SWITZERLAND is in the process of making a large financial contribution to the European Union (EU), some of which is being spent in Slovakia. The funds are part of a market access deal with the EU tied to its enlargement. In return for not having to join the multi-national project itself, but still being allowed to retain privileged trading rights with the expanded union, Switzerland is contributing to the cost of EU enlargement to the tune of CHF1 billion.
Of this, CHF66.8 million (approximately Sk1.3 billion) is earmarked for Slovakia. The funds will be distributed over 10 years from the programme’s official launch date of June 14, 2007, which was when the Swiss parliament approved the resources.
The programme should be wrapped up in 2017.
The Swiss government hopes the programme will help to eliminate not just disparities between member countries of the European Union but also disparities within them.
The programme has opened another chapter in the relations between Switzerland and Slovakia, said Martin Dahinden, the Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation speaking at a conference devoted to the programme in Bratislava on November 27.
“We hope that the programme will be sustainable, bringing even more economic, cultural and even political cooperation between Switzerland and Slovakia,” Swiss Ambassador to Slovakia Josef Aregger told The Slovak Spectator.
However, Dahinden added that this development contribution is also important for Switzerland’s own security and environment.
As both economies are closely linked to the EU market, it is in the interests of Switzerland that it remains strong and continues to prosper, he said.
The money will go into five areas: security, stability and support for reforms; environment and infrastructure; the private sector; human and social development; and special allocations, according to Anton Hagen, Head of the Swiss Contribution Office in Slovakia.
Ivan Istvanffy of the Cabinet Office said that the first open call for applications for non-returnable financial assistance for the renewal and modernisation of basic infrastructure and increasing the quality of the environment, accessing a budget of CHF19.5 million, should be announced at the beginning of next year, the SITA newswire reported.
In 2009, four open calls should be announced, with a scholarship fund representing one element.
All private and public institutions and non-governmental organisations are eligible to apply, according to Hagen.
The programme seeks to “support innovative and high-quality projects that will make a difference,” said Dahinden. The Swiss partners are offering help in the form of experience, know-how and technologies, he added.
The programme is expected to contribute to economic cooperation between the two countries, an area which has already witnessed considerable growth: since 2000 bilateral trade between Switzerland and Slovakia has doubled, said Dahinden.
According to Dahinden, Swiss direct investment increased by nearly 50 percent in one year, reaching CHF547 million by the end of 2006. Swiss companies employ more than 7,000 people in Slovakia, he added.
Dahinden said he hopes that the cooperation programme will create additional stimulus for the private sector.
As for regional development, a considerable amount of the money is to be spent in the two eastern regions of Slovakia, Prešov and Košice, Hagen said.
Ambassador Aregger explained that the Swiss picked the areas and have already given weight to certain sectors by allocating specific amounts of money to these areas.
“We have allocated quite a lot of funds for the area of the environment,” Aregger told The Slovak Spectator, adding that a smaller but still significant amount should flow to regional development.
He also listed research and development and vocational training as supported areas.
According to Aregger, Switzerland will monitor the use of the funds in cooperation with the Slovak side.
The Swiss public agreed in a referendum to allocate the funds to the EU’s new member countries, and therefore need to be given information about how the funds are used.
“The public in Switzerland will also look very closely at the process,” Aregger told The Slovak Spectator. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see maybe once a month a journalist coming here and asking about the funded projects.”
Dahinden said that Switzerland has had discussions with each country to identify the areas of cooperation, which means that the assistance is also tailored to the needs of each country.
“It’s really targeted and well-negotiated with the Slovak partners,” Dahinden told The Slovak Spectator.
As to whether the global financial crisis might have any impact on the programme, Dahinden said that the Swiss have made a commitment and this commitment will hold.
“Of course, the whole environment may change to some extent and you may find it easier to work in some areas than in others because of these kinds of indirect effects,” Dahinden said. “But this will be minor and you would probably not even realise it.”
8. Dec 2008 at 0:00 | BY ZUZANA FRANOVÁ