 to 60 hours; more than 60 hours) and a lump sum for coaching activities. The amounts set for unit costs and lump sums are based on methodologies already developed and used during 2007-2013 and 2014-2020 by the regional Operational Programme on competitiveness and employment, funded by the European Social Fund.
Cyprus’ RDP uses unit costs for travel and daily allowances from Erasmus+ for short-term farm and forest management exchanges and farm and forest visits.
Member State authorities are concerned about Commission audits61
During our audit visits, several Member State authorities mentioned that they were uncertain as to how the Commission examines SCOs, and some cited this as a barrier to using SCOs51. During visits to Member States Commission staff check Member States’ management and control systems using a list of key and ancillary controls52. We examined DG AGRI’s audit approach and found that their definitions of these controls had not been updated for the introduction of SCOs. Updating the Commission’s definitions of key and ancillary controls to reflect SCOs is one way to address the Member States’ concerns. The checks relevant to SCOs are presented in Figure 10.
Despite the challenges discussed above, five of the six Member State authorities visited envisage more extensive use of SCOs in the future. For instance, Sweden wanted to use lump sums more in its initial 2014-2020 RDP but was limited by the (now abolished) provision that SCOs must be approved ex-ante53.
Recent changes to the legislation may encourage more use of SCOs in rural development64
In September 2016, the Commission proposed changes54 to several provisions that affect the implementation of rural development policy. In October 2017, Council and Parliament agreed to remove, with effect from 2018, a rural development-specific provision55 that limited the use of SCOs.65
The agreed changes further harmonise the rules between the European Structural and Investment Funds and increase the possibilities of using SCOs. The abolition of an ex-ante certification of the methodology and calculations for the EAFRD may facilitate wider use of SCOs. The ex-ante certification meant that SCOs had to be established at an earlier stage for the EAFRD than was the case, for example, for the European Social Fund. For the latter, it is sufficient to establish SCOs no later than at the time of granting the aid, which is now also the case for the EAFRD. Further proposals affecting the use of SCOs for the EAFRD are still being discussed by Council and Parliament; they are outlined in Box 15. If adopted, these additional changes will widen use of SCOs.
Proposed changes to the legislation increase the possibilities of using SCOs
Proposed amendments of Article 67 and 68 of Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 would mean:
- Ceiling for lump sums abolished;
- Draft budgets established on a case-by-case basis allowed for all European Structural and Investment funds;
- Direct staff costs for an operation may be calculated at a flat rate of up to 20 % of direct costs other than the staff costs for that operation; and
- A flat rate of up to 40 % of eligible staff costs may be used to cover the remaining eligible costs for an operation without Member States needing to calculate the applicable rate.
The possibility of basing SCOs on a draft project budget means that SCOs can be established for an individual operation while assessing the application for support. Swedish and Finnish authorities informed us that they had already considered using lumps sums based on draft budget for several measures until the Commission informed them that this was not possible for the EAFRD56.
SCOs have not been linked to a greater focus on results
SCOs shift the focus from invoices to output but do not lead to greater focus on results67
One reason given to promote more extensive use of SCOs is the potential for increased focus on output and results. The Commission guidance on SCOs includes several references to this effect57. For RDPs selected for an audit visit, we examined individual projects to check that the Member State authorities focused their verifications on output or results rather than invoices, and whether the eligibility of the SCO payment had been determined based on the achievement of planned output or results. We also compared payments made with and without SCOs.68
We found examples of project output and results contributing to a measure’s objectives (see Box 16 for one of them), but no indication that the results achieved were better than they would have been with reimbursement of costs incurred.
Output-based payments in Saxony
Saxony’s RDP finances building natural stone walls on the basis of unit costs. Natural stone walls are intended to help to restore, preserve and enhance biodiversity in steep and hilly vineyards. Payments are based on m2 of wall constructed.
Beneficiaries apply for aid only after receiving an assessment of the environmental value from a nature protection expert. After completing the project, beneficiaries claim the number of units (m2) realised. The Saxon authorities visit the beneficiaries to verify the quantities claimed. They explained that this, together with the nature protection expert’s assessment, is how they ensure that project output contributes to achieving the desired results.
