‘The mere creation of the RRF is a sign of resilience [in itself]’

Interview with Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for an Economy that Works for People

Valdis Dombrovskis. Source: European Commission

Assessments done, implementation on track

If you look at Valdis Dombrovskis’ portfolio on the European Commission website, you will see a long list of tasks for which he is responsible. So as well as being very busy, he is also active at many different meetings. Valdis Dombrovskis drily acknowledges that there is a lot of work going on at the moment. ‘I would say that with the Russian aggression against Ukraine and dealing with the various elements related to that, things have even become busier. But that’s how the work is organised in the European Commission — the executive vice presidents have broad policy areas to cover. And for me this also includes responsibilities regarding the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the RRF.’

Audit and control procedures embedded in various RRF stages

The Commission has said that it has a residual responsibility regarding the implementation phase of the RRF. When discussing what this means regarding the protection of the EU’s financial interests, the Executive Vice President points out that all NRRPs contain assurances on the robustness of national control and audit systems. ‘These assurances, that is something the Commission is considering and has been considering when giving assessment of the plans. As the Commission, we need to come to the conclusion that relevant control and audit systems are adequate before we can provide positive assessment. So that’s already one check.’ He refers to the actual audits that the Commission then carries out regarding the structure, function and capabilities in the Member States. ‘So: review the control and audit systems and the data management systems of authorities in charge of the NRRP implementation. Furthermore, the performance-based nature of the RRF means that disbursements are only possible upon satisfactory fulfilment of milestones and targets, again something which we are checking.’

Clear and measurable milestones and targets

One of the key elements that distinguishes the RRF from other EU instruments relating to (most of) cohesion policy or agriculture is its focus on performance as a key criterion for EU disbursement. As Valdis Dombrovskis explains, from the start of the discussions on the NRRPs, this performance-based approach translated into a focus on milestones and targets. ‘When we were discussing with Member States the NRRPs drafted by them, we were putting a lot of attention on having clear and measurable milestones and targets. We have also operational arrangements to further clarify all those elements. Therefore our assessment of performance is whether Member States have been meeting the relevant milestones and targets.’

The reflection of RRF reforms: country-specific recommendations

Executive Vice President Dombrovskis is also responsible for various economic issues, including leading the work on deepening the Economic and Monetary Union. When discussing how well the RRF plans reconcile with the principles and objectives of the internal market and warrant a continued level playing field between Member States, he points out that this reconciliation was very much a part of designing and assessing the NRRPs. ‘The good functioning of the internal market is very prominent in the RRF scope! Within the RRF, we have the six pillars structuring how the plans are to be organised. In those pillars, the internal market is referred to in one way or another. In the third pillar — on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth — it is specified, saying “a well-functioning internal market with strong SMEs.” So it is explicitly there in Pillar 3 of the RRF.’

Rule-of-law conditionality present in old and new EU legislation

While it is not among the 11 assessment criteria, another issue that has received a lot of attention in relation to the RRF is the General Conditionality Regulation, which aims to protect the EU budget if there are breaches of the rule of law. There have been discussions on whether the Commission has made sufficient use of this regulation; the Executive Vice President thinks it does — and explains why.

Enhancing institutional ownership for reform at various levels to stimulate future resilience

Recently the Executive Vice President announced that he would soon offer some new ideas to strengthen the EU’s economic governance, including on strengthening democratic accountability, and highlighted two elements. ‘One important point that we outlined is simplification. So basically, simpler rules that all can follow.’ He observes that the rules are now very complex and require experts to dive deep to take account of all the nuances. ‘Having a simpler rule framework will help with transparency and make it easier — for citizens, for EU and national institutions — to scrutinise the operation of economic governance framework. We also think that the national public opinion will feel more involved in a way to protect citizens against the consequences of unsustainable fiscal policies.’



Articles from the European Court of Auditors, #EU's external auditor & independent guardian of the EU's finances.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
European Court of Auditors

Articles from the European Court of Auditors, #EU's external auditor & independent guardian of the EU's finances.