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Friday, December 8, 2023

European funds do not have their own chapter in the government program

The threatened withdrawal of vital financial resources from European Union funds and the Recovery and Resilience Plan is considered by the new government to be one of the main challenges in its program statement. He claims that he wants to make maximum use of European funds from the catch-up program period 2014 to 2020, while they must be spent by the end of this year. At the same time, the government of Smer-SD, Hlas-SD and SNS intends to start the projects necessary for drawing euro resources from the Slovakia Program in the new period from 2021 to 2027 and from the recovery plan until 2026.

The government has not yet negotiated the withdrawal of European funds

Nevertheless, unlike the recovery plan, European funds do not have a separate chapter or section in the government program. Apart from the introduction of the document, they are mentioned only in a few sentences in the chapters on eliminating differences between regions, transport and construction, or agriculture in connection with the support of primary producers and food processors and in the support of investment financing. The current government of Robert Fico (Smer-SD), since its appointment on October 25, at four meetings until November 13, has not once officially discussed the situation with the withdrawal of old European funds. This item is currently not even on the agenda of the government meeting on November 20. The new Minister of Investments, Regional Development and Informatization, Richard Raši (Voice-SD), who is also responsible for European funds and has often criticized previous governments for the threat of confiscation of hundreds of millions of euros from EU resources, has not yet submitted such a proposal to the government. Tens of millions of euros can still be at risk.

The government’s priorities in European funds include significantly simplifying their use and reducing bureaucracy to a minimum. “We will prepare a new law on public procurement, thanks to which the so-called gold plating. This means that Slovak legislation will no longer go beyond what is required by the European Union. This will make the use of European funds more efficient and, what is important, the applicants’ projects will no longer remain only on paper, as has often happened until now, but will actually see implementation,” Raši promises. He advised transferring as many Eurofunds as possible to the competences of cities, municipalities and regions, and at the same time “a Eurofund revolution in practice”. According to the minister, there will be bureaucracy only to the extent that it is necessary. “It is important to check, for example, risky projects, or to do random checks, but not to check the entire process. With us, drawing European funds looks like you have all the necessary documents, but you don’t have a project,” said Raši. He also justified the planned major change in public procurement by the fact that the current law is a nightmare for recipients. In addition to fundamental changes in European funds, the government also wants to change the Slovakia Program in parallel with possible adjustments in the setting of the recovery plan.

More competence for regions, cities and municipalities

Fico confirmed that, in cooperation with the local government, it is necessary to take immediate decisions on the transfer of the largest possible amount of funds from European funds to regions, cities and municipalities. At the same time, according to him, the administrative complexity of drawing them must be simplified as much as possible. “This also applies to the maximum use of funds for innovation and modernization in our industry,” the prime minister said at his party’s congress on Friday. He instructed Minister Richard Raši and Deputy Prime Minister for the Recovery Plan and European Funds Petr Kmec (Hlas-SD) to meet municipalities and entrepreneurs. “If you have good projects, if you can offer us flexibility and say this can be spent on modernization and innovation, let’s go for it. Without modernization and innovation, we are unable to increase the competitiveness of the Slovak economy,” Fico called for cooperation. From the Minister of Transport Jozef Ráž (nominee of Smeru-SD), he expects an initiative for rapid changes in building permits and public procurement conditions. “We talk about it so much and the construction process takes three years. Any other actions, the permit is holding us back,” added the prime minister.

According to the state of drawing down of European funds from 2014 to 2020 at the end of October, from 14.5 billion euros in ten programs, more than two billion euros remained to be used by the end of the year, i.e. roughly 15 percent of the total amount. The former official government of Ľudovít Ódor, which, according to Fico, allegedly did nothing, negotiated nine times in five months, specifically on European funds and the recovery plan, approximately every two weeks. Before the end of his tenure, the previous prime minister confirmed that the risk of confiscation of euro resources was reduced from the originally estimated amount of 800 million euros to about 100 million euros.

Don’t overlook

The government will follow up on the previous implementation of the recovery plan, despite the reservations

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