SCOs could be differentiated based on desired results, as long as they reflect costs and equal treatment of beneficiaries is ensured. This is one of several possibilities for achieving a greater focus on results (others include using selection criteria and varying the ‘aid intensity’, i.e. the percentage of the project supported by the EAFRD). We did not find any examples of where this had been done in practice.70
The Commission monitors the implementation of rural development policy through the Common Monitoring and Evaluation System (CMES). The CMES sets indicators58 at EU level: reporting from Member States needs to be comparable in order for any evaluation of the policy to be meaningful. The indicators are meant to reflect policy objectives, thus we looked for a link between these and the payments as illustrated with a fictive example in Figure 11.
In most cases, we could not establish a direct link between the payments for the selected projects and the indicators. In reality, CMES indicators, set at EU level, do not monitor the implementation of rural development policy at project level, so it would not be feasible to base SCO payments on them. Nevertheless, in order to monitor the results of the policy, operations financed under the EAFRD need to be clearly linked to one of its objectives. Improving the link between payments and objectives for individual projects could contribute to a greater focus on achieving objectives.
The Commission has proposed moving towards results-based payments72
Recent proposed changes to the legal framework59 also introduce, in addition to more possibilities for using SCOs, the option of results-based payments. Specifically, the Commission proposed that Article 67 of European Parliament and Council Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 include the option of financing that is not linked to costs for the relevant operation but is rather based on meeting conditions related to progress in implementation or the achievement of programme objectives.
Conclusions and recommendations73
Using SCOs has several potential advantages. The administrative burden may decrease as there is no need to trace every euro back to individual supporting documentation. The beneficiaries provide, and the Member State authorities check, fewer documents.74
By basing the payments on output, SCOs shift the focus away from invoices but do not increase the focus on results. SCOs can keep the costs for rural development projects under control, but only if they are based on a sound methodology and fair, equitable and verifiable calculations. Planned results-based payments have the potential to increase the emphasis on performance and generate a greater focus on achieving objectives.75
Our audit shows a shift and overall reduction of the administrative burden. While Managing Authorities invest (time or money) in methodology and calculations in advance, staff saves time when checking applications for support and payment claims and beneficiaries have fewer documents to submit (see paragraphs 13 to 18, 21 to 22, 26).76
If SCOs are used effectively, they can keep the costs of rural development projects under control. However, ensuring costs are reasonable requires the application of a sound methodology so that levels of financing are set at the right level (see paragraphs 33 to 38).77
Although there is no legal requirement to update the methodology or calculations, based on the principles of sound financial management the calculations should be up to date for the SCO to reflect reality.
The Commission should update its guidance on SCOs to cover key principles for developing methodologies. This should include:
- minimum data-requirements;
- acceptable variation in prices used; and
- consideration of data sets containing extreme values and volatile data.
Target implementation date: 2018.78
The Commission does not assess the SCO methodology or calculations during its approval of the RDPs. DG AGRI auditors cover SCOs in their audits if they select payments made with SCOs, but do not systematically select Member States or RDPs using SCOs. Certification Bodies are functionally independent bodies but their role in auditing SCOs is not specified. This leads to a risk that SCOs are not examined by an independent body (see paragraphs 40 to 47). In this context, the requirements and principles included in Annex II.1 and II.2 could be relevant for bodies using and checking SCOs, including the Certification Bodies (see paragraph 62).
The Commission should clarify who is required to check the methodology and calculation of SCOs.
Specifically, the Commission should, taking into account the assurance requirements set out in Annex II.1, clarify the Certification Bodies’ role and include in its guidance for the Certification Bodies specific reference to the audit of SCOs and related internal control systems.
Target implementation date: 2018.79
Our audit shows that SCOs remain a marginal part of rural development spending. The most significiant reason for this is the difficulty of establishing cost measures for a large and diverse range of projects, activities and beneficiaries. This contributes to the significant investment needed to develop the SCO methodology. Developing SCOs is only useful where many projects are similar or have similar expenditure. SCOs are not suitable to all types of operations and expenditure but could still be used more often and better (see paragraphs 16 to 17, 48 to 51). While the regulations allow use of SCO methodologies and rates developed in other policy areas, we found that Member States rarely take advantage of this possibility.80
The legislator can include in the regulations rates and amounts to be used as SCOs. A particular advantage with these off-the-shelf SCOs is that Member State authorities do not have to establish any methodology or calculations (see paragraphs 19 to 20). However it is important that such rates be soundly based, and properly coordinated with costs financed on the basis of invoices and other documentation.
