By Clive Leviev – Sawyer of The Sofia Globe
The European Commission has again declined to accept Bulgaria’s Partnership Agreement – the document setting the national priorities which will be funded under the European Structural and Investment Funds in the period 2014 – 2020 – meaning that approval of programmes to receive EU funds could be delayed by several months.
A Partnership Agreement is a document prepared by an EU country setting out its strategy for effective and efficient use of EU structural funds in implementing the EU’s strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. The approval process follows “dialogue” between the European Commission and the country.
Bulgaria’s draft Partnership Agreement was sent to the European Commission at the end of August 2013.
A revised version of the draft was sent on January 21 2014 and the “final” version was submitted by Bulgaria on April 2, a few weeks ahead of the deadline for all EU member states to do so. The April submission was announced in Parliament by Zinaida Zlatanova, the current minister in charge of EU funds.
On June 6, Brussels sent the draft agreement back. While Bulgaria’s government had given assurances that all comments by the EC on the first draft were “covered”, the Commission underlined a number of recommendations, Offnews reported.
The list included Bulgaria’s plans to spread integrated urban development funding among 67 cities and towns, which the EC said diluted the effort. The funds should be used for a smaller number of cities and towns, but with higher funding and the best strategies.
On health reform, the document sent by Bulgaria was a step in the right direction but the strategy was not sufficiently clear and precise on reform plans, timing and funding.
Other points related to administrative and judicial reform, Roma integration – where the EC called for effective implementation of programmes to achieve measurable results, water, where the EC said that the capacity of regulator should be strengthened and the responsibility for implementation of the projects to be transferred from municipalities to the regional water operators.
On IT, the Commission said that Bulgaria had no plan to access next-generation technologies. Although broadband access could be financed from the EU funds, the lack of analysis of what the needs of Bulgaria were and the lack of a clear investment model made the European Commission concerned. Only after Bulgaria remedied those deficiencies, investments in broadband can be deployed.
On research and innovation, the Commission invited Bulgaria to speed up the finalisation of its regional innovation strategy for smart specialization (RIS3), allowing the use of appropriate investment funding as soon as possible and make it possible to achieve the EU 2020 target investments in scientific research and innovation to reach 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product. The strategy should ensure co-operation between business and research communities, the Commission noted.
The response by the EC continued with recommendations regarding rural areas, local and regional roads, energy efficiency, land ownership, the Black Sea fleet, and so on – as with other areas, a common thread was that Bulgaria’s document was vague in key areas and lacking a clear strategy.
Zlatanova reportedly is to hold a meeting with representatives of all departments affected by the comments to prepare responses to the Commission’s recommendations.