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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Johannes HAHN

Commissioner for Regional Policy

Speaking Notes: Meeting with Stakeholders on 2014-2020 use of EU investments under Regional Policy

Larissa, Greek Region of Thessaly, 24 July 2014

  1. The glimpses of recovery are clear - EU Cohesion Policy has helped cushion Greece and its regions from the crisis. It has also supported Greece's efforts for structural reform: We will build on this momentum in 2014-2020.

  2. Greece will get 15.5bn for 2014-20 under EU Cohesion Policy. It is imperative to use money well, directed primarily at the real economy.

But I believe it is the regions that hold the key to recovery in Greece: That's why I resolved to visit all 13 of them. Thessaly is number 11.

These visits have confirmed my faith in the Greek regions' potential. That's why I am pleased the Partnership Agreement for Greece for 2014-2020 forsees a programme for every one of the 13.

Thessaly will benefit from its own Operational Programme too: this is worth more than 391 million EUR; Thessaly will also benefit from additional funds under the national operational programmes and from the Rural Development Fund.

  1. Using these investments well is the key challenge. Thessaly has a good track record for using the money.

I very much appreciate the efforts of the Governor Agorastos who I have met this morning and with whom I had a constructive and detailed conversation about how to best invest this money.

There is in Thessaly no risk of losing unspent money for 2007-13.

I also offer congratulations for tackling landfills: there are no illegal landfills operating in this region.

  1. But there are challenges for now and for the future:

Now: Need to finish off all projects and especially key priority projects so essential for Greece s recovery – in Thessaly there are 7, five still need to be completed by 2015.

These include: the regional road Larissa-Karditsa; Larissa-Trikala road; rehabilitation of parts of the Pineios River for pedestrians and cyclists (improving quality of life); anti flood work in Xirias.

In particular the submarine park in Sporades Islands looks like an Innovative project (11 underwater archaeological sites, 9 diving parks) The operational plan was recently received and I am looking forward to its implementation in 2015. It is a potential showcase.

  1. SMEs are the backbone of the economy, they are its job engines. Under EU Cohesion Policy the money is there, it needs to be used. We redirected more funds in recent reprogramming to support small and medium sized enterprises in Thessaly – it is a priority for 2014-2020 too (2007-2013 Thessaly: About 2,500 small and medium sized business supported through the regional and national programmes worth €210 million EU/national money combined).

  2. On 2014-20: Greece was one of first in the EU to approve its Partnership Agreement, now you need to make sure quality Operational Programmes are adopted.

Thessaly's Operational Programme was received ahead of time, July 17 and all Greek operational programmes are now in.

In the future the investments in Greece should be better targeted at two key areas:

  1. Promotion of economy and energy by increasing the proportion of renewables and measures for energy efficiency.

If we are able to save only one percent of energy we could save 2.8 % of gas imports into Europe, reducing our dependency on external energy supply.

Europe has to look for solutions to reduce its dependency on countries outside Europe, this is also about our political independence as EU.

  1. When it comes to promotion of the economy we have to target SMEs.

We have around 27 million unemployed, we have 23 million existing SMEs.

If each of the existing SMEs would employ one person, the problem could be solved. It is a naive calculation but it gives u a sense of opportunity.

How to merge public and private funds to give better access to finance for SMEs is something we have talked about today with the Governor.

We have changed our regulations to widen scope for how EU structural funds can be used here. But we are still lagging behind.

There are still difficulties for SMEs to access funds and we need to explore this situation, and concentrate on finding solutions.

  1. I would like to ask academic and business sector to work together more than it has been the case in the past. This low level of cooperation is a particularly Greek phenomenon…

I am really impressed by the level of scientific knowledge and cutting edge technologies that I have encountered. We need to overcome reluctance of business/research to work together. This is about mutual sharing of experience and capacity for lasting jobs, not just in Greece and Thessaly but across Europe.

Over the coming weeks/months we will assess and fine tune them: the aim will be for focus in investments, expected results should be spelt out. Better defined priorities should be reflected in a smart specialisation strategy - this is about building on the region’s strengths for the benefit of citizens above all.

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