To facilitate the appropriate use of SCOs, the Commission should
- explore the options for further developing soundly based off-the-shelf SCOs; and
- update its definitions of key and ancillary controls to reflect the use of SCOs.
Target implementation date: 2018.81
Although the Commission promotes an increased focus on output and results as one of the reasons for using SCOs, we have not found an increased focus on results. SCOs shift the focus from invoices to output, but we found no indications that better results were achieved with SCO payments compared to reimbursement of costs incurred.82
The new results-based payments introduced in the Commission’s Omnibus proposal open up for the possibility to make payments that are not tied to costs. Their success will depend on the Commission’s guidance and on the Member States’ willingness to take up this new form of financing.
The Commission should examine the potential for moving away from reimbursement of costs incurred towards reimbursement based on results. In doing so, the Commission should take on board experience gained from introducing SCOs.
Target implementation date: 2018.
This Special Report was adopted by Chamber I, headed by Mr Phil WYNN OWEN, Member of the Court of Auditors, in Luxembourg at its meeting of 7 March 2018.
For the Court of Auditors
Rural development measures where SCOs are used for 20 RDPs
|Measure||Sub- measure||Flanders (Belgium)||Wallonia (Belgium)||Bulgaria||Denmark||Saxony (Germany)||Estonia||Ireland||Greece||Spain||Languedoc-Roussillon (France)||Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (France) (France)||Croatia||Tuscany (Italy)||Veneto (Italy)||Cyprus||Luxembourg||Netherlands||Austria||Finland||Sweden|
|Knowledge transfer and information actions||1.1||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Advisory services, farm management and farm relief services||2.1||X||X||X|
|Quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs||3.1|
|Investments in physical assets||4.1||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|Restoring agricultural production potential damaged by natural disasters and introduction of appropriate prevention||5.1|
|Farm and business development||6.4|
|Basic services and village renewal in rural areas||7.1||X||X||X||X|
|Investments in forest area development and improvement of the viability of forests||8.1||X||X||X||X||X|
|Forest environmental, climate services and conservation||15.2|
|Support for LEADER local development (CLLD)||19.1||X||X||X||X||X||X||X|
|No of sub-measures where SCOs are used||21||6||13||4||12||14||1||1||9||10||9||6||1||7||6||0||14||21||18||17|
|Total no of non-area/animal related sub-measures in the RDP||30||18||29||21||20||28||14||30||31||23||23||26||36||32||26||8||16||36||25||26|
|% of sub-measures using SCOs||70%||33%||45%||19%||60%||50%||7%||3%||29%||43%||39%||23%||3%||22%||23%||0%||88%||58%||72%||65%|
NB: The list includes the 49 rural development sub-measures where SCOs can be used in the 2014-2020 period. There are no sub-measures fully implemented by SCOs. SCOs are only used for specific types of projects or expenditure supported under the respective sub-measures.
Source: ECA based on Member State information and the measures defined in Regulation (EU) No 808/2014.
1. Assurance on SCOs
|Introduction: We discussed these key requirements with the Commission services responsible for the European Structural and Investment Funds; they are relevant for all bodies using and checking SCOs. The extent to which these requirements will be covered in a particular audit depends both on the scope of the work performed and on the extent of the use of SCOs in expenditure examined.|
|Design (methodology and calculations of SCOs)||The MS uses only SCOs that are allowed under EU and national rules.||Analyse the EU and national rules:
●ensure that the type of SCOs used are compatible with these; and
●identify any limitations to the types of operations for which SCOs can be used and verify that SCOs are being used for types of operations and cost categories that are allowed.
|The SCO is established based on one of the methods allowed in the legislation.||Analyse the EU and national rules and identify the methods allowed for establishing SCOs.
Verify that the SCO is established using one of the methods identified in the legislation (e.g. a fair, equitable and verifiable calculation method, use of existing EU or national schemes, use of specific rates or methods from the regulations).
