USEFUL GUIDESHOW TO ACCESS EU FUNDS
HOW TO ACCESS EUROPEAN FUNDS
In this guide, I try to give some advice on European funds, explaining how to access the different types of available funding.
We can divide European funding into two large groups:
- “Direct funds“, which are issued, managed, and controlled directly by the European Commission in Brussels.
- “Indirect funds“, which are issued, managed, and controlled by national and regional authorities (Managing Authorities), according to the fundamental strategic guidelines of the European Union.
What are direct funds?
Among the direct funds available are various “European Programs” known through their acronyms, such as Horizon 2020, COSME, Creative Europe, and Erasmus+. These programs are aimed at financing projects in different sectors, such as environment, research and technological development, innovation, culture, and training, among others.
Furthermore, according to what is indicated in the Access and Funding section of the European Union, European companies of any size and sector have the opportunity to access loans, microfinance, guarantees, and venture capital. For this type of funding, the decision is made by local financial institutions (i.e. banks, venture capital investors or business angels), and is supported by EU grants.
What are indirect funds?
Indirect funds are those managed by national and regional managing authorities, among which we find the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), which aim at reducing the developmental differences of the various European regions.
Indirect funds are mainly composed of Structural and Investment Funds.
Which funds are suitable for my project?
The main question is how to find the most suitable fund for the realization of your project.
The answer is not that simple, in fact the factors to be considered are different and must be analyzed during different moments in the project. First, we always start from the idea, then from the degree of innovation of the proposal (as compared to existing state-of-the-art ideas and existing solutions).
Once the project idea has been “classified” according to the degree of innovation, I will analyze other key factors. These include the size and the previous experience of your company in the sector, the type of innovation, the need and the capability to collaborate with other players at the European level, the type of investment required, as well as the regional, national and European impact.
Depending on these factors, I will be able to understand whether direct or indirect funds are better suitable for your project.
It is not always easy to determine this choice. It is a phase of understanding and orientation, which I build on the basis of my work experience and my ability to create the right match between an “innovative project” and the available funds.
Once the available funds have been identified, I will proceed by searching for the call that could be suitable for the proposal.
I will therefore search on the platforms where the calls are published periodically, which we have already seen here.
Once I have found the right call, I will go through the following steps:
- Careful reading of the legal basis that establishes a specific funding program, where the program objective, duration, budget, areas of action that can be financed, and recipients of funding are described.
- Analysis of the specific call for proposals, which contains information on the available budget, the duration of the project, the eligibility and selection criteria, and the deadline for submitting applications. Here I will find information on how to submit the application, the procedure for selecting the proposal, the financial terms of the grant, the criteria for evaluating the project proposals, the categories of eligible expenditure, and the methods of payment.
- Preparation of the proposal: In this phase, the project meets all the requirements of the call and I prepare the necessary documentation to apply for funding.
I will therefore have to demonstrate that the project achieves the objectives required by the announcement, thus meeting the transnational requirements for direct funds (i.e. projects must demonstrate a clear European interest and involve different organizations from at least three member states).
In this step, we also have to demonstrate that you have the capability to support the co-financing share. This is because, in principle, only non-governmental organizations and universities receive funding equal to 100% of the eligible expenses, while instead the funding rate for companies generally varies from 50-70% of the eligible expenses. The eligible expenses concern planned activities; thus the grant cannot be awarded in order to finance activities that have already been carried out before the presentation of the project or its approval. Moreover, the project cannot be a source of profit for the beneficiary organizations, and it cannot be supported by two or more community grants.
The project will therefore have a general objective that will respond to one or more specific European challenges, achieving specific objectives (SO) that are relevant, concrete and achievable. The verification of the achievement of these SO will take place through tangible and measurable results.
If it is mandatory to define a partnership (this happens for almost all direct funds and sometimes also for certain indirect funds), there are some elements to consider:
For direct European funds, the participation of partners from at least three different Member States is generally needed. To what concerns indirect funds, partnership is required in some cases for collaborative (i.e. business network or innovative network) projects.
The European added value also has to be demonstrated, explaining the effective cooperation among member states as well as the capability to achieve objectives and results more effectively at the European level. The positive impact in the transnational dimension is a very relevant factor, thus it is essential to highlight the European value of the project through comparative approaches (e.g. good practices or mobility actions) in the project proposal.
During the preparation of the proposal, the eligibility criteria has to be clearly fulfilled, as this will be the first point of verification by evaluators. The proposal must comply with the eligibility criteria with respect to the beneficiaries (type of organization, geographical origin, composition of any partnership), the duration of the project (start date and maximum duration of the project), and the budget (or the minimum and maximum allowable amount).
A point that always requires a lot of attention and that must be verified is the size of the company, considering any associated or sister companies. For this point, it is useful to consult the “User’s Guide to the definition of SMEs” issued by the European Commission.
The part regarding the dissemination and communication of the results must also be included in the preparation of the proposal, in order to give visibility to the project (you can find my service for this part here. This activity must be effective in order to disseminate the achieved results during project implementation, depending on the different target groups and stakeholders. The communication and dissemination plan is created once the project has been approved.
If the project is approved, an official notification with the request to sign the grant agreement will be sent by the funding authority. In the grant agreement there will be objectives and results to be achieved, related work plan, deliverables and milestones, as well as the approved budget.
Depending on the type of call, it is possible to receive pre-financing and then receive the other funding parts depending on the advancement of the work plan.
If there is a consortium, the coordinator will receive the entire amount of funding to be redistributed to the partners, according to their commitments and activities to be carried out, as detailed in the proposal.