The Malta Independent 14 April 2021, Wednesday

EU funding plans still under wraps

Peter Agius Wednesday, 7 April 2021, 07:35 Last update: about 7 days ago

Last year, the EU set aside funding allocations for all Member States for the next seven years in an early hours summit with leaders in Brussels.

Malta’s share includes, for instance. 162 million euro for environmental projects and R&D and a 327 million euro top up to assist Malta with the pandemic recovery. This money can change lives, but it is theoretical as yet. We now need to translate this massive financing potential into long-term benefits for all our community – by proposing concrete projects using it.

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EU funds are negotiated in a 7-year package, so at the beginning of that 7 year period all Member States need to submit a national planning document, whereby they propose rough but sufficiently detailed foresight on how they will commit the EU money. The deadline for that document is end of April.

All across Europe, from Riga to Barcelona, cities and government authorities right now are engaged in public consultations with a view to launching this next phase of EU funding. In Cluj-Napoca in Romania, the city is considering tapping into millions of EU Money to turn all the cities’ busses green. In Greece, Deputy Finance Minister Theodore Skylakakis is pitching the case for 8,3 billion EU funding to boost 5G networks and infrastructure for electric cars in the Greek islands, while our neighbours in Sicily are jockeying leverage to finally realise the Messina bridge to Italy with EU recovery funds.

And where is Malta and Gozo on EU funding planning? We have a Ministry website with an empty page link. Have you seen anything else in terms of public consultation? I have not. As mentioned earlier, deadline is end of April.

My generation as that before me supported EU accession overwhelmingly because we saw the opportunities that it could open up for our country. We did not heed the advice of those telling us that we will be swallowed like minnows in a whale mouth, but we knew well that EU accession required steadfast commitment to make it a success across the board. In the first years of accession, the Nationalist Government which sold us the deal, had the natural drive to demonstrate it was right to push there. Now, it seems to me we are losing that drive.

We need to do much more to make EU membership a success. This needs to be a societal process not just an economic one. I am sure that somewhere in a government department there is a core of competent civil service officials who do have a detailed plan with headings and sub-headings on EU funding spending for Malta for the next seven years. But should that process be just a bureaucrat haven to be made public only at the last minute by Ministers for some press-conference? Is the Government planning to present us with a fait accompli after submitting the planning document to the European Commission?  

The lack of consultation or any public process leading to Malta’s EU funding plans can mean one of two things. Either the Government wants to severe the link between the funding and its source or the public planning is lagging so much behind that opening up to consultation would complicate the process risking missing the Commission deadline.

I think we should do better than that. There are hundreds of good ideas out there that just need some encouragement to materialise into projects for public good. From the obvious need to green our transport systems, to investments making telework more comfortable and more secure, to boosting the digital capabilities of all the Maltese SMEs. EU funding needs to be divested from its bureaucratic allure and instilled once again with the ambition to dream that has inspired the 2004 generation. Let us step up this process in the most obvious way, by making it public, across the board, reaching as many Facebook lives, zoom and skype calls as possible.

 

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