If specific rates or methods specified in the regulations are used, there is no need to check the design.
|The SCO covers only eligible costs.||Ensure that the methodology for defining the SCO includes only costs that are eligible based on EU and national rules.|
|If a combination of SCOs or different reimbursement mechanisms is used for the same operation, double declaration of costs is avoided.||Verify that a single type of expenditure for an individual beneficiary can only be financed once.
If an operation is partially reimbursed based on real costs actually incurred, verify that these costs are not also paid as part of the SCO.
If a lump sum and unit costs are used for the same type of operation, verify that the calculation of the lump sum does not cover the elements reimbursed based on unit costs.
For flat rates, ensure that there is a comprehensive definition of, and a clear distinction between, the cost categories to which the rate is applied and the cost category reimbursed by the flat rate.
|If SCOs are based on existing EU or national schemes, these schemes should address similar types of beneficiaries and operations.||Assess whether the types of beneficiaries and operations supported by the SCO are similar. Check this on a case-by-case basis, for instance by assessing whether the type of beneficiary would have been eligible under the EU/national scheme used as a basis for the SCO.
Verify that the parameters used from the existing methodology (for example the geographical scope) are also valid for the types of operations for which it will be used.
|The calculation of the SCO is fair: reasonable and based on reality, not excessive or extreme.||Verify that the MS authorities have justified their assumptions and data used for the methodology and SCO calculation.|
|The SCO calculation is equitable: it does not favour some beneficiaries or operations over others.||Analyse the SCO amounts or rates and verify that the assumptions and data used to establish them are based on average operations/beneficiaries or, alternatively, that amounts or rates are diversified based on objective justifications.|
|The SCO calculation is verifiable: based on documentary evidence that can be verified as long as the SCO is in use.||Verify that the body determining the SCO has kept adequate records of:
●the description of the methodology (including key steps of the calculation);
●the sources of the data used, including an assessment of the relevance and quality of the data; and
●the calculation itself.Verify the data used for the SCO calculation on a sample basis and ensure that there is an adequate audit trail.
|Design - Management and control system (only insofar as it concerns SCOs)||The management and control system includes relevant checks related to the design of SCOs.||Check the MS procedures and assess whether they include provisions for a functionally independent review of the methodology and calculations of SCOs.
Check that the review is carried out when relevant and that it covers the applicable above key requirements.
|Implementation (payments based on SCOs)||SCOs used in practice are established in advance.||Examine the call for proposals and ensure that it includes a reference to the use of SCOs.
By examination of the document setting out the conditions for support, verify that the SCO amount or rate used was communicated at the latest in the aid decision.
|The deliverable expected from the beneficiary to receive a SCO-based payment is clearly defined.||Verify in the document setting out the conditions for support for a sample of operations that the pre-defined terms of agreement clearly specify the deliverable required in order to receive the SCO-based payment.|
|The payment is granted only if the pre-defined deliverables are completed.||Verify that the pre-defined deliverables are completed and that the conditions for receiving support are met (through physical inspection or by obtaining other concluding evidence).
For lump sums and unit costs: verify that the pre-defined conditions have been fulfilled. For unit costs, verify the number of actual eligible units.
For flat-rate financing, verify that the amount established is based on categories of eligible costs defined in the methodology. Verify the actual costs incurred and paid to which the rate is applied and ensure that these are in accordance with the document setting out the conditions for support.
|The methodology is properly applied and the payment based on SCOs is correctly calculated.||Check that the calculation of the payment is based on the SCO established in accordance with the applicable rules at the time of granting the support (if the rate or amount of the SCO has been revised, check that the correct rates are used).
Test the calculation of the payment mathematically for a sample of operations (unit costs: number of implemented units multiplied with the unit cost, lump sum: equals aid decision, flat-rates: % of the defined categories of costs).
