The European Social Fund (ESF) “is Europe’s main instrument for supporting jobs, helping people get better jobs and ensuring fairer job opportunities for all EU citizens”, according to the ESF website.
This sounds like a useful and important mechanism for supporting skilled jobs and a service economy in the EU, especially for those countries who joined the party late, such as Bulgaria and Romania, and who needed as much help as they could get.
But have these two newest member states used the billions, paid for by EU countries, to develop their human capital and match opportunities in education with the demands of the job market?
Shocking facts reveal as much as 70,000 Euro was spent in a project tasked to employ only one person, “copy-paste” applications were financed with 100,000s of Euro, a multi-million system of jobs training lacked any real kind of public scrutiny, not to mention blackmail, kick-backs, and cronyism – all in the name of human resources.
With education standards at risk of falling in these two countries, never has there been a greater imperative to boost skills, and help the vulnerable and those left behind transition to jobs in the new economy.
Yet in the cases we analysed, this opportunity was missed. Instead the EU funds were only a pretext for well-connected figures to the local and national Governments to make money for themselves, their colleagues and their families. This went as high as ministers and influential power-brokers. And few of these illustrious figures have been held accountable.
Thousands of projects in both Romania and Bulgaria have been financed by the European Social Fund for the last ten years, yet the outcome is to be expected. However, in order to find out whether national authorities are to blame for the poor results or an inbuilt flaw of the programme was the problem, an investigation has to be carried out. A group of journalists from both countries did the job: Catalin Prisacariu coordinated the research, Sorin Ozon dug into Romanian projects’ data, Ognyan Georgiev was in charge of the EU money spent in Bulgaria and Michael Bird did his part as an the editor of the final stories.
File number: JF/JA2A/446/1
A European cross-border research grant of €7,200, allocated on 15 February 2018.
Catalin Prisacariu is an investigative journalist based in Bucharest, Romania, member of LINX (a project of the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism) and European Investigative Collaborations. He previously worked with Journalism Fund for the “The Criminal Migrant Shipping Network” project.
Michael Bird is an award-winning investigative journalist and writer based in Bucharest, Romania and London, UK, specialising in long-form, investigative and data-driven features about eastern Europe. Major projects include The Fix-Up: ‘How Sky News broadcasts false content about east Europe’ and Football Leaks, a cross-border project with European Investigative Collaborations spanning 14 countries, leading national media outlets and over 60 journalists. He also worked on Eurocrimes, a data journalism initiative revealing the nationalities of criminals in 25 EU countries. Previously his work has appeared in the Independent on Sunday, Mediapart, Politico, Tagesspiegel, Ukraine Today, EU Observer, the Daily Express, and Business Insider. He has been reporting live for Deutsche Welle TV, and contributes as a guest correspondent to BBC Radio 5. https://michaelbirdjournalist.wordpress.com
Sorin Ozon is an investigative journalist since 1992. He has worked on many cross-border projects and national high-level corruption investigations.
He is a founding member of the Romanian Center of nvestigative Journalism.
Ognyan Georgiev is an editor in the leading Bulgarian business publication Capital. He has been writing about EU funding and procurement in the last 9 years and also is an expert in regional politics and development. He also heads the special project “Capital Cities” which looks into the economy of regional centers in Bulgaria.
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