National Recovery Plan approved, concerns about financial irregularities remain

EU finance ministers on Monday gave their final approval to the Czech National Recovery Plan, opening the way for the country to receive the first instalment of a 180 billion crown aid package from the EU’s Resilience and Recovery Fund. However, the EC made it very clear that in order to get the money for which it is eligible the Czech Republic would have to address conflict of interest issues involving high-ranking politicians.

European Union finance ministers on Monday rubberstamped the Czech Republic’s National Recovery Plan, reaffirming that the country had met the necessary criteria to gain advance money for its chosen projects. Czech Finance Minister Alena Schillerová, who defended the plan in Brussels, said the financial injection would help reinforce the country’s economic and social resilience.

“The money will be used for projects that will significantly contribute to the further development of our country and have a positive impact on the economy. The decision in Brussels today is very good news for the Czech Republic.”

Alena Schillerová | Photo: Office of Czech Government

In total, the National Recovery Plan envisions spending close to 209 billion crowns in investment across a wide variety of sectors, of which 180 billion should come from the EU’s Resilience and Recovery Fund.

The investments will be channeled into six areas: infrastructure and green transition, digitization, education and the labour market, post-Covid regulatory and business support, research and innovation and health and resilience.

In line with EU requirements, 42 percent of the money will be spent on projects associated with climate protection and 22 on digitizing the economy.

While gaining approval for the planned use of funds allotted was plain sailing, the country still needs to reassure the EC that the money provided will not be misused.

Earlier this year an EU audit concluded that the Czech prime minister himself has a conflict of interest since he continues to benefit from the Agrofert multi-billion crown empire he established and placed into trust funds, eliciting a condition from Brussels that Agrofert and its affiliate companies will not be able to access any money from the union’s structural funds.

Photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

The Czech Republic has now been tasked with introducing an effective mechanism to prevent conflict of interest in public office and to compile a list of all officials in high posts who own companies or have placed them in trust funds and make the list available to the European Commission.

The government was forced to acknowledge on Monday that it was unable to meet the September 8 deadline for this and was forced to ask Brussels for a two month period of grace. Under fire from the opposition, Minister Schillerová says she is aware of the government’s responsibility and the implications of failure.

“We are aware that this is a basic condition for receiving EU funds. We have agreed to it, made a commitment and will fulfill all the requirements so that the drawing of EU funds will not be jeopardized.”