Smer to control new EU funding channels

A DEAL on the allocation of some Sk430 billion in EU money that Slovakia stands to receive from the Union between 2007 and 2013 has earmarked more money than earlier planned to building an 'information society', and has given the ruling coalition Smer party greater control over how the overall funds are spent.

A DEAL on the allocation of some Sk430 billion in EU money that Slovakia stands to receive from the Union between 2007 and 2013 has earmarked more money than earlier planned to building an 'information society', and has given the ruling coalition Smer party greater control over how the overall funds are spent.

Following a series of closed-door talks, the new ruling coalition of PM Robert Fico's Smer, Ján Slota's Slovak National Party (SNS), and Vladimír Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) increased the number of operational programs (OPs) through which the money will be distributed to 11.

The previous Mikuláš Dzurinda government proposed nine OPs, a number that was then cut under the Fico government by the Construction Ministry to eight, with money for turning Slovakia into an information-based society drastically reduced.

Eventually, the government decided to create three new OPs, all of which will be administered by members of Smer.

The political opposition claimed that the increase in OPs reflected Smer's desire to gain greater control over the use of the EU money, which the Construction Ministry, led by an SNS nominee, had placed more under the influence of the nationalists.

"The government wasn't discussing so much where the money will be going, but rather the distribution of power over the EU funds," said Stanislav Janiš, the head of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) caucus.

PM Fico, however, rejected such allegations. "There was no battle over the funds at all. We sat down in a normal way and negotiated the allocation of the funds," he said after the extraordinary October 8 cabinet session.

Ever since the new government started discussing the allocation of the EU funds within the National Strategic Reference Framework, as the spending plan is known, Dušan Čaplovič, Smer's Deputy PM for EU Affairs, Human Rights, and a Knowledge Based Society, has been trying to gain overall control of the money.

Although the task of coordinating the flow of money was eventually left to the Construction and Regional Development Ministry, run by the SNS' Marian Janušek, Čaplovič will now have some €993 million under his control through a new OP called Society.

The money for this program should be used to increase familiarity with and use of information technology, such as computers and the Internet.

Čaplovič said he was happy with the allocation, admitting that it was "more than I'd hoped for".

The Construction Ministry's original proposal, to cut the Information Society OP altogether, had been opposed by many in the IT industry.

Miroslav Majoroš, the director of Slovakia's dominant telecom operator Slovak Telekom (ST), told The Slovak Spectator that "speaking selfishly, Slovak Telekom would be happier if the state invested nothing in developing IT, because then no other investors will crop up, and we will have a monopoly".

However, speaking as a Slovak citizen, Majoroš said that cutting spending on IT "is not a good step".

"At the moment, every sector is dependent on IT, from industry to investors, and no one will come in if the infrastructure is not there. If there is going to be a lot of money coming into this country, it has to go towards infrastructure, because without it this country can't develop. Nor will we be able to hold on to our young people," said Majoroš (see also interview on page 7).

Apart from the Information Society OP, the government also agreed to form two other new OPs: Competitiveness and Economic Growth, to be run by the Economy Ministry with an allocation of €772 million, and Health Care, which has been assigned €250 million, under the Health Ministry's supervision.

Construction Minister Janušek is now to prepare the final draft of the National Strategic Reference Framework by the end of November, following which it will have to be approved by the EU.

Focus on transport

Of the €11.2 billion that Slovakia will get from the EU over the next seven years, the biggest beneficiary will be the Transport Ministry, which will receive the funds through the Transportation OP.

This OP includes road and railway infrastructure, as well as airports. As much as €3.2 billion (Sk120 billion) should go to this OP and fund the construction and upgrade of Slovakia's transport routes and infrastructure.

While the Transportation OP will be the best-fed program in the EU funds scheme, the previous government proposed an even higher amount - €360 million.

The new Transport Minister, Smer nominee Ľubomír Vážny, admitted that he had been hoping for the original amount.

"We are receiving less money than we need for the whole freeway program," the minister told the Pravda daily. "We have a backlog of freeway and road projects worth €6.9 billion, and we received only €3.2 billion. We will select the projects according to our priorities," he said.

In view of the huge amount of EU money that will soon be on its way to individual recipients, corruption watchdog Transparency International warned of the need to ensure effective monitoring of the use of the funds and transparency in their distribution.

Transparency International Slovakia (TIS) President Emília Sičáková-Beblavá told The Slovak Spectator that "Slovakia still has certain weak points in this area.

"We identified several weak points in the system set up by the previous government, such as with the timely and active publication of information and in the resolution of conflicts of interests, but so far we still don't know what conditions the new government will set for ensuring transparency in the use of EU funds," she said.

TIS has listed what information should be actively published.

"If the new government doesn't publish [the information], it won't be because it doesn't know what should be published, but because it is not interested in keeping these processes transparent," Sičáková-Beblavá said.

Distribution of EU funds in the 2007-2013 period

Operational Program Allocation (in EUR millions)
Regional 1.445
Environment 1.800
Transportation 3.207
Information society 993
Research and development 888
Education 617
Employment and social inclusion 881
Technical assistance 98
Health Care 250
Competitiveness and economic growth 772
Bratislava region 82
Total 11.033
Source: Ministry of Construction and Regional Development

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