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SWITZERLAND IS SUPPLYING AID TO NEW EU MEMBERS AND SAYS TRANSPARENCY IS KEY

Swiss funds aim to reduce disparities

IT SHOULDN’T be one of those comets in the sky of international assistance that appears unexpectedly, makes a swift impression and then vanishes without much impact other than the media noise around it. It has been planned and discussed thoroughly with special care for sustainability, transparency and focus on areas that genuinely need support: this is how the Swiss Ambassador to Slovakia, Josef Aregger, and Anton Hagen, the head of the Swiss Contribution Office for Slovakia and the Czech Republic, describe the Swiss contribution scheme for the ten states that joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.

IT SHOULDN’T be one of those comets in the sky of international assistance that appears unexpectedly, makes a swift impression and then vanishes without much impact other than the media noise around it. It has been planned and discussed thoroughly with special care for sustainability, transparency and focus on areas that genuinely need support: this is how the Swiss Ambassador to Slovakia, Josef Aregger, and Anton Hagen, the head of the Swiss Contribution Office for Slovakia and the Czech Republic, describe the Swiss contribution scheme for the ten states that joined the European Union on May 1, 2004.

From the Swiss payment of CHF 1 billion to the ten new EU member states designed to reduce economic and social disparities within the enlarged EU, Slovakia will get a slice of CHF 66.87 million, around €44.5 million, to be committed between 2008 and 2012. The Swiss–Slovak Cooperation Programme continues till 2017.

“To truly serve the goal of the reduction of regional disparities, 40 percent of the total allocation for Slovakia should go to the Košice and Prešov Regions,” Hagen said at a November 5 briefing in Bratislava.

Switzerland prefers to spend as little as possible on administrative costs, pouring as much as possible into real projects, Hagen said. The Swiss partner seeks to avoid overlap with programmes that use funds channelled to Slovakia through EU Structural Funds or other sources and wants its programmes to be complementary so that the available funds are used most effectively, which in Hagen’s opinion, will require effective sharing of information and early communication between all stakeholders involved.

Though the programme was officially launched on November 28, 2008, Hagen said time was needed to establish the appropriate instruments, mainly on the Slovak, but also on the Swiss side.

“We have advanced slowly but steadily and we are now ready to start with the real implementation,” Hagen said on November 5.

The Swiss funds will support activities in five areas: security, stability and support for reforms; environment and infrastructure; private sector development; human and social development; and special allocations.

More concretely, the areas eligible for Swiss support include regional development initiatives in disadvantaged areas of Slovakia and specific projects in the field of social services and the environment. Switzerland has also offered to assist Slovakia in strengthening institutions and capacities for combating corruption and organised crime, according to the official website of the programme.

Aregger stressed that projects related to the development of technical and vocational training in Slovakia will win Swiss support as well because it is one of the areas which could help meet some of the needs of the country’s labour market as well as its vocational education system. Switzerland has some well-tested know-how to share in this field.

On October 26, 2009, a call for projects to support sustainable wastewater management including construction and construction modifications of wastewater treatment plants and public sewer systems in smaller municipalities, which are not eligible for EU Structural Funds, was already announced.

“This clearly responds to a basic need many small communities in Slovakia have in wastewater management,” Aregger said at the briefing.

As for the quality of projects, Hagen said that though it seems like stating the obvious, the Swiss together with their Slovak partner are looking for good projects which guarantee that the funds are used in a meaningful way, answering the needs of the population. For example, good and innovative projects that could serve as a pilot or as an example for others which could be financed later through other sources, are among those sought, he added.

Both Hagen and Aregger stressed the element of transparency.

“Transparency is key for the whole Swiss–Slovak Cooperation Programme: transparency in project selection, procurement and awarding of contracts,” Hagen said.

According to Hagen, in selecting the projects a two-loop system will be applied that saves time and costs and ensures transparency while requiring that each of the projects is assessed by independent experts. There are financial audits on practically all the projects.

“It would be very unusual and unacceptable if any kind of corruption and abuse of funds or powers were to emerge,” Hagen stated.


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