VILNIUS - Lithuania's European commissioner and prime minister have expressed varying opinions about the success of absorbing EU funds, which represent a finite, multi-billion euro opportunity for the Baltic state to improve infrastructure and reach convergence with richer EU states.
Dalia Grybauskaite, the EU's commissioner for financial programming and budget, praised Lithuania for its efforts to absorb as much of the EU support money as it could, though she made a veiled critique that Lithuanians needed to be more active.
"I am glad to say that Lithuania has already managed to use almost 2 billion euros of the EU's financial support for 2004 - 2006. We see a lot of examples of how wisely-invested European money can bring a visible benefit to the Lithuanian people and the development of the country's infrastructure, as well as to urban and rural businesses," Grybauskaite said Sept. 24 while in Vilnius.
From 2004, when the Baltics acceded to the EU, through September 2007 Lithuania used 45 percent of the funding opportunities provided by the EU's structural and cohesion funds, she said. "This result should encourage [Lithuanians] to mobilize their capabilities and not to miss the unique opportunity," the commissioner said.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas countered by saying that Lithuania was succeeding in using EU financial assistance and did not plan any changes in the scheme. "[The use] has already been accelerated twice. We will manage everything in time," he told journalists Sept. 24.
He said there was no threat that a large share of the funds would remain unused. "We are proceeding under the plan," Kirkilas said. "We have our review every month and do not care much about what somebody thinks. Everybody is entitled to an opinion."
According to Grybauskaite, of 1.51 billion euros allocated to Lithuania for the period, the country absorbed 674.8 million euros. It used 28 percent of the funding available from the cohesion funds and 56 percent from the structural funds.
The country absorbed 74 percent of funding from the agricultural fund, 68 percent from the fisheries fund and 68 percent from the regional development fund.
The areas with the highest absorption rates were agriculture and transport (58 percent), while those with the lowest absorption rates were employment promotion (33 percent) and environmental protection (28 percent).
In 2006 Lithuania received 799.8 million euros in financial support from the EU's budget. Of this almost 309 million euros went to agriculture, according to Grybauskaite's report.
The European Commission on Sept. 24 published a financial report on the 27-member bloc's budget for 2006, which shows an increase in funding for the competitiveness of the economy and in financial support for new member states.
Out of 106.6 billion euros spent in 2006, 37 percent went to programs designed to promote economic growth and employment, 35 percent to direct aid and market regulation measures in agriculture and just over 12 percent to rural development, according to the report.
Latvia signs EU funds strategy
The European Commissioner for Regional Policy Danuta Hubner and Latvia's minister for EU fund issues, Normunds Broks, signed the Latvian Strategy for 2007-13 for absorption of EU funding.
According to reports, the EU fund absorption strategy, or state strategic guidelines, regulates how some 4.53 billion euros of EU funds will be used for the 2007-13 budgeting period.
Some 1.15 billion euros, or 25 percent of the total strategy funding, has been earmarked for development and efficient use of human resources. Sixteen percent of the funding will be used to enhance competitiveness and a knowledge-based economy, while 59 percent of the funding will be employed to ensure public services and infrastructure improvement.