Piotr Gliński, the Deputy PM and Minister of Culture took a decision last week to withdraw Polish representatives from the Committee charged with the task of adjudicating the tender. The decision was taken, according to the PM’s Office, “in light of a lack of will to cooperate by the Norwegian side”.
The decision selecting the managing agent of the grants was taken on 25 October, two days after Mr Gliński’s decision to withdraw from the Committee. It has been announced, by the Norwegian side, that the tender was won by a consortium led by the Batory Foundation, a private foundation with links to the well-known liberal philanthropist George Soros.
The Batory Foundation is often criticised by conservatives for awarding grants to liberal and leftist organisations and favouring them over civil society organisations which take a conservative or Christian viewpoint. The present Law and Justice (PiS) administration has argued in favour of the management of the Norwegian Grants being undertaken by a government linked institution.
Today’s PM Office press release argues that the tender did not meet the required standards because the Polish representatives on the awarding committee were not given full access to documentation on the tender, or to information regarding the experts evaluating the tender. The organisers of the tender also excluded the participation of the “Freedom and Democracy Foundation” for an alleged lack of independence, while allowing the Batory Foundation to participate, despite the fact that there are politicians on the boards of both these entities. The final sitting of the tender committee took place despite objections from the Polish government and according to the Polish authorities “the decisions taken are contrary to the procedures agreed for selecting the agent for managing the funds”.
Deputy PM Piotr Gliński in a statement issued on 25 October explained the reasons for Poland’s decision to withdraw representatives from the Committee. According to the Polish official a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the donor countries of the “Norwegian funds” (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) in December of last year in which the process for the selection of the agents to administer the funds was outlined and the sum to be granted to Polish civil society organisations was increased from 35 million to 53 million Euro. That process has not, according to Mr Gliński, been adhered to.
Mr Gliński has also stated that the government views the unilateral choice made by the tendering committee as being contrary to the terms of reference for its deliberations which assumed that the tender should be decided by members of the committee reaching a consensus.
What are Norwegian Grants?
Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, in exchange for their access to the EU single market, fund initiatives aimed at reducing social and economic disparities in poorer EU member states.
Norway is by far the biggest donor of the so-called EEA funds, doling out some 96 percent of the money.
Poland is the largest beneficiary, followed by Romania and Hungary.
Under the scheme, which runs until 2021, Poland stands to receive €809 million, Hungary €215 million.
The grants cover some shortfalls in healthcare budgets and help companies to adopt green technologies. They pay for the upkeep of cultural heritage sites and fund research projects.
Roughly 10 percent of the cash is dedicated to independent support of civic society, a mandatory part of programme.
A similar fund exists covering Swiss obligations to the EU for access to its markets and institutions via the funding of projects in the new EU member states.
Management of EU funds
EU funds are managed by the beneficiary countries through national and regional operating programmes. The managing agents are always public authorities. In this respect the situation with the Norwegian grants is different and has become a cause of concern for the Polish and Hungarian governments who feel that the arrangements in which the grantor countries exercise final control over the allocation of funds are more reminiscent of the 1990s and early noughties when the countries of Central Europe were preparing for accession to the EU.