Janez Janša: Cooperation between all those engaged in the investment of European funds is of utmost importance
Prime Minister Janez Janša today addressed the participants of a consultation organised by the National Council of the Republic of Slovenia about the 2021–2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and the development of the West Slovenia cohesion region.
Having reached compromises in lengthy negotiations, an agreement on the MFF for the period 2021–2027 and the appertaining recovery and resilience facility were hammered out at the level of the EU on 21 July 2020. In terms of the funding of key priorities, this agreement is good and important for the future development of Slovenia, stressed the participants at the consultation. In the last decade, Slovenia financed a significant share of its development policy with cohesion funds, hence the development of the Slovenian regions mostly or exclusively depended on funds provided by the European cohesion policy. The National Council organised this consultation in order to brainstorm with the key decision-makers solutions to challenges associated with the 2021–2027 MFF and the funds available within the European Cohesion Policy beyond 2020.
In his introduction the Prime Minister pointed out that the framework for drawing European funds had been in place for several weeks now. “In total these sources provide a substantial sum, by far larger than ever before,” said Mr Janša, adding that enough has already been said about how to get organised to guarantee success in drawing and investing these funds. He went on to remind the participants that the cohesion region of West Slovenia (Zahodna Slovenija), which was the key topic of the consultation, is an enforced statistical definition created in order to stop Slovenia from losing even more European cohesion funds as the level of development is a decisive factor for their allocation.
“Slovenia does not have statutory regions but only some makeshift solutions to regional delimitation, and still has to tackle the demanding task of the establishment of regions. Although the vast majority of legislation has already been drafted, Slovenia still lacks the crucial piece of legislation on the regions which must be adopted in the National Assembly by a two-thirds majority. Despite all the efforts invested by the National Council in making progress in this respect, for the time being I cannot say that, with the current composition of the National Assembly, there are real prospects to secure a two-thirds majority; therefore, this will, unfortunately, have to wait for the next parliamentary term, which, however, does not prevent us now from building at least the foundations,” said Mr Janša.
“The European Financial Framework, presented only in a very specific part of European funding, is, after all, only an option as today we do not know how many funds will be needed to recover from the epidemic and how many to boost development and resilience. We are still in dangerous waters, fighting the second wave, a high daily number of infections, though, fortunately not a corresponding share of hospitalised patients and patients needing intensive care, because if we had a matching share, this would result in an emergency situation. Lessons learned in the first wave help us slow the spread of the virus to those most vulnerable, and we are coping without having to introduce harsher measures like those in the spring, when we were forced into a lockdown,” explained Mr Janša.
He reiterated his statement from the spring that the second wave of the epidemic would not have any major consequences and would not lead to a lockdown, if an effective medicine, vaccine or a mandatory contact tracing app were available. “We still do not have such a vaccine or medicine. Forecasts are optimistic and we are keeping our fingers crossed that they turn out to be correct, but even in the best-case scenario a vaccine will not be available before the beginning of 2021, and in the meantime we will be faced with the coldest season of the year. And that is a great cause for concern at the moment," he said, adding that an app which would oblige anyone who has been infected to report the fact and only move around with the app active does not exist. “In Europe, we were not able to decide on a uniform approach due to numerous legal and formal frameworks for the protection of personal data, which is a joke as every commercial app documents more data than this app would have,” said the Prime Minister, who continued that a “European” app would solve the problem of crossing the borders: “Today, only a few countries in the world which have introduced such an app have not been hit by the second wave. Everyone else has been thinking about adopting measures to contain the spread of the virus in a way that would not affect our everyday and working lives,” said Mr Janša. He also pointed out that lawyers in Slovenia and Europe should consider what is more important: an imaginary asset or people’s health: “That is why the problem arose and we are not sure how many of the funds we will be able to use for investments, but, for now, we remain optimistic,” said the Prime Minister.
He continued that, were the second wave of the epidemic to require similar remedial and financial action to that in the Recovery and Resilience Facility, that would present a difficult challenge for Europe: “We all hope that this will not happen and, at present, the whole of Europe is searching for ways to combat the virus with lesser economic consequences than in the spring. That is also why none of the countries around us have declared an epidemic yet and why every adopted measure is being weighed heavily,” emphasised the Prime Minister.
Regarding the drawing of funds, the Prime Minister said that the Government’s approach is key to level the playing field and help less developed municipalities or parts of Slovenia, meaning that the share needed to draw the funds will come from the national envelopes. He therefore emphasised that, with this additional national contribution, the less developed regions of the cohesion region of West Slovenia will receive the same co-financing share as the cohesion region of East Slovenia (Vzhodna Slovenija), i.e. 85%. He also added that the second source, along with the national funding, based on which the approaches will be harmonised in the sense of equal treatment for equally developed regions, will be the Recovery and Resilience Facility. He pointed out that most of the funds from this facility will be available in the first years and that therefore it is very important that the programmes are designed and prepared as soon as possible, as otherwise it will not be possible to use these resources: “The farther along you are in your preparations, the easier it will be,” said the Prime Minister.
He said that two working groups established regarding the drawing of European funds monitor the progression and eliminate potential obstacles on a daily and weekly basis: “After each government session, the first working group, which I chair, meets. At these meetings, we have uncovered a lot of obstacles that have to be eliminated, which we will do,” he stated clearly.
He added that cooperation between mayors is necessary in the drawing of European funds, but that: “The most important thing is a change in mentality – this is the key.” We want and strive for everyone who participates in the investment of European funds at the national level to assist and not only look for mistakes with projects, but rather to make sure that the programmes are prepared in accordance with the rules and that, if a mistake is found, to call and explain how the mistake can be rectified without sending long letters,” emphasised Mr Janša. He also noted that this had been the case during his first term as prime minister as well: “There have been a lot of ebbs and flows, and now we have been working to establish the mindset that we need cooperation and that, if things are not progressing in this manner, this has to be pointed out. Of course, the basic rules set out in the European regulations have to be taken into consideration and respected,” he added, before concluding that today’s meeting would not be the last, but rather just the start of close cooperation.