EU raps Greek knuckles

The government yesterday sought to persuade the European Commission – and the Greek public – that problems with Greece’s absorption of EU funds should not lead to the loss of those funds. This was in response to the revelations over the weekend that Regional Policy Commissioner Michel Barnier had sent letters to Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Economy Minister Nikos Christodoulakis expressing concern over the lack of proper studies for three railway projects that were part of the Second Community Support Framework (CSF II) which ran from 1994 to 1999. The letters made clear that deadlines had to be met and that costs could not balloon in accordance with contractors’ demands. The government released Simitis’s reply to Barnier, in which he said that problems stemming from the conservative government of 1990-1993 would be dealt with. «Problems were noted from the middle of the previous decade and a Special Action Plan was drawn up to modernize the public work construction system in order to reduce cost overruns and deficiencies in quality,» the letter said. The prime minister said that the three railway projects had begun before the introduction of the reforms, which «had a positive impact on the railway sector as well.» Simitis noted that as the Commission’s services had ascertained, «it appears studies after 1997 were free of errors.» Therefore, he said, «on no account should general conclusions be drawn regarding the new CSF structures.» Simitis said that Christodoulakis and Transport Minister Christos Verelis would be sending Barnier more specific answers. He said it was «crucial» that EU funds be paid as this would «determine Greece’s ability to meet its fiscal commitments under the Stability and Growth Pact.» Christodoulakis said Greece was in no danger of losing the funds, as it has already secured 92 percent of the tranche and will have got the rest, estimated at 1.47 billion euros (500 billion drachmas) by the end of the year when the projects are to have been completed. Deputy Economy Minister Christos Pachtas said only some minor projects have reported overruns, valued at about 59 million euros, which will be covered by the national budget. Simitis is expected to tell Parliament tomorrow that the economy is on a sound course and that CSF III «is now entering the tenders phase.» «Thank you. I believe so too. I’ve been associated with leading coaches who have showed how things operate. From there on, I’ve got to study the field and learn more,» said Voltyrakis. «It’s wrong to say I know. Sports is a science that is evolving.»