In the event that the value of the costs to which the flat rate is applied was modified, verify that the amount calculated based on the flat rate was also proportionally adjusted.
|Implementation - Management and control system (only insofar as it concerns SCOs)||The management and control system includes relevant checks related to implementation of operations with SCOs.
||Review the MS procedures and assess whether they include administrative checks on the realisation of the operation, fulfilment of the pre-defined terms, and verification of the units (for unit costs) and the categories of eligible costs (for flat-rate financing).|
|The administrative checks defined in the management and control system are operating effectively.
||For a sample of payments, examine the administrative checks and verify that they were carried out in accordance with the checks defined in the management and control system.|
2. Performance of SCOs
|Introduction: This section provides examples of principles which may be relevant for auditing performance; other may be developed depending on the scope of the audit. In addition, audit criteria will need to be developed for each of the principles.|
|Economy||The SCOs are set at the right level.||Check that, for a given level of outputs or results, the SCOs could not have been designed or implemented in a way which would have resulted in significantly lower costs.|
|The need for indexation or updating the methodology and data used for the calculation is evaluated periodically.||Verify (through examination of procedures, previous updates or inquiry) that the MS authorities periodically evaluate the need for updating the assumptions used for the SCO methodology and the data used for the calculation. Check that the calculations have been updated if relevant.
If SCOs are based on existing EU or national schemes, check whether the methodology used for the original scheme was modified during the period, and if this was the case, verify that the SCO has been modified accordingly.
|Efficiency||The time spent on and cost of preparing the SCO methodology and calculations is proportionate to the savings during implementation throughout the period.||Enquire about the resources needed for establishing the methodology as compared to the time savings during implementation. Analyse whether using SCOs for this particular type of operation, beneficiary and/or cost category is efficient.|
|The administrative checks are simplified to reflect the use of SCOs.||Examine the MS procedure and checklists for administrative checks to ensure that:
●the costs actually incurred are not checked for categories of expenditure reimbursed by SCOs;
●expenditure certified to the Commission is calculated on the basis of certified quantities;
●for unit costs and lump sums the checks are focused on output and outcome; and
●for flat rates, the verification focuses on the eligible costs to which the rate is applied.
|Effectiveness||SCOs are focused on achieving output and results.||Check that the deliverables expected from the beneficiary in order to receive an SCO-based payment are clearly linked to achieving policy objectives.|
Calculation (in the context of SCOs): The mathematical determination of the SCO amount/rate.
Common Monitoring and Evaluation System (CMES): A system drawn up in cooperation between the Commission and the Member States to measure the progress and achievements of rural development policy, and assess the impact, effectiveness, efficiency and relevance of rural development support.
European Structural and Investment Funds: Five EU spending instruments set for a seven-year budgetary period: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the European Social Fund (ESF), the Cohesion Fund (CF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).
Financial corrections: Reductions in the amounts the Commission reimburses Member States for activities carried out under shared management to take account of system weaknesses, late or erroneous payments, and other deficiencies.
Flat rate: One of the simplified cost options. Specific categories of eligible costs which are clearly identified in advance. Calculated by applying a percentage set in advance to one or several other categories of eligible costs.
Lump sums: One of the simplified cost options. A lump sum is the payment in full of a grant (calculated in advance) to a project once the agreed activities and/or outputs have been completed.
Measure: An aid scheme for implementing a policy. A measure defines the rules, such as eligibility and selection criteria, for the projects that can be financed.
Methodology (in the context of SCOs): The method used to calculate the SCO.
Off-the-shelf SCOs: SCOs established in a regulation. The so called off-the-shelf SCOs can be used immediately by Member State authorities without any need to substantiate the amounts or rates used by means of a methodology or calculation.
Operation: A project, group of projects or other action selected according to the criteria laid down for the rural development programme and implemented by one or more beneficiaries with a view to achieving the programme’s objectives.
Rural development policy: One of the pillars of the common agricultural policy, co-financed by the EAFRD. The policy’s aim is to improve the countryside and the situation for people living there by enhancing competitiveness of the agriculture and forestry sectors, improving the environment and quality of life in rural areas and encouraging diversification of the rural economy.
Rural development programme (RDP): A programming document prepared by a Member State and approved by the Commission for use in planning and monitoring the implementation of the EU’s rural development policy at regional or national level.
Shared management: A method of implementing the EU budget in which the Commission delegates implementation tasks to the Member States, while retaining ultimate responsibility.
Simplified Cost Option (SCO): The three types of financing defined in Article 67(b), (c) and (d) of Regulation (EU) No 1303/20131: standard scales of unit costs, lump sums and flat-rate financing.
Standard scales of unit costs: One of the simplified cost options. Standard prices established in advance for defined quantities. Eligible expenditure is calculated by multiplying the standard cost by quantified activities, input, outputs or results.
