CSFII row much ado about little: Barnier

In the wake of a political row between government and opposition over the write-off of some 470 million euros in European Union investment funds, EU Regional Policy Commissioner Michel Barnier said yesterday the uproar had been excessive. «The loss rate, about 2.5 percent for Greece, is perfectly comparable to many other member states,» he said at the informal session of the Regional Policy Council in Halkidiki, northern Greece. On Thursday, Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas admitted that the government would not be filing for reimbursement of still available investment subsidies (which he estimated at 372 million), disbursed under the Second Community Support Framework (CSFII) for the 1994-1999 period, apparently because of the many irregularities involved. Barnier said all EU members had fallen short of claiming the full amounts originally approved for spending under CSFII, at rates ranging between 0.7 percent and 10 percent; unofficial sources said the maximum applied to Italy and the UK. Concerning the current CSFIII plan that runs until 2006, Barnier said Greece is at no risk of losing money. The informal council, which was attended for the first time by the ministers of the 10 new members, mainly dealt with the methods and priorities in the allocation of CSFIV for the 2007-2013 period. Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, who chaired the meeting, said, «Regional inequalities will increase in the enlarged EU, at a time when many problems of convergence and cohesion among the 15 current members remain.» The council endorsed a Greek proposal for special arrangements for regions that currently qualify for support but may be left out of CSFIV funds because of the priority that will be given to the many poorer regions eligible after enlargement. The council discussed in particular the issue of simplifying CSF management procedures and the size of national contributions to the community budget. The Greek presidency expressed the view that the rate of 0.45 percent must be maintained or even increased, but some of the main financing members, such as Germany, the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands tended to disagree. The conclusions of the meeting will provide the basis for the negotiations for CSFIV.

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