Czech ministries haggle over readiness to pump EU funds

Photo: European Commission

The Czech Republic’s readiness to pump billions of crowns worth of European funds is again in the spotlight amid a dispute between two ministries whether a new monitoring system has been set up correctly and is ready to run.

Bohuslav Sobotka,  photo: archive of Czech Government
Messages on Twitter to fellow ministers might seem a strange form of public communication. But late last week prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka used the very public medium to tell two of his ministers to get a move on and solve a dispute which he said was putting at risk Czech access to European funds.

Sobotka’s message was directed at minister of finance and ANO leader Andrej Babiš and his nominee at the Ministry of Regional Development Karla Šlechtová. The prime minister said he expects the dispute to be solved by the time the government meets on Wednesday.

The row itself centres on a war of words between the two ministries whether a monitoring system created by the regional development ministry to coordinate the future pumping of European funds has been properly established and is ready to run after a Ministry of Finance audit called this into question. Anti-corruption police swooped on the regional development ministry in March to investigate the tender for the new monitoring system. Minister Šlechtová insists everything is above board and ready to run.

Karla Šlechtová,  photo: archive of Ministry of Regional Development
The prime minister stressed the importance of the issue when questioned on public broadcaster Czech Television’s flagship current affairs programme on Sunday: “This is a really crucial issue and as prime minister I have personally devoted myself over the last 14 months to ensure that we are prepared to pump EU funds. We now have four operational programmes which are fully prepared and where there are no problems and these cover around 50 percent of the funds allocated to the Czech Republic in the coming years. Now we have this problem connected with the audit by the Ministry of Finance and I expect that the ministers of finance and regional development to quickly and professionally solve it.”

The Czech Republic is currently near the bottom of the EU class for its success in pumping past cohesion funds and in getting ready to exploit the next generation of aid. Cohesion funds alone account for around a third of the EU’s overall budget. Most of the Czech funding so far has been directed to transport and environment projects and job training schemes.

Late last year the European Commission placed the Czech Republic among the eight worst performing EU countries for absorbing funds offered for the 2007-2013 period for which there is still a last gasp chance to claim the money. That distinction is shared by Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The idea in Brussels was that these countries could be helped to soak up the last available cash and put their houses in order so that they could do better in the future.

The Czech Republic has so far succeeded in cornering 72 percent of the EU cash offered to it over the last funding period. Compare that figure to the 89 percent success rate boasted by neighbouring Poland, the biggest European recipient of such funding.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Filip Jandourek
And Prague has got off the worst possible start in getting ready to exploit the new EU funding package worth around 650 billion crowns until 2020. It is the sole EU country that so far has not had any of its operational programmes approved by the European Commission. Brussels for long refused to clear new Czech programmes until a new law ensuring a professional and independent civil service was fully on track to become law.