European Structural and Investment Funds in Austria

Excerpt from the COM(2015) 639 final, ANNEX II: Country fiches

1. Economic and social challenges in the ESIF context

After a phase of decent economic development followed by a modest slowdown as a result of the crisis, Austria now appears to be entering a phase of lower growth. This may make it harder for it to achieve its goals on innovation, the labour market and education, reducing CO2 emissions and resource efficiency. Austria has specific weaknesses on innovation and technology transfer from research institutes to SMEs and on private investment in R&D. The country needs to improve its provision of science and technology education and employment opportunities in this field. More generally, it needs to help older people, women, young people and people from a migrant background become more employable. Austria also needs to improve its resource efficiency to tackle rising CO2 emissions, high levels of nitrate use in farming and a lack of biodiversity in forestry. The EU’s policy recommendations to Austria in the European Semester address some of these problems, which are part of Austria’s wider challenges connected with the retirement age, the sustainability of the pension system, the labour market and education and qualifications.

Main priorities and results

Promoting innovation, research and technological development, the ESIFs will help Austria to achieve its objective of becoming an innovation leader and its ambitious Europe 2020 strategy target of spending 3.76 % of GDP on R&D. The ESIFs will support research infrastructure and capacities in Austria’s regional areas of strength and the country’s role in important European projects such as the European research infrastructure consortium and the European strategy forum on research infrastructures. EUR 248 million will be spent on R&D in SMEs, increasing the number of ‘technological leaders’ and on making businesses in general more innovative.

EUR 792 million will be spent on making SMEs more competitive, focusing on farming, industry, services and aquaculture. ESIF funding will contribute to a planned 3 % increase per year in new start-ups, in particular in innovative and knowledge-intensive sectors, and support the planned 5 % annual growth in the number of SMEs. Some of the funding will be used to help Austria achieve its targets of improved or new broadband infrastructure for 2.3 million inhabitants in rural areas by 2030 and invest in the restructuring and modernisation of around 20 000 farms by 2023, along with nearly 650 cooperation projects.

Moreover, EUR 231 million will be spent on reducing CO2 emissions in all sectors of the economy. This will involve boosting companies’ renewable energy use from 10 % to 12- 13 %, helping companies to achieve a 5 % annual rise in resource efficiency and funding local and regional CO2 reduction strategies. EUR 1.27 billion will be spent on climate change adaptation, risk prevention and risk management in rural areas and a further EUR 1.28 billion will be invested in preserving and protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency in rural areas. EAFRD funds will help Austria to restore, preserve and strengthen its biodiversity and agricultural and forestry systems with a high conservation value. It wants over 83 % of its agricultural land to be covered by management contracts supporting biodiversity/landscapes and 78 % by management contracts to improve soil management. 75 % of the country’s agricultural land will benefit from EAFRD support to develop sustainable water management. EMFF funding will be spent on making fisheries and aquaculture more sustainable, improving aquatic ecosystems and aquatic biodiversity, and increasing the country’s annual aquaculture production by 5 000 tonnes by 2023.

ESIF funding of EUR 123 million will be spent on promoting sustainable and quality employment and supporting labour mobility, in particular by supporting integrated sustainable development in selected urban and rural areas and by improving the employability of older workers, women, young people (particularly those from a migrant background) and other social groups at risk of social exclusion. EUR 553 million is available to promote social inclusion, combat poverty and anti-discrimination; this is mainly intended to support young people and social groups from a migrant background (including Roma). Inclusive growth is therefore supported with about 19 % of the ESIF allocation. EUR 243 million are to be invested in education, training and vocational training for skills and lifelong learning, in particular to improve educational outcomes for young disadvantaged people and support lifelong learning and vocational training in agriculture and forestry. Nearly 610 000 people are expected to have received training by 2023.

Use of financial instruments and territorial tools

Austria is planning to allocate EUR 3 million to financial instruments for equity investment through the HighTechFund Linz in Upper Austria, which provides venture capital to young technology-oriented enterprises in their seed/start-up phase and to companies that are expanding. Although investment in financial instruments is significantly lower than the 2007- 2013 figure, Austria is managing to cover its needs using existing national instruments, so there is no gap to be addressed by ESIF-funded financial instruments.

EUR 27.2 million (5 % of ERDF) will be spent on integrated sustainable urban development in Vienna and Upper Austria. The Responsible River Modelling Centre will be co-funded in Vienna, contributing to the EU strategy for the Danube Region. The province of Tyrol will receive EUR 5.5 million to serve as a test case for community-led local development in seven of its sub-regions. Local partnerships in rural areas expect to create 800 jobs.

Key information

2. Pre-conditions for effective and efficient use of ESIFs

Austria has fulfilled all applicable ex ante conditionalities for effective and efficient use of ESIFs. Before the adoption of the programmes, the Commission made sure that Austria had put in place the necessary regulatory conditions to support R&I, in particular that it had a ‘smart specialisation’ strategy at national and regional level.

3. ESIF management

Austria’s ESIF funding will be coordinated by the Federal Chancellery and the Austrian Conference on Spatial Planning. The country has reduced the number of ESIF programmes from 13 in 2007-2013 to 4, making implementation simpler. It now has one country-wide ERDF programme instead of nine regional programmes, and one ESF programme instead of two. It has also decreased the number of managing authorities from 11 to 2. The number of ERDF intermediate bodies decreased from 36 to 16, and both ERDF audit and certifying authorities are increasing their administrative capacity. As an important intermediate body will cease to create expenditure relevant for ESF funding, the Commission will monitor Austria’s ESF absorption capacity and seek assurance that the new monitoring and control systems are reliable.

4. Simplification for beneficiaries

To further reduce the administrative burden for beneficiaries, Austria will revise its ERDF and ESF-related national eligibility rules and provisions of its budget law so that they are more coherent and consistent. It will also put in place e-management systems covering applications and reporting and consider bringing in simplified cost options and flat-rate and standard scales of unit costs in national and regional eligibility rules, where appropriate. 

Source: COM(2015) 639 final, ANNEX II: Country fiches to the Communication from the Commission Investing in jobs and growth - maximising the contribution of European Structural and Investment Funds, Brussels, 14.12.2015