OPINION

Making use of EU money

Greece’s foot-dragging in absorbing funds from the European Union’s Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII), a performance that puts the country at the bottom of the EU’s related table, is a cause for serious concern. Greece cannot afford to squander a cent of these much-precious funds. At present, the best the conservative government can do is to mobilize the responsible institutions and find ways to keep the losses at a minimum. It is worth noting that just one year before the expiration of the EU deadline (in fact, countries are granted an extra two-year period to complete the process), Greece’s absorption rate is stuck at a paltry 36 percent. The truth is that the absorption rate tends to climb in the final years as bureaucracy occupies the early years of the process. Nevertheless, both the overall absorption rate as well as the rates for each individual program ought to stand at far higher levels. Depressingly, rates are the lowest in business programs that are vital for the country’s modernization and economic competitiveness. The absorption rate for the Information Society project now stands at 22 percent. Business programs for the environment, education, railways and many regional projects also score poorly. In an attempt to avert any further losses, the Economy Ministry had to transfer 500 million euros from sluggish programs to more receptive projects. However, even that trick has its limits. After all, the point is not just to absorb EU funds but to invest money in such a manner as to spur growth and boost employment. The truth is that much of the blame for the current situation lies with the previous administration. But the current administration is not without blame. For that reason, Costas Karamanlis and his ministers must step in to break the inertia and cut through red tape. Furthermore, the administration must shake up the responsible institutions so as to enable the preparation of more credible programs and their swift implementation. The government cannot do miracles – especially under the pressure of time. This means that the government will have to ask for help from experts in the private sector. Proper collaboration would not just accelerate the absorption rate, but also inject the state apparatus with the much needed know-how.