ECONOMY

Simitis urges faster action on CSFIII

Fresh from a foreign policy success in engineering the acceptance of the divided island of Cyprus as a new member in the European Union, Prime Minister Costas Simitis is expected to turn his attention to domestic policy matters that keep hurting the government’s image. Poll respondents repeatedly rate Simitis and his government as more competent than the conservative opposition New Democracy party to tackle prominent issues, such as foreign policy, the 2004 Athens Olympics, terrorism and even the economy, but New Democracy has established a consistent lead in polls thanks to dissatisfaction with government performance in sectors such as education and health and, in general, matters that affect citizens’ everyday lives. An action seen as crucial by the government in helping to solve such problems is the successful implementation of infrastructure projects funded through the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII). Including state and private funds, CSFIII, which runs from 2000 to 2006, will help finance projects worth a total of 51 billion euros. Simitis made it clear yesterday in his meeting with Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis that he will intervene personally to force quarreling ministers to coordinate in order to accelerate the procedures to allow inflows of EU aid to take place earlier and projects to be implemented quicker than anticipated. Simitis believes that the money involved will help, among other things, to make inroads into fighting persistent unemployment, improve health services, boost enterprise competitiveness and the absorption of new technologies. The financing of CSFIII and the delays in its implementation were the subject of an acrimonious Cabinet meeting ahead of Simitis’s trip to the EU summit last week, with ministers attacking Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas, responsible for overseeing CSFIII funds, and with Pachtas counterattacking by accusing ministers of procrastination and warning against the eventuality of the EU withdrawing CSFIII funds. «Greece cannot afford another land register case,» he said, referring to an EU decision obliging Greece to return several million euros for delays in its land register program. In the next few days, Simitis will meet all ministers concerned to mobilize them into action.