Policy Brief: EU integration funding for cities

Municipalities in Europe are the central authorities when it comes to migrant and refugee reception and integration. Yet, they continue to face various challenges in accessing EU funds to support their activities. In December 2021, we finalized a policy brief looking at the EU integration funds for municipalities in the new 2021-2027 EU budget. We identified opportunities for cities and discuss what needs to change to improve municipalities access to EU funds.

Direct or Shared management?

A significant debate on EU funding for cities and municipalities circulates around the distinction between funding in direct or indirect and shared management. Direct management refers to funding that is directly administrated by the European Commission. The EU publishes calls to which also local entities like cities and municipalities, can directly apply. Indirect or shared managed funds take a detour via member states which administrate the funds. Applicants then have to apply to national institutions. With the national intermediary, access to EU funds is often more complicated for local authorities, cities and municipalities therefore call for more directly available funding.

AMIF, EUI and others

The most important funding line for refugee reception and integration is the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (short AMIF). Roughly one third (3.6 Billion Euro of the total 9.8 Billion Euro) is dedicated to a “thematic facility”. This thematic facility provides, among other things, emergency assistance in exceptional migratory situations and supports resettlement and relocation programs. While these activities will be in shared management by the Commission and member states, the majority of the thematic facility funds will be directly or indirectly managed by the Commission. The AMIF earmarks at least 5%, about 180 Million Euro, of the thematic facility for local and regional integration activities. In 2022, a specific call for local authorities will be published focusing on “Integration and Inclusion at local level”.

An interesting other direct funding tool for cities will be the newly founded European Urban Initiative (EUI). EUI is the successor of the Urban Innovative Action Initiative and will receive 450 million Euro from the European Regional Fund. The Initiative will fund innovative activities at the local level in a variety of policy fields of which integration is one.

Other funds such as Erasmus+ and the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV) are directly managed and have integration as one thematic aspect. However, the majority of calls from these funds will cover other thematic areas.

What are opportunities and obstacles for cities?

With the new EU Budget, AMIF now also falls under a regulation enhancing the complementarity of EU funds. Funds received from AMIF can now be more easily combined with other funds. However, the funds structure and option for combinations remains highly complex. Especially small municipalities often struggle in bringing up the necessary administrative resources to master an EU funding application, let alone combining different EU funds. However, the Toolkit on the use of EU funds for the integration of people with a migrant background published by the European Commission is a great help.

The partnership principle calls for participation of local and civil society stakeholders in all stages of the planning, implementation, and monitoring of projects. However, how stakeholders are concretely involved by the European Commission and how the partnership principle in national programs will be monitored and implemented remains uncertain. There has been no official call from the Commission for consultation of local authorities, nor is publicly accessible information available on whom to contact should local/regional actors want to influence the programming phase. Local and regional authorities without established networks on national and EU level remain excluded from contributing to the programming of the funds.

Besides the Toolkit, also the Urban Agenda Partnership on Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees, a collaboration of the Commission, cities, the European Central Bank and other actors, aims to enhance municipalities access to EU funding. The new action plan formulates one goal regarding EU funding, namely action 6 “Expanding the use of financial instruments for inclusion by cities”. The focus is on enhancing the capacity of local authorities to make use of financial instruments. The action is, however, still in its first year and results are expected at the end of 2022.

Recommendations

  1. Increase involvement of local and regional authorities on all level of funding programming (member states and European Commission). Only this can ensure better adaption to municipalities’ needs.
  2. Introduce a monitoring mechanism for the partnership principle. This would create transparency regarding involvement of local and regional authorities and enable re-evaluation of the implementation of the partnership principle.
  3. Align timelines of different EU funds and increase transparency regarding programming procedures and calls to enhance complementarity.
  4. Make use of the resettlement and relocation funds in the 2021-2027 Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) and forward the funding to receiving municipalities.
  5. Medium-term: Introduce a directly managed Integration and Development Fund (LINK), which pairs funding for voluntary reception in municipalities with resources for municipal development.

Please download our policy brief here.