EU Cohesion Policy: European Structural and Investment Funds supported SMEs, employment of millions of people and clean energy production


In 2014-2020, the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI Funds) unleashed a total investment of €731 billion, of which €535 billion was funded by the EU, fostering lasting socio-economic convergence, territorial cohesion, social Europe and a smooth green and digital transition.

This is explained in the 2022 Summary Report on the Implementation of the ESI Funds adopted by the Commission.

The report presents the achievements of the ESI Funds by the end of 2021:

  • More than 4 million small and medium businesses (SMEs) were supported;
  • 55.2 million people were supported through employment, social inclusion or skills and education actions;
  • Energy production capacity was increased by more than 3,600 megawatt hours/year resulting from renewable energy resources whilst the annual primary energy consumption of public buildings was reduced by 2.6 terawatt hours/year (equivalent to the amount of electricity consumed by around 720,000 households for a whole year);
  • 2.3 million projects supported the agricultural sector and rural SMES becoming more competitive, and helped create jobs in rural areas;
  • In the fishing and aquaculture sector 44,000 jobs were maintained and more than 6,000 new jobs were created.

ESI Funds were also at the frontline of the support to Member States and Regions to face the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact.

Thanks to temporary flexibilities introduced into Cohesion Policy in the wake of the health emergency, Member States were given the possibility to re-allocate unspent Cohesion Policy funds to priority areas such as healthcare, short-time work schemes and support to SMEs.

ESI Funds have been distributed since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 to cover the emerging needs of medical institutions, researchers, business owners, employees, and vulnerable people. Moreover, ESI funds helped to train millions of people with low skills, many of them gaining formal qualifications.

Finally, ESI Funds were central in boosting energy efficiency measures and renewables, building renovation and market integration, as key drivers of the EU’s energy security. Cohesion Policy helped Member States and regions to tackle energy poverty while reducing GHG emissions and creating sustainable jobs in the construction and building sector.


The Annual Summary report of ESI Funds covering implementation in 2014-2020 is a requirement as per Article 53 of Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013. This year’s report presents the evolution in the financial implementation of the ESI Funds of the 2014-2020 period up to the end of 2021. The 2014-2020 financial period end at the end of 2023 under the so-called N+3 rule.

As one of the largest investment instruments under the EU budget, the ESI Funds support the territorial, economic and social cohesion of Europe’s regions, as well as their resilience and recovery from the crisis faced in the past years.

They comprise of:

The policy objectives pursued with the ESI Funds include:

  • research and innovation
  • digital technologies
  • supporting the low-carbon economy
  • sustainable management of natural resources
  • small businesses
  • smart, sustainable and inclusive growth,
  • employment, better education and training,
  • strengthening the institutional capacity of public administration,
  • urban development and territorial cooperation (Interreg).


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