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During an eight-month investigation, the Financial Times and the
non-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism deployed dozens of journalists, researchers and coders to untangle a dense web of bureaucracy and uncover who were the beneficiaries of European structural funds.
The goal was to answer two simple questions: How is the €347bn ($455bn) allocated in the current budget round being spent? And is the policy achieving what it has set out to do?
To answer those questions we created the first comprehensive database of projects and beneficiaries funded since the policy was launched several decades ago.
We downloaded the data, published by national authorities for the first time as part of the current budget round, from more than 100 websites of national and regional bodies. In the process, we examined almost 600 different files in 21 different languages.
The result was a database holding 646,929 records that we are puttting online for our readers to examine.
The European Commission mandates that the information should be published at least annually, although it urges member states to update the data as frequently as possible. Nonetheless, there is wide variation on how often figures are updated and, while some managing authorities update the files daily or weekly, others post data with considerably delay.
Some EU states are to be commended for how they publish the data, but others have a long way to go. Estonia provides an easy-to use database. Others, such as Bulgaria, provide barely legible documents, and our team had to write a letter to the minister of the economy and make dozens of telephone calls to obtain the data in a useable format.
The following is a detailed description of the methodology used in the process of creating the database:
Most of the data were accessed between April 2010 and September 2010 and represent a snapshot of projects that have been allocated EU funds from the start of the current funding phase in 2007 onwards.
Where possible, our team attempted to capture the latest available data. However, because of the lenght of time required to transform a data set from PDF to a format that can be analysed, we generally did not revise data once we had captured it. This means, that in some cases more recent data will have been published by managing authorities.
As part of the European Transparency Initiative, the Commission has – in the current funding round – for the first time mandated that a list of beneficiaries should be published.
The Commission maintains two portal websites through which the lists of beneficiaries can be accessed.
Wherever possible, data linked to from these portals were added to the database, though frequently links were outdated or did not lead to the correct data page. If data were outdated – or password protected, or in the case of some Bulgarian data, illegible - we attempted to obtain data in an Excel format directly from the managing authorities.
In our database we provide - wherever possible - links to the original data we added to the database. However, frequently these links expire, because managing authorities do not provide redirect from outdated data to new publications. If users encounter such ‘dead links’, we recommend that users contact the relevant managing authorities as listed here: http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/manage/authority/authority_en.cfm
The Commission’s guideline notes suggest that the publication of the list of beneficiaries should include the following fields:
Name of Beneficiary
Year of allocation
Public funding (EU funding and national contribution)
Some member states (France for example) provide information at a more detailed level, breaking out EU funding from the overall public funding amount. This is to be commended. But most only publish the total amount of public funding, which includes the EU and the national contribution.
Estimated amount of EU funding
To compare projects across the EU, we calculated an ‘estimated amount of EU funding’ from the public funding total. This was done by multiplying the amount of “EU and public funding “ by the so-called co-financing rate.
Under the Structural Fund rules, operational programmes can be co-financed up to a specific percentage of the total amount of public funding. This is percentage is known as the co-financing rate. It ranges from 85 per cent (for cohesion areas such as Poland) to 50 per cent (for example for regional competitive programmes) and is set at the operational programme level. It refers to the total amount of EU funding as a percentages of public funding over the whole seven-year period.
Thus an individual project within the operational programme could be financed at 30 per cent, and another at 70 per cent, but the amount of EU funds over the whole operational programme would still be 50 per cent. It could also technically mean that a programme may not use any EU funds for some projects but fund others at 100 per cent through EU money.
While extraopolating the ‘estimated amount of EU funding’ by means of the co-financing rate is only an approximation, it also is – given the current level of transparency – the only way to compare project funding across the EU.
It also means that the ‘estimated amount of EU funding’ will be close to accurate when applied to all the data available from an operational programme, but when applied to individual projects it remains an estimate.
The amounts of EU funding specifically quoted in FT articles are based on actual amounts of EU funding provided by the relevant managing authorities. A team of researchers contacted both beneficiaries and managing authorities to confirm the actual split between EU and national funding. Some requests were denied, with some managing authorities claiming that ‘commercial confidentiality’ prevented them from disclosing the amount funded by EU taxpayers. Amounts used for overall comparisons of EU funding allocations are calculated on the basis outlined above.
Co-financing rates can also differ by programme axis, or sub-programme. Since it was impossible to apply the exact co-financing rate by axis, because not all managing authorities publish the data by axis, we applied a weighted average co-financing rate for each operational programme.
Most managing authorities provide the financial amounts in Euro, but some publish the amounts in local currency (e.g. UK, Czech Republic). For those data, we applied an average exchange rate from 2007 to September 2010.
The data are published in the local language, and imported into our database as is.
The search tool allows users to enter words in English and select a languange to translate that word into, using Google translate. The database is then searched with the English word and its translation.
Results are returned in the local language, and also partially translated into English using Google translate.
The top 10
To arrive at the top 10 corporate beneficiaries, we aggregated the “estimated amount of EU funding” by beneficiary names. If beneficiary names were spelled differently in different documents, they were normalised. The top beneficiaries were then classified into government agencies, government-owned companies and companies. For the top 10 corporate beneficiaries all categories but companies were filtered out.
Accuracy of data and extracting the data
We are re-publishing this data on the basis that we have done the best possible within the timeframe and given the complexity of transforming data from various publishing formats. Most of the data are published as PDFs. Since it is impossible to do any meaningful analysis using PDFs (some of which are hundreds of pages long), those data were extracted into database friendly formats that can be analysed meaningfully, such as ordering in descending order.
We have used sophisticated data extraction tools, but it is still possible that some discrepancies exist. We provide a link to the original data we used, though cannot guarantee that the data is still online as managing authorities frequently change links, but don’t provide redirects. In some cases data were sent to our team directly from the managing authorities, so for those data sets no link is available.
The following data are not included in the database:
- Cross-border and Transnational programmes under the European Territorial Cooperation Objective
These programmes programmes - though part of Cohesion policy - were not included, because at the time the data were gathered, many documents were missing, incomplete or contained overlapping spending that was difficult to disentangle
Overall figures on JEREMIE - an initiative to promote increased access to finance for the development of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the EU - and other financial engineering initiatives through which some of the Cohesion spending is delivered are contained in the database. However, there are no data on the individual beneficiaries of these initiatives as these are not provided by the managing authorities
Beneficiary data – with few exceptions - usually does not include subcontractors. Therefore the level of expenditure contracted out by government agencies, that receive money for an infrastructure project for instance – remains opaque.
For an in-depth explanations of terminology relating to EU structural funds, please consult the glossary provided by the EU Commission’s Directorate General for Regional Policy.
Reporters: Cynthia O’Murchu, Peter Spiegel, Stanley Pignal, Jan Cienski, Guy Dinmore, Brian Groom, Victor Mallet, Chris Bryant, Giulia Segreti, Andrew Ward, Kerin Hope
Editors: John Thornhill, Shawn Donnan, Siona Jenkins, and Leyla Boulton
Interactive graphics: Emily Cadman, Cleve Jones, Steve Bernard
Funds database: Peter Feeney, Rob Minto
Video: Seb Morton-Clarke (producer), Greg Bobillot (camera)
Interns: Francesca Pardo, Sergej Curanovic
Bureau of Investigative Journalism:
Reporters and Editors: Iain Overton, Michael Simkin, Annamarie Cumiskey, Caelainn Barr, Angus Stickler, Lidija Liegis, Federico Gatti
Funds database: Rob McKinnon
Interns: Claire Sergent, Katy Lee, Sophie Clayton-Payne, Louise Dodsworth
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