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State Secretary Kirbiš Rojs at the roundtable on European Union in the 21st century

State Secretary Kirbiš Rojs took part in the roundtable on European Union in the 21st century which was held in the scope of the Autumn School at the European Faculty of Law of New University. She underlined the importance of EU funds for the achievement of strategic objectives of the European Union.

The State Secretary welcomed the opportunity to discuss the future of Europe. ''It's really important that Slovenia does its homework and reflects on what kind of Europe it wants to have ten years from now. This comes at a crucial time when Slovenia holds the EU Presidency and leads the debate on the future of Europe. Member States often share similar positions on the future of Europe, however, there are certain issues where we seem to be on opposite sides. It is therefore paramount that we keep confronting different views in a respectful dialogue to find common ground,’’ she stressed.

According to the State Secretary, Slovenia has always advocated for a strong Cohesion Policy that aims to ensure a balanced development and cohesion across the EU. EU funds that come from different funding sources help us achieve strategic goals of the Union, which are to ensure a balanced territorial development and improve the quality of life of EU citizens. ''Europe has coped well with an unprecedented challenge of covid-19 pandemic. Solidarity, the key force behind our great community has played a central role. The European Commission has approved a strong EU budget to help Member States deal with the crisis and support their post-pandemic efforts on the back of green and digital transition,'' the State Secretary said.

She went on to say that ‘’during the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027 which was closed in July 2020, Slovenia hoped for a strong cohesion policy envelope and rural development envelope. Slovenia also advocated for a timely implementation of measures on the ground, because rapid action was necessary to cushion the negative impact of the pandemic. On 17 September 2021, the European Commission disbursed EUR 231 million in pre-financing under the Recovery and Resilience Plan to Slovenia.

Slovenia managed to negotiate additional EUR 350 million for cohesion region Zahodna Slovenija in the final stages of negotiations. The region’s overall considerably high level of development means that the region is gradually ‘’phasing out’’ - it will no longer be eligible to a larger amount of regional policy funding. However, as the region is quite unevenly developed, additional funding will be used to bridge the development gaps within the region.’’   

In the next ten-year period, Slovenia has a record high amount of EU funding available. In addition to the EUR 3.2 billion Cohesion Policy envelope and EUR 1.8 billion for agricultural policy, the country also has around EUR 2.5 billion available under the Recovery and Resilience Fund. ''This is an exceptional opportunity for Slovenia; the country will use this money to address the gaps that hinder our economic and social development. We'll carry out the measures that spur economic productivity and support the digitalization of the economy and the public sector. We'll also address any infrastructure gaps in the sectors of transport, sustainable mobility, environmental protection and provision of quality drinking water,'' the State Secretary added.

She also explained that ‘’eligible intervention areas under Cohesion Policy have been extended to include other priorities and hardest-hit sectors. This includes, for example, investments in resilience of healthcare systems, social security systems, culture, tourism and additional investments in infrastructure. Cohesion Policy has proved to be one of the most flexible policies during the pandemic, as the measures adopted to counter its impacts either fall under the current 2014-2020 period or under the future generation of Cohesion Policy programmes which were modified to accommodate additional measures.’’ 

The State Secretary underlined that EU funds allow Slovenia to make large investments in various areas; combination with national anti-corona measures has proved to be very efficient. Slovenia records low unemployment rates and belongs to Member States with highest economic growth.

She also explained that Slovenia is in favour of a more flexible Cohesion Policy and supports efforts to remove administrative burdens. ‘’Rules must, of course, be in place, because EU funds are public funds, the funds of all EU citizens - as such they must be given back to people in a transparent, effective and regular way. These rules, however, must also pave the way for a simple and efficient implementation. We shouldn't drown in administrative overload, we should avoid it at all levels of implementation,’’ the State Secretary underlined.

‘’Cohesion Policy will remain one of the most important EU policies in the future. The Union is faced with many challenges which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Migration, unevenly developed social systems in Member States, different positions of Member States as regards EU enlargement or Cohesion Policy budget based on solidarity; the differences are there and they are relatively big. This was evident during the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework when the so-called Frugal Four called for Cohesion Policy cuts, whereas Slovenia as net recipient advocated for a stronger Cohesion Policy and its importance for a Union that is based on solidarity and balanced development,’’ the State Secretary continued.

‘’I'm certain that Cohesion Policy will continue to play an important role in the EU. I'm also very much aware that more work will be needed to make it more efficient, and to strike a balance between the complex implementation processes and allocation criteria. Member States' opinion will always differ on that matter, so we'll have to find a compromise that suits all of us. We'll have to strengthen Cohesion Policy by making it a more result-oriented policy which will clearly show its added value to the EU regions and the EU as a whole,'' concluded the State Secretary.