Tomasz Pilewicz, ES policy expert, graduate of PhD studies in Economics at Warsaw School of Economics
What distinguishes Lithuania on the map of EU member states preparation toward 2014-2020 frameworks is agile and also transparent preparation process. From the governance system point of view it looks similar to other EU countries, as there is a “super ministry” coordinating the EU funds related process in general, and various Management Authorities (ministries, national funds, development agencies), which operate closer to final beneficiaries.
Lithuanian EU structural funds administration system is among the most efficient ones, DG Regio stated recently. Regional Policy programme for Lithuania is among those that have been smoothly adopted still in 2014. As Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cretu claims, this is the result of fruitful cooperation between the Commission and the national and regional authorities. Lithuanian, and also Latvian and Estonian EU structural funds administration systems are rather strict in that meaning that possibly all potential beneficiaries are informed about funding opportunities so the EU funds are absorbed well and public money is used effectively. This makes sure the projects beneficiaries are well informed much in advance the funding opportunities and projects to be submitted for co-financing are prepared well form their beginning, so their implementation is fluent. If we compare this approach e.g. to Poland, it is more up to final beneficiary to look for information and guidance, incl. reaching out for support of private consultancies to structure the information on funds and to guide them on projects preparation.
One of the main advantages of EU funds administration in Lithuania is that it is ahead in terms of providing digital solutions for beneficiaries and general public. In 2010 esparama.lt has been awarded by RegioStars awards in category “Information and Communication” as one of the best digital solutions in the EU. Indeed, this is very important part and digital solutions for EU funds projects controlling are becoming more and more popular. On the one hand one can find publicly available databases with all EU structural funds beneficiaries, as in e.g. of Lithuania or Poland, where such databases exist. On the other hand more and more countries enable to submit the projects proposals via electronic platforms, thus not only circulation of paper documentation is limited, but there are less possible the errors, as the electronic systems remind to fill in all required field or correct simple mistakes automatically. Such solutions can also save resources needed to evaluate the projects.
Several trends in enhancing transparency of EU fund projects preparation and implementation can be observed. For example, in Poland Supreme Chamber of Control, which is reputable national institution for auditing legitimacy, thriftiness, accuracy and rationale of public expenditures, undertakes own initiatives aimed to raise awareness on these aspects of EU structural projects implementation. The National Audit Office of Lithuania holds similar responsibilities of the supreme audit institution in Lithuania. On the other hand one can observe engaging social trust and social control mechanisms aiming to enhance “social ownership of EU funds” and increase the transparency aspects in “bottom-up” way, which is a completely new direction in that field set up by Lithuania by initiative “Jonvabaliai”. I believe that transparency maintained the beneficiaries in “bottom-up” way is much better to transparency “forced” by control mechanisms in “top-down” approach. However, in order to have transparency maintained by beneficiaries’ one needs a government framework, guidance and education. I would pay particular attention to potential consequences and differences between situation where EU funds are misused and reported voluntarily versus when misusage of funds is detected by formal project audit or control. In order to have the system effective, there should be appropriate incentive mechanism in place.
I recognize the clear role of government in e.g. identifying, recording and communicating projects taking place “in our neighborhoods” and also enabling people to check “who does what”, as it is not only transparency reinforcing mechanism, but also a way to inspire, create and submit own projects for financing.