Greece plans to speed up projects financed by European Union funds next year after completing the preparations this year, the Finance Ministry said yesterday, responding to press reports that delays in implementing the third Community Support Framework (CSF III) could lead to the loss of funds and prompt Brussels to ask for its money back. The focus this year has been on preparations and the holding of tenders while next year the pace will shift into high gear, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis stressed. He said, «2003 will be an acceleration phase.» He also said the lengthy period spent in laying the groundwork has been due in part to the complexity of the scheme and also to the large size of EU transfers. Greece is due to receive a total of 21 billion euros under CSF III for the period 2000 to 2006 for a series of infrastructure and information technology projects aimed at improving its competitiveness and standard of living. Unlike the previous two programs, CSF III is allocating twice the resources for regional development compared with the outlay for Attica. Per capita spending for regional projects is estimated at 4,200 euros against 2,000 euros for the capital. «Because of the many procedures set by the EU and because the funds to be absorbed are much higher, we have to be more careful with the planning, monitoring and implementation of the program,» Christodoulakis said. Greece should be able to reap the fruits of its preparations next year with more than half of the projects expected to be approved and implemented, Christos Pachtas, deputy finance minister, said. In the 15 months since the scheme was launched, 8,000 projects with state funding of 15 billion euros have received the green light. Nearly all ventures should have kicked off in 2004, two years ahead of the 2006 deadline. Pachtas said the pace to date has been uneven, with some sectors moving ahead of schedule while others have been dogged by delays. Compared with other EU countries, Greece is no laggard, he said, citing an European Commission report which put the country ahead of seven other member states in the speed with which it is utilizing EU transfers.