Bulgarian MEP Evgeni Kirilov in a commentary for FOCUS News Agency
Bulgaria is still at the rear in terms of the pace of EU money’s absorption compared to the rest of the EU member states.
According to data of the European Commission and in terms of the money paid by April 1, 2012 under the cohesion policy, out of 27 member states Bulgaria is ranked 26th for the social fund and 25th for the regional development and cohesion funds. The county continues to be seriously lagged behind compared to the countries in the top of the chart and it is even distancing from the average absorption rate.
Lithuania, for instance, has absorbed twice more money than Bulgaria under two of the major investment funds, while the countries atop of the chart – even three times more money compared to Bulgaria.
Under an average rate of 35.42% paid from the regional and the cohesion funds, Bulgaria has reached only 24.30%.
The bigger lagging with the social fund is obvious not only when compared to the leading countries but even compared to the average absorption rate, which is 38.57%, while Bulgaria’s result is only 20.44%.
Here the picture seems morbidly familiar for almost two years now.
The attempts to change the picture are unsuccessful and it becomes more and more uncertain whether Bulgaria is working on the right track or everything is done in chaotic manner and the words are more than the actions.
On the one hand we have the figures, which alarm about a serious risk of losing the money. On the other hand, we have the optimism of the government, who seem to neglect the grounds for concern. In the end of 2011, and this month again, Bulgaria lost a total of EUR 44 million from the fishery fund and the rural development fund. The sum is striking, even not only according to the Bulgarian standards. Unfortunately, the risks of such losses are looming larger and larger with every passing month.
For instance, by the end of 2012 Bulgaria should absorb a resource of nearly EUR 640 million from these funds. This is 64% of the money, planned to be spent by the end of 2012 and if this does not happen, the money will be lost, just like the funds for the fishery and the rural areas.
One third of the year is passed and according to the data of the Ministry of Finance the EC has transferred only EUR 16.2 million for this period. Meanwhile, the state budget has paid EUR 41.6 million. No money has been recovered by the EC from the cohesion fund in the first four months of 2012 and not a single euro for the three operational programmes – Transport, Environment and Regional Development. This means that no money from the EC has been paid for roads, water projects or waste management, neither was there any money for project in which the municipalities are the beneficiaries. There is money only from the European Social Fund and the European Fund for Regional Development, as more than three and a half millions are for programmes for administrative capacity and technical assistance
Looked through the prism of restrictions and the pressure of time, these data alarms that the risk of losing the money is still very high.
On the one hand, there is less than two years until the nest seven-year programme period. On the other hand, the term for the new sum will start in 2014.
The overlapping of the two periods is a critical moment and thus the institutions should not calm themselves down that the deadline for paying the unused money (almost 80% by now) is in fact until the end of 2015 and not 2013.
With regard to the experience of the other member states we see that in the push to absorb the money from the previous period the countries start lagging behind with the absorption of the money from the new period.
There is a serious risk for Bulgaria to find itself in such a situation.
Until Bulgaria speeds up the process of projects’ approval and execution, the rate of the absorbed money will continue to be low and even worse – the Bulgarian citizens will see no benefits from the fact that a huge sum of money has been at Bulgaria’s disposal in order to improve people’s life.