Further extension likely for absorption of EU subsidies

European Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner said yesterday Greece was likely to receive a one-year extension for the absorption of EU investment subsidies in areas devastated by fires last summer. «I believe I will soon have good news to announce to you… A one-year extension may be a possibility,» she said at a presentation of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) investment plan for the 2007-2013 period. NSRF has succeeded the Third Community Support Framework (CSF III) which ran for the 2001-2006 period. A two-year extension is envisaged for the full absorption of CSF funds, national participation and EU subsidies, totaling about 50 billion euros. Greece has to date absorbed about 75 percent of this sum and the government has been anxious to obtain a further extension, to absorb the remainder and recover part of the cost of the fires in several southern regions. Hubner said the Commission’s relevant departments have completed their work on the issues of Greek priority and «decisions are expected on the allocation of funds to cover part of expenses in the fire-stricken areas» in the next 10 days or so. «The European Commission is on your side,» Hubner said, commending the government for what she called its «exemplary» cooperation with Brussels and the new administrative framework for the management of EU funds. She said the success of programs would largely depend on the mobilization of all available resources of the state and society and urged Greece to use EU funds in more transparent and efficient ways. Increase in R&D Hubner also welcomed Greece’s decision to increase spending on research and development (R&D) through NSRF, from 0.6 percent to 1.5 percent of GDP, and promote solutions to urgent problems in the management of waste and the protection of biodiversity. Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis told the presentation that NSRF, whose total budget is about 39 billion euros, would focus on promoting entrepreneurship, education, R&D and accelerating «digital convergence» with other member states. «With NSRF, Greece is moving into a higher gear,» he said, adding that the investment subsidies would help about 50,000 small and medium-size firms in manufacturing and commerce create 20,000 new jobs. Also, about 95,000 beds in the tourism sector would be upgraded in the process. Alogoskoufis said Thessaloniki deserved more infrastructure projects, which would boost its role as an economic hub in Southeastern Europe.