Czechs accessing less than a fifth of EU structural funds

Photo: European Commission

Financial incompetence has been a perennial theme in the Czech Republic in the 16 years since the fall of Communism. The latest news - splashed over the front pages this morning - suggests that little has changed. According to new statistics released by the European Commission, the Czech Republic has little idea how to access the billions of euros allocated to the country by the EU.

Photo: European Commission
When the EU expanded in 2004, it earmarked billions of euros for new member states, in what is sometimes described as a new Marshall plan for Eastern Europe. In the Czech Republic's case, Brussels put by some 1.5 billion euros in structural funds - subsidies available to firms, regional authorities and non-governmental organisations. They had until the end of this year to spend that money, and so far they've used up less than 300 million euro, which is around 18%.

Other new post-Communist states are in a similar boat. Hungary and Slovakia have each used up 23 % of their allocated subsidies. The three Baltic states have done better with around 29%. But the Czechs have been the least effective in accessing EU money out of all the new post-Communist members. Out of the entire EU 25, only Cyprus has proved less capable of accessing EU funds.

When 1.5 billion euros is converted into Czech crowns, you get an awful lot of money - 45 billion crowns to be exact. But not only are many regions and organisations losing out on huge sums of money, what it also means is that when it comes to the next round of negotiations over how much money the EU should earmark for the Czech Republic in subsidies, Brussels can quite rightly say - look you didn't even spend a fifth of cash we put aside for you last time, why should we give you any more this time?

Czech regional officials, for example, could have applied to the EU's Social Fund to subsidise retraining courses for the unemployed or getting the country's impoverished Roma minority onto the labour market. Not one regional authority applied for a single euro in either area of funding last year.

However many of those who apply for funds give up because the paperwork is such a nightmare, and the EU is known for its bureaucracy. But it's also up to governments to help their citizens in dealing with EU.

Unfortunately there was no-one available at the Finance Ministry to comment on this story, but minister Bohuslav Sobotka has been quoted as saying there is no reason to panic.