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LN: Czech unused EU money shrinks to 35 billion in last minute

30 December 2015

Prague, Dec 29 (CTK) - Prague succeeded in drawing billions of crowns from EU funds in the last moment before the December 31 expiry of the 2007-2013 budget period, and it will return "only" 35 billion of unused money to the EU, compared with 105 billion that still remained unused in summer, Lidove noviny (LN) wrote Tuesday.

The Czech Republic was entitled to draw the equivalent of 678 billion crowns, according to the euro´s present exchange rate, in 2007-2013. Invoices for the subsidised projects can be submitted by the end of the year. Afterwards, the remaining unused sum has to be returned to the EU, LN writes.

As the end of the 2007-2013 budget period was coming nearer in the past years, Prague more and more feared that the Czech drawing of EU subsidies will be a shameful failure, LN writes.

At the very beginning, the Czech Republic unfortunately decided to divide the package of EU money into 24 programmes, each designed to focus on a different field, the paper continues.

In individual regions, the subsidies were distributed by cohesion councils controlled by regional politicians. The acronym ROP (Regional Operational Programme) has become a synonym for corruption and fraud, LN says.

The case of suspected financial machinations in the northwestern Usti and Karlovy Vary regions has been handled by courts for four years now, the paper adds.

The Czech technical model of counting and monitoring the subsidies has been a failure as well. The public tender for the monitoring system was repeatedly checked by the EC, and several operational programmes were frozen by the EC for many months over suspected corruption, the daily writes.

In July, the Czech National Audit Office (NKU) warned that the Czech Republic will have to return up to 105 billion crowns worth of unused subsidies to Brussels at the beginning of 2016.

As a result of the last-moment efforts, including intensive purchases and construction works until November, the Czech final account will be far more favourable. The sum returned to Brussels may reach a mere 35 billion crowns, the paper writes, citing the estimate by the Regional Development Ministry that is in charge of distributing the EU subsidies.

The Transport Ministry, which had the largest portion of EU money, 150 billion crowns, at its disposal, announced in mid-December that it has saved 10 billion worth of subsidies, compared with a previous pessimist scenario.

EC data, too, prove an acceleration on the part of Prague.

In 2015, the Czech Republic drew subsidies the second fastest of all EU members, after Slovakia. In 2015 alone, the Czechs succeeded in using almost 20 percent of the whole package allotted to them for 2007-2013.

Since the Western countries each drew only a few percent this year, it is clear that Prague´s success was mainly due to its effort to make up for its delay, the paper writes.

However, the situation threatens to repeat in a few years, because the Czechs have not started to draw the EU money within the new, 2014-2020 budget period yet, LN continues.

In the new period, Prague can draw the equivalent of 650 billion crowns.

As a result of complications similar to the previous period, the drawing is falling behind the schedule again. The ministries concerned addressed potential applicants only this summer, and the first successful recipients of subsidies will be known in the spring. They might receive EU money in about a year, the paper writes.

In 2015, Prague´s revenues from the EU exceeded its payments to the EU by 127 billion crowns thanks to the fast drawing of money. In 2016, the inflow of EU money threatens to dry up, however, the daily writes.

"We really face the threat of our payments to the EU exceeding our revenues from it in the first two quarters of next year," Jan Havranek, a Czech expert in EU funds and an adviser to the Czech Technology Agency, said a fortnight ago, LN concludes.

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