Slovenia should make best use of time to prepare recovery plan, debate hears

Ljubljana – An online discussion on the EU’s post-pandemic economic recovery hosted by the European Parliament Office on Monday showed that opinions vary on the quality of Slovenia’s national recovery plan, but the participants agreed that the country should make the best use of the one month it still has to finalise the plan.

Ulla Hudina Kmetič from the European Commission Representation in Slovenia stressed that the talks with all EU countries, including Slovenia, on their national plans were very intensive with technical talks being held on a weekly basis. The deadline for submission of final versions is at the end of April, she said.

As for the dialogue with stakeholders within each country, Kmetič said the Commission encouraged it but that this was up to each country.

When the countries submit the final versions of their plans, the Commission will review them within two months and then the Council will decide on whether they are suitable or not.

The Commission does not expect only investment-oriented plans but also reforms. At least 37% of the measures must promote the EU’s green transition and 20% the digital transformation.

Asked about road investments, which feature prominently in Slovenia’s plan, Kmetič said the Commission did not ban them. But countries must check the potential environmental impact of each project they plan. If the project has a big impact, the investment must be adjusted with measures to offset thus impact.

The Commission official also noted that countries would receive the first 13% of the funds immediately when their plans are confirmed and the Own Sources Decision is ratified in all countries.

Slovenia is one of the three countries to have ratified it first, while a total of 11 countries have ratified it so far.

About 70% of grants should be paid out by the end of 2022 and the remaining 30% by 2023. With loans, countries will set the pace, Kmetič said.

Slovenian MEP Romana Tomc (SDS/EPP) said she was certain Slovenia would make the best use of the funds available. She said the misunderstandings regarding the country’s plan were merely technical, stemming from the fact that “perhaps some goals, some milestones are written in a different language, not the Brussels language that the Commission expects”.

She warned against possible delays in the ratification of the Own Sources Decision. “The economy, the people need this money as soon as possible, so such delays would be very harmful,” she said.

Tanja Fajon (SD/S&D) thinks the draft Slovenian plan lacked ambitions and a wider reform strategy. She said a broader dialogue would be needed on the priorities.

Fajn would allocate more funds for healthcare, long-term care and health reform. “The document also contains sensible measures but we are missing out on a development opportunity,” she said.

Klemen Grošelj (Renew Europe/LMŠ) said one of the open issues was whether the granting of funds would depend on the countries’ implementation of the rule of law. He expects a clear decision from the EU court soon.

Another question is whether there will even be enough money for recovery and development given that the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging in Europe. Grošelj is also bothered by Slovenia’s sectoral and piecemeal approach to the drawing of EU funds.

Professor Marko Pahor from the Ljubljana Faculty of Economics agreed that Slovenia’s draft plan did not contain a clear development strategy, while the head of the Chemistry Institute, Gregor Anderluh underlined the need for more funds for research and high-tech companies.

State Secretary Ajda Cuderman asserted that the government was definitely listening to the stakeholders in drafting the plan. She noted that the country was currently also making plans about drawing funds from the React EU mechanism, the Just Transition Fund and the New Cohesion Policy.

“Some measures are appropriate for drawing cohesion funds, where it is for example easier to get funds for small and medium sized companies. Funding for big companies or for those from the western region are better planned in the recovery and resilience plan,” she explained.