A positive assessment of the Enlargement Contribution’s implementation status emerged within the scope of all the annual meetings. As a basis for this stock-taking exercise, all of the partner countries submitted an annual report to Switzerland, together with a plan of activities for the coming year. Each report provided detailed information on the status of the projects being conducted, the budget, the financial audits, the procedure used for calls to tender, and the special programmes.
In recent months, numerous project proposals of outstandingly high quality were submitted in all of the countries, In the domain of security, stability, and support for reform, Switzerland has to date been able to definitively approve three final project proposals. In addition, six project outlines were given the green light. Four projects in the domain of private-sector promotion, including inter alia, an extensive project on SME-financing in Poland, were also definitively approved. In the focal area of human and social development, the “SCIEX” exchange project between Swiss universities and their partner institutions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, got off to a successful start. Nine other project outlines (six of them from Hungary) were approved in the thematic area of environment and infrastructure.
Implementation of the two special instruments, i.e., the Technical Assistance Fund and the Project Preparation Fund, is well advanced in all of the countries. Furthermore, a consensus was reached in terms of a standard project agreement.
All in all, by mid-June, the SDC and SECO had conferred their definitive approval on 31 final project proposals for a total value of CHF 123.9 million. Another 27 project outlines representing a total value of CHF 124.2 million were given authorization to continue and are currently being worked out in detail.
Another theme that was touched upon in this year’s annual meetings was the allocation of the reserves, i.e., the 16.5% of the Swiss Contribution Fund’s total sum that have not yet been assigned to any specific thematic area. In view of their current needs, most of the partner countries have decided to apply the existing reserved primarily to projects in the focal areas of security, stability, and support for reform, and that of environment and infrastructure.
Repercussions of the Financial and Economic Crisis
The financial crisis was also a central theme at this year’s meeting, as it represents for the moment still another burden aggravating the economic and social situation in the new EU-member States. The crisis places the implementation in a certain state of jeopardy to the degree that, as a rule, the local partners are obliged to assume a contribution of at least 15 percent of the cost of their projects. Latvia and Hungary have been particularly hard hit by the financial crisis. In the former, for instance, budget shortfalls were able to be avoided thanks mainly to a credit grant by the International Monetary Fund in the amount of Euro 7.5 billion.
In the difficult economic times currently reigning, the partner counties are also according a pivotal role to the Swiss contribution as a means to reduce the growing social and economic disparities. Up to the present point in time, the co-financing required has been able to be assured for the projects approved.