OPINION

Lost funds

Kathimerini has repeatedly raised the issue of the EU’s economic support packages and the low absorption rate by successive Greek governments. However, neither the constant reminders of the importance of the Community Support Frameworks (CSF) nor the realization by many government cadres that structural funds comprise Greece’s «last chance» have been enough to change the government’s stance. The figures speak for themselves, and they are a bad omen for the fate of CSFIII, whose absorption is now made harder by the introduction of even stricter monitoring rules. The data submitted by the European regional policy commissioner, Michel Barnier, after a question by New Democracy MEP Constantinos Hatzidakis are indicative of the situation. Of the CSFII funds that had been reserved for our country, Greece never received 468 million euros (160 billion drachmas). These were ultimately withheld, as Greece never asked for them. Barnier does not analyze the reasons why the money was never asked for – and it is not his job to do so. Nor does he examine whether these are funds that were never absorbed because the works did not take place, or whether the Greek State did spend that money but never asked for EU subsidies because the projects were not entitled to structural funds. Unfortunately, the Greek taxpayer knows the answer. The Greek State has spent the money. It is just that the projects were not entitled to CSF financing, or they were beset with so many defects that the authorities hesitated to ask Brussels to cover the expenditure. In his remarks yesterday, Deputy Finance Minister Christos Pachtas wrongly asserted that the absorption level is higher than in many other European Union countries. Because in Greece’s case, we are not talking about funds that were not absorbed for the lack of projects, but rather about projects that ultimately burdened the taxpayer because they were implemented in such way as to relinquish our right to EU funding. In a state already under heavy fiscal strain and squeezing its taxpayers to increase its revenue, it is unacceptable that ministers can casually dismiss the loss of nearly half a billion euros. As the risk of losing the CSFIII funds looms bigger, the country must realize the cost of past negligence. Greece will not get another opportunity. Should it fail to catch up with its more advanced EU peers after the completion of CSFIII, real convergence with other members will remain a pipe dream.