The European Union is one of the world's richest areas, but there are significant internal disparities of income and opportunity between its regions.
The regional policy of the European Union favours reducing the structural differences between the regions of the Union, the balanced development of the Community territory and real equality of opportunity between persons.
Regional programmes are financed from three funds depending on the type of aid and of beneficiary:
The European Fund for Regional Development (ERDF) finances programmes relating to general infrastructure, innovation and investment.
The European Social Fund (ESF) funded vocational training projects and other types of programmes of vocational guidance and job creation.
The Cohesion Fund subsidizes costs of environmental and transport infrastructure and development of renewable energy projects.
The European Fund for Regional Development (ERDF) aims to promote economic and social cohesion by correcting the main regional imbalances and participating in the development and conversion of regions, guaranteeing at the same time a synergy with the other structural funds interventions.
In the framework of its functions, the ERDF provides support to the following general areas:
(a) the development of local, regional and trans-European transport networks
(b) the productive environment and the competitiveness of enterprises
(c) research and technological development
(d) the protection and improvement of the environment
(e) equality between men and women in employment
(f) local economic development, including the sectors of culture and tourism
(g) investments for the rehabilitation of peripheral and isolated areas
These fields of action are scheduled and spelled by the operational programmes, which are the programming documents approved by the European Commission with a strategy of development to co-finance with European funds and consisting of a coherent set of priority axes and multiannual measures.
An operational programme is the document submitted by each Member State and approved by the Commission, to develop a Community framework of support comprising a consistent set of priorities comprising multiannual measures for the realization of which can have recourse to one or more funds.