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Poor Absorption Of EU Funds By The Golob Government – Which Is Boasting About The Work Of The Previous One

Under the current government led by Robert Golob, the absorption of European Union funds has practically stopped. In a matter of months after this government took over (from April to July 2022), Slovenia fell from 4th to 11th place among all EU Member States in terms of absorption of funds. From being a prosperous country, we started to sink towards the bottom.

Last week, the government discussed the third progress report on the absorption of EU cohesion policy funds. This is divided into two periods, the 2014 to 2020 and 2021 to 2027 programming periods.

They are boasting about the work of the previous government

As of the 8th of December 2023, reimbursements from Brussels amounted to 3.19 billion euros (EU part), or 96 percent. This puts Slovenia in 5th place among Member States in terms of absorption of funds, the government boasted, glossing over the fact that this refers only to the first programming period, from 2014 to 2020, when the drawdown is extended until 2022 (the plus two rule applies). However, they stated that Slovenia expects 100 percent implementation of the 2014-2020 Operational Programme by the end of the year, given the dynamics of programme implementation and commitments. All this makes it look as if the current government is doing a good job with the drawdown, but the fact is that in April 2022, Slovenia was ranked 4th among EU Member States, and then in just a few months (up to July 2022), it dropped to 11th place. Well, we are now in 5th place.

Half a percent of money approved in the new programming period

We are now in a new programming period, starting in 2021 and running until 2027, and the plus two rule applies here too. In this programming period, only 17 decisions have been issued to support projects with EU funding, totalling 174.55 million euros. For this period, the previous government led by Janez Janša managed to secure 3.2 billion euros of European cohesion funds, and 174.55 million euros is only half a percent of the total amount.

Recovery and Resilience Plan – on the tail end

The next European funds are in the Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP). Last week, the government was briefed on the implementation of the said plan. The press release already shows that the drawing of funds is not satisfactory. Thus, the government called on the ministries and other state bodies responsible for the implementation and smooth execution of the Recovery and Resilience Plan to accelerate, as a matter of priority, their activities to implement the reforms and investments whose milestones and targets are foreseen for the coming year.

On the 17th of October 2023, the Council of the European Union finally confirmed the previous positive assessment of the European Commission’s proposal for the revision of the Recovery and Resilience Plan. Slovenia now has 2.68 billion euros available for the implementation of the investments and reforms of the Recovery and Resilience Plan, including 1.61 billion euros in grants and 1.07 billion euros in loans from the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism.

Slovenia has so far received 305 million euros from the European budget to implement the measures from the Recovery and Resilience Plan. Towards the end of this year, it will receive a second payment from Brussels, in the amount of 614 million euros gross and 536 million euros net, taking into account the pro-rata advance already received from the mechanism in September 2021 and the December advance for the implementation of the REPowerEU measures. At the end of November 2023, the European Commission assessed that Slovenia had satisfactorily met all 44 milestones and targets of the second payment request, which consisted of the second and third instalments of the grants and the first instalment of the loans. After the European Commission’s assessment has been taken into account by certain Council of the European Union committees, the European Commission will make its final assessment and issue a decision formally authorising the disbursement of an indicative 227 million euros net grant and 310 million euros net loan of the mechanism, according to a communiqué issued after the government meeting. It was also said that the European Commission had assessed that Slovenia had also formally met 56 out of a total of 205 milestones and targets. At the same time, the ministries, in their capacity as responsible authorities for the implementation of investments and reforms, provisionally estimate that they have also met 14 milestones and targets in instalments, which will be the subject of subsequent payment requests. The seriousness of the matter is also demonstrated by the record that the Ministry of Finance and the Recovery and Resilience Office will inform the government of the implementation of the Recovery and Resilience Plan every three months in the future. This is because the timeframe for drawing down EU funds from the said plan is limited.

Croatia has so far drawn ten times more

If we take away what the government has said it estimates will happen, expects to happen, etc., and only take into account the funding received from the European Union, the picture is quite different. As of the 11th of December 2023, Slovenia has received only 281 million euros from the Recovery and Resilience Plan. Of this, 231 million euros was received by Slovenia in September 2021, during the Janez Janša government, as advance payments. However, as of the 11th of December 2023, Slovenia had achieved only 6 percent of its milestones and targets, reforms and investments.

Compared to neighbouring Croatia, this is a pittance. Namely, neighbouring Croatia received 2.92 billion euros by the 11th of December and achieved 28 milestones and targets (reforms and investments). Croatia has, therefore, received more than ten times more EU money from the Recovery and Resilience Plan than Slovenia. It has also implemented almost five times more reforms and investments than Slovenia.

