The EU has approved Poland’s recovery and resilience strategy (Covid recovery fund expenditure).
Leaving aside discussions about whether the European Commission behaved right in releasing the funding despite rule-of-law concerns, pressure must be exerted on the Polish government to implement procedures assuring that expenditure information would be public and available to people. The plan’s revisions must also include tools to ensure public and civil society engagement.
The Recovery and Resilience Facility is a historic EU initiative that will provide member states with €672.5 billion by 2026 to assist with and alleviate the pandemic’s economic and social effects. Poland will get about €36 billion in aid. Due to delays in plan adoption and the fact that Poland cannot anticipate an advance payment, the money will be paid once the plan’s objectives are met.
This may seem like protection against wasteful expenditure, but it implies the European Commission prioritises milestones above money. Only rare audits of expenditures are required per the financing mechanism’s rules. It’s necessary to develop transparency procedures today for all programme money.
Participation and transparency are crucial.
Such significant sums of money distributed to member states in such a short timescale need open, transparent expenditure to ensure effective monitoring. Transparency ensures that money is spent properly and EU financial interests are safeguarded.
This is crucial since the European Commission hasn’t specified a spending transparency framework. Member states have a stronger duty to spend the money properly and to be as transparent as possible with the media and civil society.
Many changes, such as climate and energy policy, will be vital for the entire community, and the Polish government’s recent activities in this regard have left much to be desired. Experts and civil society organisations must have the opportunity to voice their opinions on their orientations. A people’s committee for monitoring programme execution and creating specific policies is crucial for the success of the programme.
One of the milestones is legislative procedure reform. MPs’ legislation must include a regulatory effect study, and fast bill processing must be within restrictions and limits. Participation procedures should also be designed and implemented at the ministry level.
Talking about money shouldn’t be a taboo.
Political will is essential to establish expenditure transparency and include people in the reform process. Many nations have adopted or are developing techniques to increase the transparency of fund expenditure or include people in implementing national programmes. Italy, Romania, Lithuania, Portugal, and France are developing methods and tools that ensure transparency.
One possibility is to clearly devise a public contract as an integral part of the recovery plan. This will include adding to current data on the public procurement process information that contracts are financed wholly or partly from the Recovery and Resilience Facility or are part of programme implementation.
Such data should be released in an open format that can be downloaded, machine-read, and utilised in third-party tables. This would enable journalists and others to check whether the same corporations were getting fund bids. The Italian anticorruption agency is also creating a record of all recovery fund expenditure, including grants and spending below the EU level.
In the latter scenario, Poland’s new requirement for public sector organisations’ post-contract registries increases the openness of finances for programme operations. The register may be released in January 2023 instead of July this year, with the amount disclosed increasing from 500 to 5,000 zloty.
Rules requiring public bodies to disclose contract funds remain unaltered. It’s vital to specify whose programme the expenditure originates from, not simply “European funding.” In this scenario, the source should be the European recovery plan, preferably with the action’s name and number.
Grant competitions use a similar solution. Ideal transparency of recovery fund expenditure would be to follow Portugal and Lithuania by having a standard database of beneficiaries.
Reforms should include organisations in the implementation process.
In many EU nations, implementing reform schemes requires more civil society engagement. European Economic and Social Committee emphasised the necessity to incorporate civil society in national recovery and resilience programmes.
Christa Schweng, the committee’s head, stated at a conference following the resolution’s release that “engaging organised civil society in the National Recovery and Resilience Plans is a requirement for increasing quality, openness, and implementation of new policies.”
A paper published in May proposes practical solutions which are already planned or operational. The Italian government has created a special council to oversee legislators’ efforts and determine the final policy. The council works in subgroups to deal with specific reforms, influence political actions and influence shaping policies.
Local governments use a similar technique. The resolution’s authors said different social actors should be included in actions for reform. In Spain, NGOs aren’t happy with the partnership approach, but employers’ and unions’ organisations cite government agreements on labour market reform.
Appointing working groups in ministries to find specific answers is a good strategy. Poland might follow Croatia’s example and ask NGOs to help with programme bids. Since the fund also supports local governments, any similar organisations in Poland should not be “Warsaw-centric.” Local environmental organisations might function remotely by conducting meetings.
Some nations, including the Czech Republic and Estonia, have built up websites offering information about the program’s progress and allowing civil society organisations to give their thoughts on the changes. No technical hurdles prevent Poland from creating a similar method.
Just political will is the need of the time
These solutions don’t involve much money or labour. Authorities must take the issue seriously and honestly. Transparency and collaboration with organisations help them, too.
This removes the opposition and government opponents’ claim that recovery fund money would be squandered or its goals not attained. Other nations have templates for reforms and transparency. It is now the government’s turn to take the process forward.