ECONOMY

Gov’t expects ‘spectacular’ results in absorption of EU subsidies for IT

The government said yesterday the European Union-subsidized Information Society investment program, which has been subject to serious delays, will be accelerated at an impressive pace in coming months. «The program introduces information technology throughout Greek society and public administration. It is of huge significance for productivity and competitiveness,» Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on the issue. He said the absorption rate of the 2.7-billion-euro program, which expires in 2006, stood at 11.8 percent in March, when the government came into office, and now stands at 19 percent. «Our aim is to have all the contracts finalized by next year so that all the available funds may be absorbed, and so we may change the relationship between state and taxpayer.» Interior and Public Administration Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos blamed the previous PASOK government for the delays, saying that the Information Society company, which is implementing part of the program, should have been set up in 2000 but that this only happened in 2002. He said there will be spectacular results by the end of March. About 30 information technology projects, with a total budget of 100 million euros, have been approved in the last 11 months. Meanwhile, a delegation of European Commission officials is expected in Athens tomorrow for an on-the-spot look at problems that threaten the suspension of investment subsidies for public projects. Deputy Economy Minister Christos Folias traveled to Brussels yesterday in connection with the issue. About two years ago, the Commission asked for a change in the legal framework for public projects but this has yet to materialize. Due to the delay, it recently threatened to suspend funding. Internal government friction is partly responsible for the delay. The Economy and Public Works ministries were close to a solution last summer but failed to reach it. The government has been committed to submitting analytic proposals by February 28 on the legislative amendments in line with EU requirements. New programs Separately, encouraged by the success of previous rounds, the Development Ministry yesterday launched a new round of EU-subsidized sub-programs aimed at boosting entrepreneurship among the young and women. According to Spyros Efstathopoulos, special secretary for the Competitiveness Program, these sub-programs have to date attracted the greatest response. The new Youth Entrepreneurship sub-program launched yesterday is addressed to people born between 1967 and 1987 who are unemployed salary-earners or self-employed and have not been engaged in any business activity since January 1, 2004. A total of 30 million euros has been devoted so far and the ministry is targeting the doubling of the sum through the transfer of funds from other, less popular programs. Applications may be submitted to the Hellenic Organization of Small & Medium-Sized Enterprises and Handicraft (EOMMEX) by March 31. The new entrepreneurship sub-program for women is expected to be launched in the next few days, while the first sub-programs for commercial enterprises will follow in early March. The total budget for commerce is 200 million euros, of which 80 million is public funds.