EU Task Force sees progress in Greek reforms, use of funds but warns more work necessary

The EU Task Force for Greece (TGFR) released on Monday its fourth quarterly report, detailing progress made in certain areas of structural reform and technical assistance aimed at securing structural funds.

“The period December to March 2013 was conducive to political engagement with administrative and structural reform, and with efforts to put structural funds to work for the best advantage of the country,” the Task Force’s review said.

The EU organization, set up by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in 2011, noted advances in structural reforms but warned that there was still a long way to go in terms of overhauling the tax administration.

“In the first quarter of 2013, the Greek government has advanced on a wide range of reforms. It has in particular made progress with planning of the reorganisation of Greek Ministries, and initiated important reforms of the business environment,” said the TGFR.

“These efforts must be sustained and carried through into implementation. Reform of tax administration, supported by technical assistance, has made progress on an institutional level. However, it is still too early to tell whether these reforms have led to a permanent increase in the capacity of the State to collect taxes.”

EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, who oversees the Task Force, stressed the need for Athens to maintain the existing pace of reforms.

“The Task Force is playing an important role in supporting Greece to implement what is a very demanding process of deep structural reforms,” he said in a statement. “These reforms are creating the conditions for a more competitive Greek economy capable of generating sustainable growth and jobs. Much work has already been done, in very challenging circumstances. It is important to maintain the tempo of reform, together with the commitment and determination shown by the Greek authorities and people in recent months.”

The Task Force highlighted certain areas where progress had been made, such as the successful completion of a review of the organization at Greek ministries, where some 206,000 staff work. Also, a mediation system has been launched to help reach out-of-court settlements with the aim of preventing a build up of cases at courts.

“Implementation of the Anti-Money Laundering training program is progressing well,” said the TGFR. “So far 160 participants have received training in techniques to identify money laundering and tackling tax evasion. To date, 120 participants have been trained in using internet search techniques to undertake investigations.”

The review highlighted that Greece had been making greater use of the technical assistance provided by EU experts.

“The TFGR now supports an extensive range of reform endeavours in 12 principal policy domains. In addition to the policy domains described in the last quarterly report1, the TFGR has become active in providing technical assistance for reform of the regulatory framework for transport and utility infrastructures,” the report said.

“The depth of TFGR engagement in each policy domain has also increased. Each of the 12 policy domains comprises a number of projects of varying scale and complexity. In total, the TFGR is or has been involved with 93 work-streams in the 12 areas.”

The Task Force noted that the absorption of EU structural funds had improved but warned that Greece could still miss out on some of the investment money available if the relevant projects are not up and running by the end of the year.

“The absorption of cohesion policy funds has continued to progress since the December 2012 report and reached an average of 56% of the envelope for Greece – compared to 46.25 percent at end 2012,” the report said. “Despite this, several programmes are at risk of missing the automatic decommitment targets at the end of 2013.”

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