Tomislav Donchev is a realist. "Even if I never slept from this moment on, Bulgaria would never be able to absorb all the European Union funds provided by EU’s structural programmes. This is impossible," said Donchev, whom Parliament appointed Minister for EU funds on March 18.
Donchev now has to battle against not only administrative problems - chaos in municipalities, insufficient projects and nearing deadlines - but also against people’s perceptions that equate EU funds with corruption.
All the scandals during the previous government’s term over EU funds and its failures in this respect have persuaded many that being the Minister for EU funds is something akin to being a director of a waterfall: a useless activity involving a great deal of posturing but little action.
At first sight, Donchev seems like someone who can change this notion. This will depend most of all on his functions as minister, as well as on Donchev himself and his associates.
Ambitious coordinator Parliament granted a blank cheque to Prime Minister Boiko Borissov when it approved his request for Donchev’s appointment. The exact nature of Donchev’s functions and responsibilities is yet to be determined. It is clear, however, that he would take over the Council for EU Funds Management which, during the past eight months, has been under the jurisdiction of Finance Minister Simeon Dyankov. Donchev is unsure whether he can offer new policies and goals or merely monitor progress in the work with EU funds. "I don’t see my office as a fire department, as a complaints office or as an ombudsman. I don’t want yet another institution to which people can complain," he said.
He said that his role will be to serve as a co-ordinator between public administration, the projects’ beneficiaries and the European Commission. "Most of the EU funds’ management bodies share similar problems that can be solved if there is a will. The EU’s structural programmes are not a law unto themselves but rather a concrete tool for implementing national and EU policies. The idea of someone keeping a record of how these goals are fulfilled is a good one," Donchev said.
Donchev, however, also has the appetite and the will to look ahead.
As a start he would like to change the legal framework and ease the communication burden on all levels. "We have to raise the pressure in the system. These are measures that can be taken within a month that would reap results by the summer’s end," Donchev said. His agenda, however, features bigger goals. "Politically, the problem faced by municipalities - and Bulgaria in general - regarding EU funds absorption is that it is still deemed very different to our usual work. EU funds must become part of the administration’s overall activity. We have to go back to the planning process because for these funds to have a maximum effect they must be spent, not just in full compliance with the law, but also with clear purposes and priorities. What’s the good of spending five billion leva if this money has not brought changes to people’s lives?"
The city hall’s example Maybe Donchev sounds so convincing about EU funds management because of his track record. He might have been mayor of the central town of Gabrovo for just 18 months but during this time the city hall demonstrated a level of competence matched by few city halls (including Sofia). His biggest success is the 123.5 million leva in EU funds granted to Gabrovo a few weeks ago for repairing its water supply network. Yet this is not Donchev’s only achievement he can be proud of.
"This is the 15th EU funded project currently running and we have a total of 18 already finished. Gabrovo is in a unique position because two thirds of its investment programme is supported with EU funds. This sum might reach the entire city hall budget by the end of the year. The 2010 budget is 31 million leva while the downpayment on the water supply project alone is 25 million leva, with eight million leva still to come on a contract for renovating the regional refuse system. We are also running several projects of a million leva each," he said.
In reality, Donchev’s team proves that a city hall administration is either competent in everything, or not at all. The city hall has negotiated with all companies who had to excavate in the city streets for whatever reason over the past few years so that it could use the ditches and lay pipelines. That way, the kilometres-long pipeline cost no more than 15 000 leva, Donchev said.
There is no vox pop on Donchev in Gabrovo but inquiries by the local 100 Vesti newspaper show that Donchev is popular with his fellow citzens. Other city halls can learn from Gabrovo’s website and the transparent, well-structured and useful information it provides. Donchev has a personal website with a forum where he discusses Gabrovo’s development. "I realised the support I got only when I left," he said.
Precisely because he is all too familiar with Gabrovo’s achievements, Donchev is concerned about what city halls do or fail to do with EU funds. It is unacceptable to have city halls without a single EU-funded project, he believes, noting that at the next elections EU funds will be a key deciding factor in people’s votes. "Everybody is talking about city halls’ low administrative capacity, but this doesn’t mean there is no competition for getting a project. Those who lag behind will be helped," he said. His most pressing problem, however, lies elsewhere. "In their desire to apply for as many projects as possible, some city halls have made (whether purposefully or not) mistakes for which they can now suffer sanctions. Imagine a city hall with an annual budget of four to five million leva. Imagine also that this city hall is running a project worth 10 million leva. Then this city hall makes a mistake and get sanctioned by 50 per cent of the sum. What happens then? It has to take a loan on who knows what conditions. And this loan will be repaid over six to seven years at the expense of the city hall’s investment programme or routine repair works. So for one flaw in the procedure, such as, for example, a missing signature, do we let the city hall die or what?"
Simeon Saxe-Coburg and his spouse Margarita opened a new heating and insulation system at the Tsar Ferdinand Hospital for Pulmonary Diseases in Iskrets, a project implemented thanks to the Embassy of the Sovereign Order of Malta in Sofia and the Nando Peretti Foundation.
According to the law's provisions, the commission will have the power to investigate individuals without prior notification and would not require a criminal conviction in order to launch an investigation.
Sofia Echo Media is part of the Economedia Group.
The news and information content on this website is provided by our editorial team and is copyrighted.
Any unauthorised reproduction or use of it is strictly forbidden. Reproduction of this website's content is permitted only
with prior written permission from the Editor-in-Chief, should be propertly acredited and provide an active link back to our site.
Comments posted by the website's visitors are independent of the editorial materials and do not represent the views of sofiaecho.com.
Sofia Echo Media cannot be held responsible for the statements contained in visitor comments.
The percentаge change in the shares' prices are based on the price of the last transaction of the current session compared to the
price of the last transaction of the previous session. Bulgarian Stock Exchange data is not real-time, but updated every 15 minutes,
and should not be used as a basis for decisions about buying or selling stock options.