Worries over CSFIII funds

Yet another meeting about progress in absorbing funds from the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) ended with government officials assuring reporters that everything was going well. However, the frequency with which Prime Minister Costas Simitis calls meetings on the subject is an indication of his concern that bureaucratic delays are interrupting the flow of aid to much-needed infrastructure projects. Yesterday’s meeting was attended by Simitis, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas, who is the official with direct responsibility over the flow of funds, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou, Education Minister Petros Efthymiou, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Simitis’s chief economic adviser, Ghikas Hardouvelis, and his top adviser on technical projects, Vassilis Makryonitis. Among those present, Efthymiou and Venizelos had least cause for worry, as their ministries are ahead of the others in giving the thumbs-up to CSFIII-funded programs. Most of the programs are implemented by private sector companies, sometimes in partnership with the State. At the other extreme, Papandreou had to explain why projects supervised by her ministry were lagging behind and asked for a number of changes in procedures that would facilitate the flow of funds. With financing from the State and private sectors added, CSFIII involves projects worth over 50 billion euros. Much is expected from these projects in terms of boosting economic growth and employment. But, since most of the money usually becomes available toward the end of a CSF cycle – CSFIII runs from 2000 to 2006 – the government fears it may not have much concrete to show when national elections take place next year.