PM tells ministers to speed up absorption of CSFIII funds

The low rate of absorption of European Union funds provided for infrastructure and other projects, as part of the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII), is one of the biggest challenges the government faces. Yesterday’s Cabinet meeting was entirely devoted to the question of CSFIII funds. The goal set, to increase absorption to 37 percent of the total by the end of the year, is, however, considered extremely ambitious. CSFIII is already in the fifth year of its application: Officially, it runs from 2000 to 2006, but provided Greece submits proposals for the use of these funds by the latter year, inflows may continue for at least another two or three years after that. Adding so-called «matching funds» from the State and the private sector, CSFIII will, if all money earmarked is spent, finance projects worth a total of 51 billion euros. The EU is contributing roughly two-thirds of this amount. According to the latest data – from May 15 – Greece has submitted, and the EU has approved, 12,779 projects whose budget is equal to 69 percent of the total CSFIII budget. These projects have specific timelines and budgets. Overall absorption, however, is only 24 percent, of which 7 percent was an initial lump sum payment. The discrepancy is due not only to the EU’s tight auditing procedures but, most importantly, to delays in starting the projects in question. Former Economy and Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis, a member of the Socialist government which lost power following the March 7 general election, had set a goal of 400 million euros per month for the absorption of CSFIII funds. This goal proved to be elusive. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis asked his ministers involved – that is, most of them – to seek the acceleration of the absorption rate by taking into account transparency and effectiveness. By transparency he meant keeping proper accounts of the projects under way so that Greece avoids the precedent of CSFII (1994-99), where the EU finally decided last year to withhold 500 million euros. By effectiveness, he meant making good use of the money allocated and making certain that budgets do not balloon, as in the case of Attiki Odos, the highway skirting northern Athens and ending at the new airport, whose initial budget of about 1.17 billion euros more than tripled. Recently, Deputy Economy Minister Christos Folias, in charge of coordinating CSFIII inflows, had said that Greece would receive more than 1 billion euros less this year for its public investment program – 2.90 billion instead of 4.02 billion – and accused the previous government of delays in securing the planned amount. At present, securing even the 2.90 billion euros appears questionable since the Economy Ministry has not made a single application for funds since the current government took over in March. Folias said such applications will begin this month. Folias will today preside over the fifth meeting of the CSF Monitoring Commission. The commission will consider, and approve, a government proposal for revising CSFIII projects. The current government has pledged to devote more resources to regions outside Attica and to shift resources from projects that would take too long to complete to smaller ones. The government also wants to boost private sector competitiveness through these projects and encourage more young entrepreneurs to be involved.