NEWS

Insurmountable obstacles and tailor-made programs for the few

A state official has compared the EU’s Community Support Framework to a truck laden with sardines and surrounded by thousands of cats that can’t get a single morsel. «These are the people who can’t get any money due to the many pieces of documentation they need to present along with their applications, as well as the various restrictions. If a person wants to set up a farm, for example, he or she has to enlist the services of an expert in order to carry out the procedures, which are disproportionate to the actual project,» according to Yiannis Skoubouris, a local government program adviser. «Greece has a large public sector, not so much because of the number of civil servants, but because of the documents that someone has to produce in order to do anything at all. The country is dependent on a clientelist state that over time has accumulated procedures that are unnecessary but which constitute the creature known as the Greek State. Under other circumstances, these procedures would be simpler and more substantial.» Deadlines missed An already difficult situation is exacerbated by the narrow time limits between the date a program is announced and the deadline for submitting applications. As this is the rule, one wonders if it is deliberate. However, Thanassis Voutselas, managing director of the consulting firm Nestor, has this to say. «I believe the main reason for this is the innately casual approach of the ministries, along with bad planning. Let me give you a typical example. Last May Finance Minister Nikos Christodoulakis announced business programs for women and young people. The announcements were repeated during the summer and applications called for only in January this year.» Alexandros Samios, president of the Marathon farming cooperative, has a different view. «Calls for applications are often tailor-made for some people and other interested parties can’t get ready in the two months allowed. Nor do the unions do what they should to help. PASEGES (the agricultural confederation) has an office in Brussels and has access to direct, first-hand information. They are obliged to inform farming cooperatives, and they in turn the local associations. However, this process usually stops at the level of the unions and sometimes does not even reach them. Farmers have to find out for themselves what programs are available from the press and other publications. I myself, for example, have been trying for years to submit an application to take part in a program on the standardization of the peanuts, oil and wine which I produce. I have missed the deadlines twice. Now I have decided to approach an expert,» he said. There are no central channels of information available for people wanting to find out about available programs. Ministries publish calls for applications at any time and not always in the same media. The format is neither uniform nor is it comprehensible at a glance. As a result, the only way people can find out about these programs is through the press. Only recently, the Development Ministry announced all its programs on competitiveness in the sectors of energy, research, industry and tourism, a practice that should have been adopted long ago by all ministries, which at the moment do not coordinate their announcements. On the other hand, similar programs have been announced at the same time, such as those for small and medium-sized businesses (announced in the middle of the Christmas holidays) by the Development Ministry and the Economy Ministry. Within the space of five months, business programs for women and young people were announced as well as the Integrated Programs for the Development of Mountain Ranges that covered similar activities. First the loan Authors of the announcements are often accused of being out of touch with reality, setting provisions that create insurmountable obstacles. «There is a program on energy conservation which requires that the applicant first obtain a bank loan. No bank would approve a loan that easily. They all ask for a number of documents and by the time you get them together, the deadline has passed,» said Voutselas. «In the business program for women and young people, the applicant has to have 30 percent of a total investment of 50 million drachmas (147,000 euros). How many young people these days have deposits of 15 million drachmas (44,000 euros)? For a bank to give you a statement that it is willing to give you a loan, it asks for balance sheets for the past three years. That is, it requires a would-be business owner to state that he or she has already been in business for three years. The only ones who get approval for these programs are those whose parents have businesses and who already have some money. A young person with an innovative idea and know-how or who wants to carry out scientific research is ruled out.» The lack of programming and development goals is another important reason why the funds are not used effectively. One official points to the situation in agro-tourism. In CSFII, agro-tourism was carried out through the Leader programs managed by local development companies (set up by local government bodies). However, agro-tourism means a different approach for different landscapes. For example, the mountains of Achaia offer something different to Lake Plastiras. Following protests from various bodies, Agro-Tourism SA was set up. Its main shareholder is the Tourist Properties Development Company, with the participation of the Agricultural Bank and, of course, the local development companies. In the two years since it was founded, it has made only one announcement (about two months ago) calling on all those who are interested and who have farms to submit proposals for joint ventures with Agro-Tourism SA, although it did not give details such as budget requirements. In other words, it was asking interested parties to provide data which it would then consider based on its own criteria – which are not stated – as to who should get funding.