Slovakia should relax its public-procurement rules to speed up the absorption of European Union aid funds to gain leverage in the intensifying debate over whether the bloc should reduce financing for its less developed members, Prime Minister Robert Fico said.

Slovakia has so far spent 11 percent of the 19.6 billion euros ($18.8 billion) in EU aid including national co-financing that it’s been designated in the bloc’s 2014-2020 budget. That’s the third-lowest share among the EU’s ex-communist members after Romania and Croatia. While the country of 5.4 million has earmarked 51 percent of the funds, red tape is stretching procurement for projects to as long as 600 days, triple that needed in some other members, Fico said.

“The rules should be so that when we fight for funds in the EU’s 2021-2027 budget next year we won’t be told and rightly so ‘What do you want?,’” Fico told journalists in the capital Bratislava. “Absorption is far lower than it should be.”

The U.K.’s exit from the EU will remove a net payer to the bloc’s budget, reduce cash available for so-called cohesion policies after 2021 and sap a key funding source for roads and other development projects in the east. French President Emmanuel Macron has also suggested that aid should be linked to recipients’ adherence to democratic standards, a threat to countries like Poland and Hungary. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Standard newspaper this month that taxpayers’ money must be used “more sparingly.”

The slowdown in drawing EU funds put a drag on economic growth in most countries in the region last year. In contrast, a rush to spend funds at the deadline for the EU’s previous budget period spurred an to acceleration in output in 2016. Fico said he’s ready to accept a cut in aid funds as long as individual governments are given more flexibility in how they use them.

Source: Bloomberg

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