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INTERVIEWS
Gilbert Gascard, Education Audiovisual and Culture (EACEA):

"We are moving in the right direction"


Managing European funding opportunities for a whole host of programmes including Lifelong Learning and Youth in Action, the EACEA´s remit is an important one. Speaking exclusively to International Innovation, its Director explains how EU citizens of all ages are benefi ting from its actions, and reveals how agencies like this are simplifying funding applications and maximising cost efficiency.
Redacción 6/2/2013 Send to a friend
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Picture Gilber Gascard
The Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) is the Executive Agency Education, Audiovisual and Culture (EACEA), located in Brussels, since 2006. Its mission is to implement a number of strands of more than 15 Community funded programmes and actions in the fields of education and training, active citizenship, youth, audiovisual and culture. The agency is in charge of most management aspects of the programmes, including drawing up calls for proposals, selecting projects and signing project agreements, financial management, monitoring of projects (intermediate reports, final reports); communication with beneficiaries; and on the spot controls.
 
Could you outline the goal and mission of the Education Audiovisual  and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA)?
The EACEA is one of six institutional bodies of its kind. EU Executive Agencies are mandated by the European Commission to manage community programmes while ensuring financial transparency, efficiency and a quality service to applicants and benefi ciaries. As with other executive agencies, EACEA is an autonomous public body created by the European Commission and operating under its supervision. We are responsible for managing some €600 million each year. In practice, we receive about 11,000 project proposals applying for EU funding annually, of which about 4,000 are fi nanced from this budget.
 
Which programmes are managed by the Agency? 
The Agency’s mandate covers a variety of opportunities – mainly European but also some worldwide – for organisations, professionals and individuals at all ages and stages of life. The EACEA manages European funding opportunities for projects and networks in the fi elds of education and training, citizenship, youth, audiovisual and culture. Seven key community programmes have been partly or fully delegated to the EACEA: Lifelong Learning, Erasmus Mundus, Tempus, Culture, Youth in Action, Europe for Citizens and Media. In addition, the Agency manages the Eurydice Network, which provides reliable analysis and comparable data on education systems and policies in Europe. 

Managing funding opportunities in the fi elds of education and training, citizenship, youth, audiovisual and culture is a large and complicated task. To what extent does the EACEA decide who receives funding, or is it more a case of ensuring the funding reaches the recipient? What diffi culties can this present?
Selecting the highest quality projects from a vast number of good proposals is of course challenging. Programme management is a specialised fi eld, requiring specialised staff. This was one of the key factors which led to the creation of Executive Agencies. In the EACEA, we have sought from the beginning to build a team which has the right mix of skills, know-how and experience to rise to this challenge. This is fundamental in enabling us to carry out our mandate successfully. 
 
The Agency is fully responsible for the selection of projects for funding and organises this through a quality-based competitive process. We ensure that all applications receive fair and equal treatment. We use external experts to assist us in evaluating project proposals. As specialists active in their respective fi elds they are well-placed to assess the proposals we receive. On average about 40 per cent of applications are successful in their bid for funding but this varies greatly between programmes. We manage a competitive process whereby funding – which is always limited – is awarded to the best proposals. Unfortunately this means that very good proposals cannot always be funded. In the Erasmus Mundus programme, for example, the number of applications is so high compared to the level of funding available, that less than one proposal (in this case consortia of universities) in 10 is selected for EU funding.

What strategies are you employing to better manage European funding opportunities and networks?
As a multi-programme agency we benefi t from integrated management mechanisms, building on the synergies between the different programmes. Our efforts to date have produced concrete results in terms of simplification, service and economies of scale. We have made the application process easier (online applications, fixed calendars) and have simplified contracting rules, the calculation of costs, as well as reporting and monitoring of projects. We review the way we work on an ongoing basis. A key component of this involves actively seeking the feedback of both successful and unsuccessful applicants. Such feedback helps us  to identify the areas we need to focus on. The results of the most recent survey show that projects are increasingly satisfi ed with our programme management confirmation that we are moving in the right direction.

How much crossover does the EACEA enjoy with the EC? 
The EC and the Agency have complementary missions and work in close partnership. The existence of the Executive Agency means that the Commission can focus on its core business of policy-making. We, in turn, have great autonomy in the fi eld of programme management, but depend on the Commission for political orientations, the defi nition of the programme priorities, and budgets. 

Annual priorities which respond to current concerns are also set. For instance, two years ago the issues facing Roma communities were brought to the fore of the European political landscape. This is refl ected in this year’s Lifelong Learning Programme, where a specific focus has been put on projects involving Roma. We are very much a part of this process of turning policy into action. We not only implement but also contribute, with our experience and know-how, to the defi nition of implementation modes in future programmes.
 
We work directly with three Directorates-General (DG) of the European Commission: Education Audiovisual and Culture; Communication; and Europe Aid Development and Cooperation. Through our cooperation with the DGs, we contribute to the work of the Commissioner responsible but we do not usually work directly with the Commissioners or their cabinets unless they come to us with a specifi c request. 

Without the Agency, what problems would arise at the Commission?
Our close interaction with funded projects, including project monitoring (intermediate and fi nal reports, and controls) and on-site project visits, enable us to provide feedback to the Commission and recommendations on the further orientation of programmes. We are also aware that the projects themselves have a wealth of information and impressive results which we are well-placed to help them exploit. 

We regularly organise meetings with projects, where we can talk directly to the people involved, and where projects themselves exchange experiences and good practices. This allows us to feed their experiences back to the Commission, making important contributions to policy and priority-setting from the Commission’s side, and helping us to assess how well our processes work. This close contact with the projects also enables us to identify success stories and examples of good practice which we transmit to our parent DGs for use in conferences, presentations and wider publicity and awareness-raising about the programmes and funding opportunities. 

How is the Agency supporting the Youth in Action scheme? 
The Youth in Action Programme aims to promote non-formal learning and inspire a sense of active European citizenship, solidarity and tolerance among young Europeans. It targets all young people between 13 and 30 years old. At the EACEA we manage certain parts of the programme (others are managed at national level), including, for example, the very popular European Voluntary Service, which gives young people the opportunity to volunteer in over 118 countries worldwide. We also manage actions to support young workers, NGOs and international youth cooperation. The 2012 budget for the parts of the programme we manage is about €24 million. In 2011 we received almost 1,500 applications for funding under the YiA programme, of which roughly 24 per cent were selected for funding.

What plans do you have for the future of the Agency?
Optimising cost effi ciency and reducing administration costs were among the motivations for setting up executive agencies, so in this sense doing more for less has always been a part of our mindset. Since the establishment of the Agency, there has been a constant increase in the number of project proposals submitted for funding, which we welcome. This is in part due to the success of our own communication efforts but we recognise that it is also linked to the current economic climate which affects us all. We have seen a reduction in funding available at national level which triggers an increase in demand for EU funding. The combination of increased demand and stability of programme budgets until the end of the current generation of funding in 2013 naturally leads to more competition and a decrease in success rates. Moreover, given the general context of budgetary austerity, our administrative budget has also been stable over past years.Our work is about turning policy into action. It is about getting results and above all, it is about people. European funding can have an important impact for organisations and individuals (notably if benefi ting from a mobility grant) and we see this first-hand. Our close contact with the projects enables us to see how they are contributing and making a real difference. Our staff feel real satisfaction from project monitoring visits; while the aim is to ensure the project is being properly run, it is an opportunity to see the results of our work fi rst hand. In June 2011 the Commission adopted the Multi-annual Financial programme. 
 


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