First version of Partnership Agreement on community funds ‘lacks vision’


 

European Commission experts say priorities’ list is too broad and maintain “overall reservations” regarding the proposed indicators.

 

European Commission (EC) experts have conveyed to Romanian authorities that the first version of the Partnership Agreement (PA) regarding the use of community funds between 2014 and 2020 lacks strategic vision, is too vague, and fails to prove they have capitalized on past mistakes in spending EU money. These observations were expressed end-December by EC experts through the Romanian mission delegation in Brussels, based on the first version of the PA that was finalized in October, Mediafax notes.

The first version of the Agreement, which is in fact a more advanced form than a draft and shows how Romanian authorities plan to attract European funds in the 2014-2020 period, was presented by Prime Minister Victor Ponta and Eugen Teodorovici, European Funds Minister, to members of the Chamber of Deputies in October. On July 25, Minister Teodorovici said the Partnership Agreement that was to be sent to Brussels come fall would be “a very good-quality document.”

The statement was made after a previous version of the document that established how the European money would be spent in the 2014-2020 period had already drawn critique from the European Commission who described it as “incoherent and lacking in clear priorities.” The document was to be redrafted by September.

“It contains extensive details/repetitions of particular needs, whereas others are not developed. The specified needs describe a very wide array of issues without always mentioning a global strategic vision on development challenges. The absence of a strategic approach also applies to several sectoral policies for which no efficient and competent strategies are provided. Economic growth challenges cannot be handled without a coherent competitiveness strategy that includes public support for economic operators, and research and innovation policies and investments into human capital,” the recently released document shows.

Experts warned that lessons learned by Romania between 2007 and 2013, when it was unable to attract the community funds at its disposal, should be better capitalized on by focusing on the state’s ability to reach target objectives, while also stressing that financing priorities are too vaguely and loosely defined and fail to express the actual purpose of the action, and the list of priorities is too broad, “in a seeming attempt” at addressing all sectoral needs.

In the EC’s opinion, Romania risks diminishing its ability to reach set objectives, which would in turn negatively influence the efficiency and impact of European funds, when absorption levels should increase compared to the previous period.

Under these circumstances, Commission advisors have expressed “overall reservations” with regard to proposed financial allocation indicators, arguing an adequate assessment of the proposed priorities and growth needs is impossible at the moment, given the broad and general manner in which they are presented.

According to a point-by-point breakdown of the EC’s analysis, the text’s focus is more on accomplishments achieved so far with respect to the health system, education reform, and undeclared labor, rather than on describing underlying problems and identifying their cause.

Moreover, although agriculture is an important sector of Romanian economy and society, the Partnership Agreement draft does not provide a clear image of the Romanian authorities’ vision toward its future development, as needs are presented superficially and without any references to investments in innovation, added value domains, or the bio produce sector.

EU officials recommended the Government bring more focus on the potential of ports and they pointed out references made to Port Constanta are “fairly poor” and based on general assumptions that the so far “disappointing” progress will be improved upon.

Even though the document lays emphasis on the slow assimilation of information and communication technologies in the IT sector, as well as low digital literacy levels, the actions proposed by the Romanian state refer to public administration, culture, education, health, and infrastructure, while completely ignoring internet connection. EC experts warned this underlines the weak-points of the digital agenda by combining various measures with no clear competitiveness-oriented strategy arrived at through serious analysis.

With regard to energy efficiency in buildings, the recommendation was to take into account smart metering and use of renewable energy and avoid focusing only on thermal insulation in the drafting of financial priorities.

According to the same source, the chapter on equality between men and women is rather undeveloped and requires additional work. The equality of chances criterion in selecting projects should be better explained, because a broad definition of this policy as a selection criterion could be irrelevant in some cases and generate artificial administrative difficulties.

As far as public procurements are concerned, the Commission does not believe conditions in this respect have been met and warns that despite “recent, but timid” progress the public procurement system still requires significant improvement before it can be considered efficient. Recommendations agreed upon with the Commission in this matter should be immediately and extensively implemented.

MFE: January report will take into account EC’s comments

The Ministry for European Funds (MFE) stated in a press release that the 2014-2020 PA would be submitted to the EC by end-January and several of the EC officials’ December comments have already been tackled. According to the cited source, Romania has had “a pro-active approach” in preparing documents for the 2014-2020 period, and started an informal dialog with Commission representatives early on. MFE also pointed out Member States can send over the official Partnership Agreement within four months after regulations have been approved, according to the provisions under European regulations.

PDL asks for Teodorovici’s resignation

Alexandru Nazare, deputy chairman of PDL, announced at a press conference Sunday that PDL will ask PM Victor Ponta to demote the European Funds Minister, as the Partnership Agreement he sent to Brussels has been officially rejected and the absorption of European funds is being delayed. Nazare accused the European Funds Minister of promising a 50 percent absorption rate by end-2013, while only achieving a 25 percent rate. Behind the PA failure, he continued, is a “serious misunderstanding within USL over money distribution.”

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