NEWS

EU funds are at risk

The government is facing the risk of losing more than 11 billion euros of European Union funding by the end of the year due to delays in absorbing money from the EU’s Third Community Support Framework (CSF III), a key factor behind the country’s fast-growing economy, Kathimerini has discovered. Greece had planned to absorb 11.3 billion euros by the end of the year, however, delays in implementing programs may result in the money never reaching the country as time runs out despite extensions having been already given. Targets look increasingly difficult to achieve, given that the government has only 30 months to absorb a total of 34.2 billion euros. So far this year, 585 million euros have been plowed into projects versus a target of 5.7 billion euros for the whole of 2006. The Brussels money is mainly aimed at helping member states improve local infrastructure but also comes with rules. In June last year, 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 by the end of 2009. Sources said that whatever funds from the 11.3-billion-euro amount are not contractually accounted for by the end of the year will be permanently lost. Greece has asked for another extension to the end-2008 deadline but this appears unlikely to be granted. CSF III was originally scheduled to have finished at the end of 2006 but Greece asked and obtained a two-year extension. The loss of EU funds will be a massive blow to the country as the money is seen as helping to keep the economy among the strongest performers in the 25-nation bloc. On Tuesday, a government committee given the task of overseeing how the EU funds are used will meet to discuss the next steps that need to be taken. Sources said that the government is likely to shift 3 billion euros into programs that are already up and running in order to cut corners and avoid further delays. However, sources said that Brussels needs to agree to the proposed accounting change.