The alternating transparency of the Recovery Fund

The negotiations

Journalists are not the only ones who believe that the names of the beneficiaries of PNRR funds should be open and accessible: echoes of mutual applause in the European Parliament still resonate, two years ago when the project was approved, when some parliamentarians they were already beginning to worry about the risk of possible fraud and corruption. Tana Foarfă, adviser to MEP Dragoș Pîslaru of the Romanian Liberals, explains that “our aim was to create a single database where all the information about the beneficiaries came together” in order to facilitate controls at all levels.

But the project was never approved. In the autumn of 2020, despite the high risk of covid, the European Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Europe were very busy in lengthy discussions on these issues, but Germany in particular, according to various sources heard in this investigation, s ‘he has strongly opposed. to total transparency. This was also confirmed by Damian Boeselager, EU parliamentarian for the German Greens, who took part in the negotiations and told us: “Representatives of the German government were against the publication of the names of the beneficiaries, as well as the use of database systems, which linked all the data “. The German government has not answered our questions about the reason for this position. Boeselager bitterly comments on the whole principle “It has been accepted that if you don’t look at my papers, I won’t look at yours.” In practice, it is accepted that there is corruption.

The final decision was already taken at the end of 2020, in one of the trilogue sessions between the Commission, Parliament and the Member States. The resistance of the different states of the federation seems to have weighed heavily on Germany’s position, as they did not digest the idea that Berlin could put its budgets in their hands. There was also resistance from the French side, with their representatives complaining about the huge amount of data that had to be collected that would later also have been made available to the Commission.

Complaints from many member countries in several cases noted that the publication of all such data would violate privacy laws. But at least when it comes to legal entities, companies to be clear, there are no rules that prevent their publication. Krzysztof Izdebski of the Open Spending EU Coalition, an NGO coalition that promotes more transparent public spending at European level, reiterated: “We are witnessing an increase in attempts to use the GDPR to restrict access to data. of public funds. Of course, I am in favor of the GDPR and the need to protect the privacy of citizens, but I don’t think it’s an adequate justification for restricting access to fund data. ”Meanwhile, funds are starting to move, not just any to be exact, 66 billion euros in loans and 33 billion euros in loans have already been disbursed, and for the time being, given the stubbornness of many member countries, it remains a mystery in which hands they ended up.

The Recovery Files team has tried it all over Europe to find out more. Currently, only a few countries, such as Slovakia and Lithuania, seem willing to publish all data on beneficiaries. Germany, despite opposition to the negotiations, continued to discuss the issue at least until last year, according to research by German colleagues in Die Welt (project partner) on the subject, but after a series of consultations with the different ministries, the matter ended in a stalemate, without precise explanations. Macron’s own France, which had spoken out strongly in favor of full transparency, seems to have difficulty providing clear data. When Le Monde tried to find out more, he was sent from one place to another, from one ministry to another, like the Gallic warrior Asterix by the authors Goscinny-Uderzo. The twelve works with the A38 neck.

The final response of the French Ministry of Economy is that a single database with all the data will never be produced, but the data will be published in fragments by at least 25 departments involved in the implementation of the plan. So far, none of these departments have shared information with the Recovery Files team.

For European supervisors, things do not seem to be much better. Already last year, OLAF, the European anti-corruption agency, had raised the alarm about the risks associated with the lack of cooperation at pan-European level in the collection and publication of PNR data. The European Court of Auditors, for its part, told us that “we are on uncertain ground in terms of the technical aspects of the PNR audits,” a spokesman says. “Member countries should send us the data, but depending on the specific issues, we may have to consult directly with different authorities at different levels of government.”

The unprecedented complexity of the PNR certainly justifies some delays and inaccuracies. Both the contents of the top, the container itself, and the mechanisms that make it possible have been constructed from scratch, with very few similar examples on which to rely. However, the value of transparency in these issues should be, on our continent, an acquired and inviolable value, not only for ethical but also practical and concrete reasons. In fact, it is an established fact that the more transparent the information about a contract, the less likely it is that there will be a waste of resources.

The Italian situation

In this context, Italy has an ambivalent position. On May 11, 2022 we sent a first petition to the government to find out if they will make the PNRR beneficiaries public. We are not the only ones asking for access to information related to the six PNR missions. Already in mid-April 2022 Openpolis denounced the lack of transparency and the lack of information on the evolution of the measures. Some data finally appear in Italia Domani on May 13th. These are the ones we mentioned at the beginning, relating only and exclusively to the first allocation of funds for Mission 1. The competent administrations of the projects are the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the most part, followed by the Ministry of Public Administrations and, finally, the Ministry of Tourism for a single beneficiary.

However, the volume of data is still impressive: at the moment we know about 5 thousand companies that will take from a minimum of 100 euros to a maximum of 300 thousand. From the site information it is not clear if the beneficiaries have already obtained part of the funds and in what state of execution the projects are. Another interesting fact refers to the coincidence of the beneficiaries (who entrust the contract to a third party) with the implementing subjects (those who are actually going to execute the project). The implementing bodies could be the same public bodies as the municipalities – as they have internal offices in order to implement the measures – or external companies that will have to be chosen according to procedures not yet accurately described.

Faced with this confusion, we tried to get the different ministries involved in the M1 to explain what were the criteria for choosing the companies indicated in the file and why only those beneficiaries had been published and not all the others. Our requests to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Palazzo Chigi (headed by the Department of Innovation) fall on deaf ears. Finally on June 22, after some phone reminders, they confirm that they have read our questions, but the answers have not yet arrived. Palazzo Chigi sends us back to “other competent offices” after more than a month from our request for access to the data. Meanwhile, not even the shadow of the beneficiaries with respect to the other missions.

The situation that is taking shape in Italy seems, like that of many other European countries, in which the data will be published in a fragmented and incomplete way. Under these conditions, it will be extremely difficult for civil society to implement the independent oversight and control functions that have so often been the most effective barrier against attempted fraud.

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