Visiting EU Commissioners for regional development and employment and social policy have been briefed by Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrat, ODS) on steps taken to bolster audits and checks on the use of funds from Brussels.
The high-profile briefing on Thursday follows pre-emptive step taken by Prague last week not to reclaim billions already spent on programs co-financed with EU funds until a new system of audits and checks is put in place by June. The stall on claims and improved system has been offered in a bid to stop Brussels imposing a full freeze on EU payments itself.
Flanked by Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn and Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner László Andor, PM Nečas outlined some of the steps promised by Prague to overcome concerns that EU funds are not being used for the purposes agreed and spending inadequately audited. Nečas appeared to partially achieve the target of convincing his guests.
“We have agreed on an action plan to redress this situation,” said Hahn. “It is in everyone’s interest that the Czech Republic and EU work together to solve this problem adequately and, in particular, sustainably,” he added. “I am really rather confident and trustful that we can resolve these problems by the end of June,” he commented later.
Hahn provided a wider context for the Czech problems by pointing out that tough talks are taking place this year between the EU-27 over a further long-term program for structural funds with the net contributors to the EU budget, such as Britain and Germany, keen to see that countries such as the Czech Republic can fully and properly use the funds already earmarked for them. Hard negotiations cover the use of funds from 2014-2020.
Commissioner Andor was less upbeat about the success so far in resolving thorny problems over the Education for Competitiveness program. “There is a need for further efforts on our side and from the government and government authorities. We discussed that with the minister and that will be very much in focus of our joint efforts in the coming period,” he said in a joint press conference on Thursday.
‘I am really rather confident and trustful that we can resolve these problems by the end of June.’
The Czech Minister of Education Josef Dobeš (Public Affairs, VV) was due to stand down Thursday, officially over cuts in funding for his ministry, but unofficially in reaction to a series of scandals and problems over his management, including the use of EU funds. During his term in office since mid-2010 he had six different top officials in charge of pumping and administering EU funds with some lasting for less than a week. No replacement has yet been announced.
Andor said a second program on human resources and employment was working well. He gave assurances that the EU would try to find ways of keeping up the flow of support for training and lifelong skills, if necessary by re-allocating funding, if radical measures had to be taken.
A possible freeze of EU funds amounting to tens of billions of crowns would be a disaster for the Czech government and budget, with the center-right coalition already trying to find savings of around Kč 23 billion in order that the budget deficit this year does not balloon beyond the agreed limit. The government and main opposition, the left-of-center Social Democrats (ČSSD) have already accused each other over who is to blame for the flaws in the Czech administration and auditing of EU programs.