Prime Minister Costas Simitis yesterday met with six of his ministers to ask them to make a greater effort concerning projects funded through the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) program. Simitis is concerned by the low absorption of CSFIII funds from the European Union. The program, which funds infrastructure projects – together with private and public sector funds – is huge; if it manages to make full use of the money, Greece will implement projects budgeted at about 51 billion euros. Simitis is aware of the impact the projects will make on the Greek economy and society and wants tangible results ahead of the next election, which is less than 10 months away, at best. Simitis spent six hours meeting, successively, with Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, Health Minister Costas Stefanis, Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou, Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos and Transport and Communications Minister Christos Verelis. In essence, Simitis quizzed the six on the progress they have made, or failed to make, in absorbing CSFIII funds, on the basis of data provided by Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas. All six were asked to accelerate absorption and implementation «at all costs,» and were told the funded projects are indispensable to the country’s economic growth. Of the six ministers who submitted to the PM’s questions, the only one who candidly admitted problems and delays in his sector was the only non-professional politician among them, Stefanis. The others claimed developments on their watch were positive, and two of them, Papandreou and Venizelos, said they would ask for extra funds. According to the data presented to Simitis by Pachtas, the absorption rate of EU funds through CSFIII was 18 percent at the end of 2002, rising to 22 percent at the end of June 2003. Even allowing for the fact that progress in the disbursement is not linear, but that most funds tend to come toward the end of the program, these figures are disappointing. CSFIII officially runs from 2000 to 2006, although disbursements for projects approved by the EU by 2006 will continue for a couple of years more. Among the operational sectors falling behind, according to the latest figures, are the Information Society, with a disbursement rate of 13 percent, Health (12 percent), Competitiveness (13 percent), Fisheries (17 percent) and Railways (19 percent). Among regional-based programs, those benefiting Greece’s poorer regions have the lowest absorption rate, at 11 percent. «Our target is to absorb, by year’s end, about a quarter of the available EU funds,» Christodoulakis told reporters on exiting from Simitis’s office. «It will be a great success, indeed, which will ensure that, in the end, we will get all earmarked EU funds,» he added. Transport Minister Verelis said that the tender for 600 new public transport buses was almost complete. He added that the new railroad tunnels at Platamonas, near the border between the provinces of Thessaly and Macedonia, would be ready by late September or early October. This project, funded by CSFIII, will reduce travel between Athens and Thessaloniki by 25 minutes.