Brussels, 19 October 2012
Commissioner Johannes Hahn in Greece to push regional funds as a tool for recovery
The EU's Commissioner for Regional Policy, Johannes Hahn, is in Greece today to outline the most effective way to use EU Regional Funds for growth in the EU's next long term budget.
Commissioner Hahn will meet the 13 Governors of Greece's regions in Athens to set out where the European Commission believes Greece can best concentrate its efforts in the next budget period 2014-2020 and to highlight where attention is needed to make the most of current funds. This will form a starting point for discussions on how programmes are designed and ultimately where investment is focused.
Commissioner Hahn will also travel to Thessaloniki where he will meet members of the business community in Northern Greece to assess the impact of regional funds on the ground and discuss measures to create a more business friendly environment
While there, he will visit co-funded projects with the Mayor of Thessaloniki Yannis Boutaris.
Speaking before the meeting with the Governors in Athens, Commissioner Hahn said: "We come to Greece with a message of hope. EU Funds are currently Greece's main instrument for public investment. We have seen huge efforts made to tackle the complex and overburdened systems of administering EU Funds. We now need to push even harder and focus on investments that we know will deliver results at this absolutely critical time."
He added: "With the recent Kallicrates regional and administrative reform which gives more power and responsibility to the Regions, Greece now has a chance to turn its regions into engines of recovery and future growth."
The key priorities for Regional Policy in the next budget period are likely to focus on targeting investment where they will have the most impact, improving the business environment and building on reforms to simplify and streamline the system for managing Regional Funds.
Commissioner Hahn will urge regions to identify and develop investment opportunities where Greek Regions already have a comparative competitive advantage like renewable energy, energy efficiency, tourism and culture, agri-food processing and aquaculture. These measures are in line with the Commission's proposals for future regional policy: focusing on fewer priorities linked to clearer targets and conditions.
In the more immediate term discussions will focus on creating a business friendly environment conducive to investment, improving support for small and medium sized businesses by facilitating their access to finance, encouraging innovation by bringing new products and processes to the market, and completing key infrastructure networks (broadband coverage in rural and urban areas, investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, motorways, water and waste management). The Commission also wants to ensure that a modernised public administration is in place to support a new modern economy. As concerns the 181 jointly agreed priority projects for the country, Commissioner Hahn will urge the Greek authorities to speed up efforts to use the money for desperately needed jobs and growth.
EU cohesion funding for Greece for the period 2007-2013 amounts to €20 billion. The debt write-down of the private sector is €100 billion and financial assistance from the EU and international partners amounts to €240 billion.
The Taskforce for Greece, set up in mid-2011, is helping to strengthen the capacity of Greek authorities to accelerate implementation of Structural Funds investments on the ground.
The Commission, along with the Greek authorities have drawn up a list of 181 strategic priority projects worth a total EUR 11,5 billion (EU and national funding combined) in key areas: Transport, Environment, Energy, Digital Convergence, RTD, Innovation, Administrative Reform, Tourism and Culture. Recently the Greek Minister for Regional Development appointed a coordinator to speed up the implementation of the programmes which have a deadline of 2015.
Top-Up of co-financing rates
A temporary facility was agreed by EU governments and the European Parliament in December 2011 that allows the EU share of co-financing to be temporarily topped-up by up to 10 percentage points for Greece, without raising the overall volume of EU funds. Greece has since been able to benefit from projects being co-financed up to a level of 95 per cent.
The Commission also proposed enabling the use of regional policy allocations still available to back-up guarantees and loans by financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) - a so-called “risk-sharing instrument”. The measure is intended to address the serious obstacles faced by Greece and other Member States, in raising the private financing needed to implement key projects which can only be part-financed by public funds.
In recognition of the essential role of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in providing jobs, the Commission has brought in a system worth EUR 500 million to use EU Funds as a guarantee to help companies access credit. Funds can also be used for guaranteeing bigger projects in Greece.