Here are the facts to help you understand what this ongoing scandal is all about.
1. How much money is involved?
Overall, the Research and Innovation operational programme has a budget of €2.2 billion to be distributed, partly by the Economy Ministry and partly by the Education Ministry through the Research Agency that falls under its jurisdiction.
2. How are EU funds for science distributed?
The ministry issues calls for projects. The two largest calls amounted to almost €600 million. None of the universities who responded to the call, entitled “Long-term Strategic Research”, succeeded. That call was to distribute €288 million for projects. The other call, aimed to support industrial research and development centres, was to distribute €301 million. Some dubious companies succeeded with their projects here.
3. What are the allegations against the minister?
There is a suspicion that the distribution of money in the calls for projects has been manipulated. The rectors of the major universities in the country complained that none of their projects received funding. None of the major projects for long-term strategic research received money from these funds. The opposition has joined in the criticism of Plavčan and want to oust him.
4. Who is Peter Plavčan?
Plavčan has worked at the Education Ministry for more than 25 years. He is a career bureaucrat. He was nominated for the ministerial post by the SNS. He is not a member of the party. He also faced some scandals in his previous career, for instance when he accepted high rewards for an honorary post with the Students’ Loan Fund. He returned the money when the scandal was publicised.
5. Why did the universities not receive any funding?
Their research projects did not get enough points from project evaluators. Other projects were higher up in the rankings and received funding. The Education Ministry has not disclosed the names of the projects, arguing that the contracts have not been signed yet. The ministry and the European Commission are checking on the distribution process for these funds.
6. Why are some of the companies who won the grants problematic?
Many companies that will receive money from the call for projects for R&D centres changed the focus of their business activities in the Business Register just before they applied to fulfil the conditions of the call. However, they have been returning minimum revenues and were engaged in completely different activities before the call, like marketing or cleaning services. Despite it all, they received millions of euros for research.
7. Is there any proof that bribery was involved in the project evaluation stage?
The Prefa Alfa company has spoken out. Its owner František Zvrškovec said that he was contacted by one of the evaluators, Peter Klamo. He claims Klamo told him that he needs to pay 20 percent of the value of the project if he wanted it to be successful. Zvrškovec wrote an official complaint to the Government's Office and to OLAF, the EU anti-fraud agency.
8. Who is Peter Klamo?
He is a board member of the Welding Research Institute. The institute is a partner for four other projects that have gotten funding. Since Klamo was evaluating his competitors’ projects, Transparency International Slovensko recently pointed out that he had a clear conflict of interest. There is a suspicion that he deliberately put his competitors at a disadvantage.
9. What does Plavčan have to say about the scandal?
Peter Plavčan thus far has only offered scarce comments on the scandal. He claims he does not have a direct impact on the distribution of EU funds. This is true in theory, but the fact is that the money is distributed by the Research Agency that belongs under the Education Ministry. Plavčan appointed the head of the agency, Rastislav Beliansky, in May 2016. SNS also stands by its minister.
10. Who is looking into the distribution of EU funds for science and research?
The police are investigating the distribution of EU funds based on the motion of the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Also, select Education Ministry employees as well as the European Commission are looking into the matter.