Two weeks after the rectors of several universities in Slovakia complained about the way the money from the European Union’s funds allocated for long-term strategic science were distributed, Education Minister Peter Plavčan organised a press conference on July 26.
The minister was responding to the earlier claims of the rectors and the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SAV) that they received no money from nearly €300 million allocated for long-term strategic research and development. Instead, the money went mostly to projects submitted by private companies.
Though he promised to respond to the claims and explain why the winning projects were picked, the evidence available does not back his claims, the Sme daily reported.
Moreover, he allowed the journalists to answer only two questions, and then left.
“The criteria for evaluating [the projects] were approved by the Research Agency Council in 2015,” Plavčan said, as quoted by Sme, adding that nobody was complaining at the time.
Plavčan’s claim, however, is not supported by the available documents. The report from the meeting of the monitoring committee for the Operational Programme, Research and Innovations, from which the money was allocated, shows that the voting on criteria took place in late May 2016. Six members abstained from the vote, while one was against it, Sme wrote.
More dubious projects
Sme meanwhile reported that a further €300 million, allocated to support industrial research and development centres, appeared to have been granted to companies that have nothing to do with research. One of the conditions for receiving the money was that it must state in the business register that they are active in research and development.
Sme reported that many of the companies that received the subsidy claimed they deal with R&D only after the ministry announced the call for the submission of proposals.
Plavčan, however, does not see any reason to leave his post and claims that the redistribution of the EU money was quite proper. He also repeated that they are continuing with inspections and that scrutiny by the Supreme Audit Office was also launched, Sme wrote.
After his speech, Plavčan allowed journalists to ask two questions, and then left. His spokesperson, Ivana Skokanová, said he had other appointments but could not specify what he was supposed to be doing. She later told Sme that he was dealing with the university laws that the ministry has drafted this year.
Opposition calls for Plavčan’s departure
The opposition MP Veronika Remišová of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) meanwhile called on the Slovak National Party (SNS), which nominated Plavčan, to give up the education minister’s post.
She also announced that they will start collecting signatures to summon a special parliamentary session whose only point will be a no-confidence vote against Plavčan.
This would be the second attempt to dismiss him from the post, as he also faced a no-confidence vote at the very beginning of his tenure.
SNS, however, does not see a reason for removing the minister from his post. It will adopt necessary steps if any failure is proven, the party told Sme.