NEWS

EU wants land register funds back

The European Union will seek the return of a substantial part of some 34 billion drachmas it contributed to Greece’s ill-starred drive to compile a national land register because Athens broke its contractual obligations, visiting regional policy commissioner Michel Barnier said yesterday. This was represented by the government as an absolutely positive development. Following meetings with Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Town Planning, Environment and Public Works Minister Costas Laliotis – who is responsible for the project – Barnier told a press conference in Athens that only a quarter of the 35,000 square kilometers initially supposed to have been entered in the register by 1999 have so far been listed. And the budget has soared from 44 billion drachmas, of which the EU has provided 75 percent, to 94 billion. A substantial part of the credits given to the project must be returned to the European Union budget, as the initial contract was not respected, Barnier said. (Sources told Kathimerini this would be about 20 billion drachmas). aAnd he ruled out the prospect of Brussels contributing to the extra 50 billion required for the first stage of the register. But Barnier stressed that this was an administrative rather than a legal measure, adding that the EU would fund future work on the register, on much stricter conditions. He said a distinctly different operational program will come into effect, under which progress on the work will be regularly evaluated by independent, international experts. The payment of EU funds – under the Third Community Support Framework – will be directly linked to the results achieved, as validated by the experts. And, Barnier said, Greece would be called to contribute more heavily to the land register budget than it has so far. Under these conditions, I am sure that work on the Greek land register may be continued and intensified with the transparency and rigor that are expected in the use of European Union funds, Barnier said. He added that the government has promised to complete the first pilot program on the 35,000 square kilometers – some 26 percent of Greek territory – within the second half of 2002. Laliotis said the results of his meetings with Barnier were an absolutely positive development, and a salutary solution for the future of the national land register. And he claimed that this development gave the lie to all these New Democracy politicians who, for twelve entire months, have been planting mines in the national land register with scare-mongering, scandal-mongering and lies. The minister maintains that ND, the main opposition party, is trying to sabotage the project acting on behalf of private firms that, he claims, want to get their hands on the project. Although no official estimates are available, the land register’s final budget could well exceed 1.2 trillion drachmas. But ND leader Costas Karamanlis accused Laliotis of having brought Greece into disrepute. Yesterday, the union of Greek prosecutors issued a strong condemnation of the government’s virulent attacks on prosecutor Giorgos Gerakis, who last week charged officials handling the register with corruption and fraud. Cart before horse. A team from the Public Works Ministry is to meet with Turkish counterparts in November to discuss the possibility of extending the Egnatia Highway, now under construction in northern Greece, all the way to Istanbul. However, less than half of the highway on Greek territory has been completed. By summer 2002, another 138 kilometers are expected to be ready, bringing the total completed to 300 kilometers out of the 680 kilometers proposed.