The government yesterday called on local authorities and businesses to play their part in maximizing the benefits of EU funding even as response from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remained lukewarm. «Local authorities, businesses and even the State should be mobilized to help make the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) the engine of growth for 2003,» Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said after meeting with trade union representatives, industrialists, merchants and local government delegates. The call for greater participation came as a smaller-than-expected number of SMEs submitted applications to 29 selected banks for projects to be financed by community funds. Slightly fewer than 4,000 companies expressed interest against an original estimate of 15,000-17,000 applications following the expiry of the deadline for applications on January 17. Banks were enlisted to help disburse community funds to SMEs in the manufacturing and tourism industries as part of the government’s strategy of securing a swift and transparent process. Under the scheme, the banks are to evaluate projects within three months, monitor their progress and ensure their completion. A total of 600 million euros has been allocated under CSFIII to assist SMEs in modernizing their production and distribution systems and in improving productivity. Companies, however, said stipulations on revenues and employee numbers are discouraging quite a few interested firms while the move by some banks to promote their own financial products are also dampening interest. Christodoulakis said the government aims to speed up projects in the private sector.