Bulgaria and the EU - What EU Funds Will We Receive During the New Programming Period?
Northwestern Bulgaria is among the 10 most uncompetitive regions in the EU. This conclusion is not new, but it is now confirmed by a study by the European Commission, which answers the question which areas of the Old Continent are most attractive to businesses and citizens.
For more on this topic and on the issues of absorption of funds from Europe, see Victoria Boyadzhieva and her special interview for Business.bg with Angel Beremliyski from the Directorate-General for Regional Policy in the European Commission.
Mr Beremliyski, we are meeting at a very crucial moment when the budget negotiations for the next programming period are underway. Can you remind the viewers of Business.BG what are the finances earmarked for cohesion policy for Bulgaria for the current programming period 2014-2020 and what funds are to be distributed?
Bulgaria receives a lot of serious assistance from the European Union in general, and especially from the EU's cohesion policy. For the current programming period (2014-2020) it is about 8 billion overall. In the next programming period an increase of this resource is envisaged, which is also a very important element, an important message to Bulgaria. Generally, for the future investment policies, in the next 10 years. This is an increase of around € 2 billion. That is, the total resource will reach € 10 billion.
At the same time, however, the Regional Competitiveness Index came out and the data show that in the last 3 years our regions have not developed much, which is still the weakest, poorest region in Bulgaria - Northwest. Your comment?
My observation is similar to yours that there are indicators in certain regions that have not improved in the last 3 years, even at times they have decreased. This is, for example, the Northwest Region. It is therefore an important element and is also the core and one of the main objectives of cohesion policy - to strike a balance between investment in general, the competitiveness of an economy, to develop the potential of that economy, but also to emphasize territorial disparities. Or rather, to smooth these differences. This was definitely a key element of the current programming period, where for the first time we had as many as 39 cities directly using the resource, setting their own priorities, their own development strategy and being given the opportunity to choose projects specifically.
However - data is data. Where is the problem? In insufficient funds reaching these regions, or insufficient absorption? Why during the years there is no development of the indicators of this index?
Of course there is development. That is, the country's approximation to the EU average is present. But of course there are still problems. These problems are related to both demographics and capacity, and the potential to develop these regions as well. And so it is important that in the next programming period we really emphasize this element. But this resource is limited. Therefore, what matters is what the Member State itself adds to this resource. Depending on the level of development of a particular region, the particular country, that is to say, the participation of a Member State increases and decreases. That is, in the Bulgarian case in particular, co-financing is minimal, since the country as a whole, as well as the regions themselves, are in a less favorable position than the other regions and the EU average.
It is noteworthy that among the factors used to measure the competitiveness index, there is one that stands out with good performance in our country for all regions even 3 years ago and now. And that is precisely "macroeconomic stability". At the same time, however, other indicators such as health, education, the labor market, innovation, technology are not good, we are not performing well and we are below the EU average.
Regions and the country generally enjoy such good macroeconomic indicators. This is clearly the limit of all. And macroeconomic stability is shifting from the national level to the regional level. This is on the positive side.
Isn't there too much emphasis on areas that can attract investors at the expense of areas that directly improve people's lives?
I think this is a necessary balance. That is why in the last programming period we invested in the renovation of some, especially in the country, healthy establishments. Recently, in 2018, we also approved a major project that also took a long time to prepare, but for good. This is a major ambulance project. The project in question is a European investment of around € 60 million alone. The total investment, I think, was about EUR 100 million. But it adds to the investment that is being made in improving the quality of the schools and the learning processes naturally, as well as in improving the living conditions in Bulgarian cities - energy efficiency, these are all projects focused on improving the environment in the cities themselves and settlements and also in quality of life.
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