European funding programmes: what changes in 2021?

European funding programmes: what changes in 2021?

The preparation of the framework for the new programming period for the European funding programmes is in full speed (ESI funds, H2020,…). We provide a brief overview of the expected changes after 2020. Although the details of the new framework are still under negotiation between Member States, a number of new main elements will certainly be introduced.

The current 11 priorities for the ESI funds under the Cohesion Policy will be consolidated into 5 overall objectives:

  1.  A smarter Europe (innovative & smart economic transformation);
  2. A greener, low-carbon Europe (including energy transition, the circular economy, climate adaptation and risk management);
  3. A more connected Europe (mobility and ICT connectivity);
  4. A more social Europe (the European Pillar of Social Rights);
  5. A Europe closer to citizens (sustainable development of urban, rural and coastal areas and local initiatives).

The thematic concentration, requiring minimum shares of regional funding on a limited number of objectives, will further be strengthened, with focus on a smart and low carbon Europe. Advanced regions with a GDP higher than the EU average have to commit at least 85% to objectives 1 and 2.

Furthermore, the Commission proposed to commit at least 25% of the overall budget on the climate objectives in the Paris Agreement & Sustainable Development Goals.

Specifically for the European Funds for Regional Development (ERDF), 6% of the budget will go to the new European Urban Initiative under objective 5, aimed at sustainable urban development delivered through local development partnerships.

Also, more room will be created for spending programme resources outside the programme area, as long as it is to the benefit of the programme area.

Furthermore, the framework for Interreg programmes will be restructured to 5 cooperation levels:

  1. Cross-border cooperation (current Interreg A);
  2. Transnational/maritime cooperation (current Interreg B);
  3. Cooperation between/with EU-territory outside the European continent;
  4. Interregional exchange of experiences/knowledge (current Interreg Europe);
  5. Interregional innovative investments.

The fifth level is a completely new element, aimed at commercialisation and scaling up of interregional innovation projects having the potential to encourage the development of European value chains (11,5% of total Interreg resources).



The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the regional Rural Development Programmes (RDP) will have to do with less resources. The framework will allow for more flexibility for Member States in the development and execution of their national CAP frameworks, under a few conditions:

  • At least 2% of resources will go to young farmers;
  • 40% will be devoted to environment and climate change.

For the RDP the current 70 measures will be reduced to 8 broad investment types, in which regions can develop their actions in line with their specific needs.



Horizon 2020 will be followed-up by Horizon Europe and will grow almost 30% to €97 billion for 2021-2027. The programme will be structured around three main pillars:

  • Open science stimulating exchange and research through the European research Council and the MarieCurie actions;
  • Global challenges & industrial competitiveness focusing on research projects in health, inclusive and safe society, digitisation and industry, climate, energy and mobility, food and natural resources;
  • Open innovation including the set-up of a European Innovation Council to further encourage innovation.



In addition, the Commission plans to set-up a new investment programme InvestEU with the objective to generate €700 billion of investments in 2021-2027, jointly managed by the EIB and the Commission. Programmes such as COSME will e integrated into this instrument.



Finally, a number of other programmes will be strengthened, some in a revised structure:

  • The budget for the Erasmus programme will double to €30 billion.
  • The LIFE programme will be increased from €3.5 to 5.4 billion (both the nature/environment and the climate programme)
arrow team members
foto Steven Knotter
Steven Knotter
Senior Expert Regional & Urban Development


  • Flemish government
  • Walloon government
  • Brussels government