A scandalous penultimate place

Furthermore, European Commission figures show that Croatia is third on the list of recipients of EU funds from the plan in question. It has already received 35.23 percent of the total. Spain is first with 44.65 percent of the funds granted, followed by Greece, which has received 36.36 percent of the Recovery and Resilience Plan funds. Slovenia is in the penultimate place (out of 22 countries), with Germany in last place.

In Slovenia, the Golob government has stopped EU funding, especially for major projects in the environment, healthcare and transport sectors. They immediately started diverting money to so-called soft content, where it is wasted in various studies and the like, and also to the NGOs from Metelkova Street, who helped them come to power. All of this also means that they are changing the development priorities that have already been set.

Historical: 10 billion euros

At the European Council meeting that was held between the 17th and the 21st of July 2020, then-Prime Minister Janez Janša managed to secure a historic amount of EU funds for Slovenia. From July 2020 to 2030, more than 10 billion euros has been made available to Slovenia from various European funds. This has given Slovenia the opportunity to develop faster with European funds. But then the elections came (April 2022), and much of the money is still available today because the government of Robert Golob is unable (or unwilling) to bring it to Slovenia. Several mayors also pointed out the fact that there were no public tenders for almost a year under the Golob government. And now they are pointing out that there is no money for infrastructure or road projects.

They have wiped out everything that can be wiped out

The Golob coalition immediately started looking for ways to change priorities and starting points, even for programmes related to the absorption of EU funds. Thus, they have also done here exactly what they have done in other areas: they have pursued the goal of reversing everything that the Janša government has done. And in doing so, they are not interested in the results of their actions.

European funds

One of the first actions of the coalition of the Freedom Movement party (Gibanje Svoboda), the Social Democrats (Socialni demokrati – SD), and the Left party (Levica)  was to change the Recovery and Resilience Plan, abandoning some of the projects from the 2014-2020 financial perspective, which ended at the end of 2023 and which were included in the programme by the Janez Janša government. The 2020-2027 financial perspective has only just begun, and here, too, they have already interfered with the plans. In the case of the Recovery and Resilience Plan, it is a national programme of measures (reforms and investments). It is also the basis for drawing on the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the most financially comprehensive part of the European recovery and resilience package, called Next GenerationEU.

Changes to priorities

The government of Robert Golob adopted the basis for the preparation of the revision of the Recovery and Resilience Plan on the 16th of March this year. Several consultations were then held, ministries presented their plans, and the government finally approved the proposed amendment to the Recovery and Resilience Plan on the 10th of July this year. Four days later, on the 14th of July, it had already forwarded the amendment to the Council of the European Union and the Council endorsed it. And while the coalition explained that the changes “do not affect the basic concept of the plan,” the data show that this is not the case. They stated that in the process of drafting the amendments, they have tried to maintain the investments originally planned in the plan, but even in this area, the data proves that they are lying.

Interventions in a number of projects

The press release following the government meeting of the 10th of July 2023 thus shows that a large number of projects have been removed from the Recovery and Resilience Plan. Among the projects that have been removed, only the project to build a new infectious diseases clinic in Maribor and the reduction of funding for flood risk were mentioned. At the same time, they added that the Vrazov trg Campus, a project of the Ljubljana Medical Faculty, remains on the agenda. However, for programmes that have been removed from the plan and “which will be deemed important for Slovenia’s recovery”, the government will look for funding from other sources. They did not say which ones, but they spoke publicly of funds from the state budget, which are already known to be scarce and will be even scarcer. In the press release they stated for this particular investment that the project “will be implemented with funds from domestic sources within an adjusted timetable”, whatever that means. However, for most of the modified projects, including the infectious diseases clinic in Maribor, the excuse is that the deadlines are too short, as the projects in the Recovery and Resilience Plan have to be completed in 2026.

They intervened in as many as 27 projects

Robert Golob’s coalition has interfered with as many as 27 projects from the Recovery and Resilience Plan, originally estimated at 286 million euros (five of which have been removed completely). The total number of planned projects was 52, with a value of 998.9 million euros. The number of projects has been more than halved, leaving only 712.9 million euros of grant funding. Five investments with a total priority of 52.2 million euros were completely removed from the Recovery and Resilience Plan, and the remaining ones were downgraded. The 27 projects that have been eliminated or significantly downgraded include investments to increase energy efficiency in the economy, sustainable renovation of buildings, flood risk reduction, drinking water supply and saving projects, digitalisation of rail and road infrastructure, digitalisation of education, digitalisation of science and sport, digitalisation of the judiciary, other support for the economy, the establishment of the National Food Institute as a central pillar of the innovation ecosystem in food supply chains, optimisation of the accessibility of the healthcare system, effective management of communicable diseases, as well as long-term care.

Vida Kocjan

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