Time running out for EU funds

The European Union yesterday reiterated its satisfaction with government efforts to oversee the way funding from Brussels was spent but said the majority of money available to Greece would be lost because of the lack of organization shown so far. On a two-day visit to Greece, Commissioner for European Regional Policy Danuta Hubner met with government officials and was due to take in some of the public works projects that have been realized with EU funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) under the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII). She repeated praise for the government in its current management of projects but said Greece had so far absorbed only 35 percent of some 15 billion euros that Hubner’s department has been responsible for handing out to Athens since 2000. Although the money has been earmarked for construction projects, the works have never materialized. Hubner said this was not good enough and encouraged Greece to do all it could to turn the situation around before CSFIII runs it course at the end of next year. Hubner also warned Athens that it risked missing out on some 200 million euros from the Cohesion Fund, which covers environmental and transport programs. The GDP of many Greek regions will be at 75 percent of the EU average when the next CSF starts in 2007 and therefore may not qualify for funding. But Hubner said they will be given special treatment. «The Community Support Framework is very important for our country’s progress,» said Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis after meeting with Hubner. «We have put the exploitation of the Third Community Support Framework on a new course in cooperation with the European Commission and we are preparing as best we can for the next package, which will run from 2007 to 2013,» Alogoskoufis added. Greece has had a checkered history with EU funding recently. In June, Athens agreed to pay back 518 million euros after EU officials discovered irregularities in the way the money was used to pay for public works between 2000 to 2004. In what the Commission called a «financial correction,» Greece must repay the amount over four years.