CSFIII reserves to benefit regions, but slow progress noted

The Attica region, which includes Athens, will be excluded from a reallocation of 2 billion euros of reserve funds under the European Union-subsidized Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) investment plan and the funds will go exclusively toward projects in provincial regions, Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis said yesterday. Speaking at a session in Thessaloniki of the CSFIII monitoring committee which unveiled its report on the first two years of the 2001-2006 plan, he said that despite Attica’s good performance in absorbing funds, the decision was politically and economically fair as it aimed at promoting regional convergence. «Irrespective of whether the reserves will go to sectoral or regional programs, they are certain to be exclusively used for projects and activities in the regions,» Christodoulakis said. The CSFIII interim report presented a mixed picture: Some programs were found to be running at a satisfactory pace and others not, while progress toward the achievement of basic targets – boosting employment and promoting environmental protection, convergence among regions and equal opportunities – are described as mediocre and lagging in relation to original expectations. Regarding bolstering employment, which is a government priority in the framework of EU guidelines, the results are described as «unimpressive» and new jobs are estimated to be around 80,000 by 2008. «CSFIII’s contribution to employment is largely manifested not in the creation of new jobs but in the maintenance of existing ones,» the report said. Concerning inter-regional convergence, the situation in certain island regions, such as Crete, those in the southern Aegean and Ionian seas, appears to have improved but on the mainland «no indications of relative improvement are yet apparent.» On the environmental front, where Greece has come under the European Commission’s watchful eye in a number of cases, the report notes that in certain respects «trends of deterioration are observed.» Most programs are still at an initial stage. Programs aimed to facilitate access of women and disadvantaged groups to employment and training «have not yet shown the anticipated progress in implementation.» Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas said he is confident the government’s target of 30 percent absorption of CSFIII’s budget of about 50 billion euros will have been attained by the end of 2003.