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Czech Govt to divert billions of crowns from the EU away from social services even as COVID-19 increases demand for debt counseling

17.12.2020 12:55
EU flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels (PHOTO: Sébastien Bertrand, Wikimedia commons)
EU flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels (PHOTO: Sébastien Bertrand, Wikimedia commons)

Thirty organizations supporting people living in adversity, abandoned children, families hard-pressed to make ends meet, and senior citizens are protesting the Czech Government's plan to reallocate money from the European Union intended for social projects to infrastructure investments during the next budget period, warning that social services will become even more necessary in the near future because of the novel coronavirus pandemic and that budget cuts would limit the availability of such aid and support. Representatives of several of the associations and organizations made their statement at a press conference Tuesday.

They want to negotiate with the Government about how EU money is allocated. The Czech Republic could be allocated more than EUR 19.5 billion from three EU funds for the 2021-2027 budget period.

The European Social Fund (ESF+) was meant to make about EUR 2.7 billion available to the country. The Government has planned to redirect EUR 1 billion of that funding into infrastructure investments.

The remaining EUR 1.7 billion is meant to be split between the Education Ministry and the Labor Ministry. According to the original proposal by the Czech Ministry for Regional Development, the Labour Ministry would receive EUR 1 billion for Operation Programme Employment.

That is half of what the 2014-2020 budget period made available to that program. Iva Kuchyňková of Caritas Czech Republic believes that amount of money doesn't have to fall to EUR 1 billion, but could be cut to just EUR 1.4 billion.

"I disagree with the idea that the Government determined that ministries should prepare for lower allocations. That was never discussed with the broader spectrum of experts involved with the issue of these funds," Kuchyňková said.

"We would prefer the entire EUR 1.6 billion go to aiding and supporting the people of this country, not to administration and infrastructure," she said. Jan Černý of People in Need (Člověk v tísni) noted that "For the amount of money that is being cut, we could either build six kilometers of highway - or we could pay for an enormous portfolio of services for the inhabitants of this country."

"That kind of money is just a drop in the bucket for an infrastructure project, but in the area of social services, it could be a crucial amount," Černý said. Demand for debt counseling has significantly grown this year, according to People in Need, since even before the novel coronavirus crisis as many as 700 000 people in the country of 10 million were involved in collections proceedings.

The organizations are asking for a reassment of the setup of the financing and of the co-financing required to access the funds, saying that if funding is just to be provided retroactively, projects cannot be realized. Advances on the project funding are what is being asked for.

The organizations also disagree with the level of co-funding they are being required to provide. Lastly, they are warning that smaller municipalities and organizations would never be able to access this EU funding under the current rules.

A total of 33 organizations has objected to the Government's plans. In addition to Caritas Czech Republic and People in Need, they include the Association for the Child and the Family, the Platform for Social Housing and the Association of Organizations Working in Prisons.

Representatives of these organizations have contacted Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO). A meeting with the PM is their aim. 

ČTK, SB, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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EU, Finance, Government of the Czech Republic, sociální služby



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