1 Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 laying down common provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund, the Cohesion Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006 (OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 320).
2 Article 41(d) of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 (OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 487) and Article 10 of Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 808/2014 of 17 July 2014 laying down rules for the application of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013 (OJ L 227, 31.7.2014, p. 18).
3 Articles 19(1)(a) and 27 of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013.
4 Annual report of the Court of Auditors on the implementation of the budget concerning the financial years 2014 (paragraph 1.25), 2015 (paragraph 1.29) and 2016 (paragraph 1.15).
5 Article 67(1)(b), (c) and (d) of Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013.
6 Section 1.2.2 of the Commission’s guidance on Simplified Cost Options (EGESIF_14-0017: Guidance on Simplified Cost Options (SCOs). European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds).
7 Such as the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund.
8 Article 67(5) of Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013.
9 Additional methods could be established by Fund-specific rules; however, this has not been done for rural development.
10 Flanders (Belgium), Denmark, Saxony (Germany), Canary Islands (Spain), Languedoc-Roussillon (France), Sweden, Wallonia (Belgium), Bulgaria, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (France), Croatia, Tuscany (Italy), Veneto (Italy), Cyprus, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria and Mainland Finland.
11 We selected the RDPs based on the following criteria: different levels of use of SCOs in the RDP, coverage of SCOs for different measures, use of different types of SCOs, mix of national and regional programmes and reasonable geographical coverage, using SCOs from other policy areas, programmes approved at different points in time by the Commission.
12 Canary Islands (Spain) and Sweden.
14 Ireland, Languedoc-Roussillon (France), Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (France), Tuscany (Italy), Luxembourg and Austria.
15 Articles 68(1)(b) and 68(2) of Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013.
16 Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 809/2014 of 17 July 2014 laying down rules for the application of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council with regard to the integrated administration and control system, rural development measures and cross compliance (OJ L 227, 31.7.2014, p. 69).
18 Article 48(3)(a) and 48(5) of Regulation (EU) No 809/2014.
19 Flanders (Belgium), Saxony (Germany), Canary Islands (Spain), Languedoc-Roussillon (France), and Sweden use flat rates for indirect costs. Denmark used them in 2014-2016, but no measures where indirect costs are eligible are implemented since the start of 2017.
20 Article 48(2) of Regulation (EU) No 809/2014.
21 Annual report of the Court of Auditors on the implementation of the budget concerning the financial year 2016, paragraph 7.39.
22 Special Report No 22/2014 “Achieving economy: keeping the costs of EU-financed rural development project grants under control” ((https://www.eca.europa.eu/el/Pages/ecadefault.aspx).
23 Only three measures were discontinued: early retirement of farmers and farm workers, meeting standards and training and information.
24 Section 126.96.36.199 of the Commission Guidance on SCOs.
25 Bulgaria and Sweden.
26 Section 188.8.131.52. of the Commission guidance on SCOs states: “The managing authority must be able to explain and justify its choices”.
27 Except when the beneficiary cannot recover the VAT under national legislation.
28 Article 62(2) of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013.
29 In December 2017, Council and Parliament adopted Regulation (EU) No 2393/2017, abolishing the mandatory independent body statement for SCOs in EAFRD, with effect from 2018.
30 Article 10 of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013.
31 Article 52 of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy and repealing Council Regulations (EEC) No 352/78, (EC) No 165/94, (EC) No 2799/98, (EC) No 814/2000, (EC) No 1290/2005 and (EC) No 485/2008 (OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 549).
32 Flanders (Belgium), Denmark, Saxony (Germany), Canary Islands (Spain).
33 Article 52(4) of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 stipulates that financing may not be refused for expenditure effected more than 24 months before the Commission notifies the Member State in writing of its inspection findings.
34 Article 14(1) of Regulation (EU) No 1304/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 on the European Social Fund and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1081/2006 (OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 470).
35 In September 2016, the Commission proposed changes to several provisions in its so-called Omnibus regulation (COM(2016) 605 final) that affect the implementation of rural development policy.
36 Article 9(1) of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013.
37 The Certification Bodies are guided by the Commission’s guidelines when carrying out their assessments. For further details on the Certification Bodies’ role, see Court’s Special Report No 7/2017 “The Certification Bodies’ new role on CAP expenditure: a positive step towards a single audit model but with significant weaknesses to be addressed” (http://eca.europa.eu).
38 Guideline 1 on accreditation requirements, Guideline 2 on the annual certification audit, Guideline 3 on reporting requirements, Guideline 4 on the Management Declaration and Guideline 5 on irregularities.
40 E.g. Flanders (Belgium), Canary Islands (Spain), Languedoc-Roussillon (France), Croatia, Cyprus, Netherlands and Sweden.
41 E.g. Languedoc-Roussillon (France), Croatia, Austria and Sweden.
42 E.g. Denmark, Spain, Languedoc-Roussillon (France), Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (France) and Sweden.
43 Regulations (EU) No 1303/2013, 1305/2013 and 1306/2013.
44 DG REGIO, DG EMPL, DG MARE and DG AGRI.
45 European Commission: Guidance on Simplified Cost Options (SCOs). European Structural and Investment (ESI) Funds.
46 Belgium (2), Germany (15), Spain (19), France (30 RDPs), Italy (23), Portugal (3), Finland (2) and the UK (4).
47 Based on Annex I of the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 808/2014, the rural development priorities address: (1) knowledge transfer and innovation; (2) farm viability and competitiveness, sustainable forest management; (3) food chain organisation, risk management and animal welfare; (4) environment and climate change; (5) resource efficiency, low carbon and climate resilient economy; and (6) social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development.
48 Saxony (Germany), Canary Islands (Spain) and Languedoc-Roussillon (France).
49 Flanders (Belgium), Languedoc-Roussillon (France), Croatia, Netherlands, Sweden.
50 The Tuscan authorities introduced these SCOs in their first amendment of the RDP, which they submitted to the European Commission in July 2016.
51 E.g. Denmark, Saxony (Germany) and Canary Islands (Spain).
52 Only weaknesses in key controls can lead to financial corrections.
53 Article 62(2) of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013.
54 COM(2016) 605 final (Omnibus regulation).
55 Article 62(2) of Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013, which for the EAFRD required an ex-ante certification of methodology and calculations.
56 Finland: measure 1, 7, 16 and 19; Sweden: measure 1, 2, 7, 16 and 19.
57 For example, section 1.3 states that the use SCOs is recommended if Member States want ESIF management to focus more on outputs and results instead of inputs, and section 1.2.2 mentions as an advantage of simplified cost options that “eligible costs are calculated according to a predefined method based on outputs, results or some other costs”. Specifically for unit costs, section 3.1 mentions that, as well as being process-based (aimed at covering the real costs through a best approximation), these can be outcome based (output or result) or defined based on both an approximation of the real costs and outcome.
58 Annex IV of Regulation (EU) No 808/2014.
59 Amendments of Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 966/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2012 on the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the Union and repealing Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 1605/2002 and Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 proposed by the Commission in COM(2016) 605 final.
|Adoption of Audit Planning Memorandum (APM) / Start of audit||8.3.2017|
|Official sending of draft report to Commission (or other auditee)||23.1.2018|
|Adoption of the final report after the adversarial procedure||7.3.2018|
|Commission’s (or other auditee’s) official replies received in all languages||9.4.2018|
The ECA’s special reports set out the results of its performance and compliance audits of specific budgetary areas or management topics. The ECA selects and designs these audit tasks to be of maximum impact by considering the risks to performance or compliance, the level of income or spending involved, forthcoming developments and political and public interest.
This performance audit was carried out by Audit Chamber I Sustainable use of natural resources, headed by ECA Member Phil Wynn Owen. The audit was led by ECA Member João Figueiredo, supported by Paula Betencourt, Private Office Attaché; Robert Markus, Principal Manager; Charlotta Törneling, Head of Task; Ioan-Alexandru Ilie, Liia Laanes, Päivi Piki and Raluca-Elena Sandu, Auditors. Michael Pyper provided linguistic and Annette Zimmerman secretarial support.
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More information on the European Union is available on the internet (http://europa.eu).
Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2018
|ISBN 978-92-872-9914-7||ISSN 1977-5679||doi:10.2865/32694||QJ-AB-18-009-EN-N|
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