Honourable Chair, Honourable Members,
On behalf of the European Commission, I would like to thank the European Parliament for supporting this proposal to amend the Common Provisions Regulation regarding specific measures for Greece.
The proposal is an exceptional measure to address the unique situation of Greece. The Commission's proposal follows the agreement reached at the Euro Summit in July. The agreement reached between the co-legislators to maintain the Commission proposal, and the exceptional speed with which they processed it, is a tangible sign of European solidarity.
The proposal must be seen in the wider context of the reform process in Greece. Timely and effective implementation of reforms to modernise the state and the economy - as agreed under the third programme - is essential to ensure financial stability, fiscal sustainability and sound economic fundamentals for investment, job creation and growth. It is important to dispel any uncertainty and ensure a sound financial sector.
With capital controls in place, the financing streams of the real economy are strained, just at a time when investment is needed the most. EU Funds have an important role in this respect. There are substantial means available from the EU budget for Greece. But the implementation of the projects co-financed with the EU Funds is held back by the tight liquidity situation of the Greek state.
To help address this situation, we have put forward three exceptional measures, so that the investments supported by EU Funds can take place, and can take place swiftly. For the 2014-2020 period, it is proposed to increase the rate of initial pre-financing for Greece by 7 percentage points for the European Regional Development Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Social Fund and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. This frontloading should allow more investments to start earlier. For the 2007-2013 period, two measures are proposed:
First: to release the last 5% of remaining EU payments which are normally retained until the closure of programmes in 2017.
Second: to remove the obligation for national co-financing and apply a 100% EU financing rate.
These measures should help bring the investments financed under the 2007-2013 period to a successful conclusion. All these measures would translate into €2 billion available for Greece over two years - in 2015 and 2016. Importantly, these measures are budget neutral over the current budgetary period – the Multiannual Financial Framework. It would have no impact on the "payment plan". The additional pre-financing for the 2014-2020 programme should be covered by payment applications by the end of 2016.
Of course, it is important to ensure that the money duly reaches the beneficiaries and does so as quickly as possible and in line with all the rules of sound financial management. To this end, a ring-fencing mechanism will ensure that additional amounts for the 2007-2013 period are used only for payments to beneficiaries. Greece has already put such a mechanism in place.
Moreover, Greece is required to report on the implementation of these measures by the end of 2016, and in the final implementation report for the 2007-2013 period. The Commission has stood by Greece throughout the crisis, with both financial support and technical assistance. We will continue to support Greece: both in the implementation of the reforms and in making the best use of EU funds. Technical assistance is already being provided through the new Structural Reform Support Service – which is available to all EU Member States.Technical meetings and ad hoc missions on the ground are being organised. As it happens, Commissioner Creţu is in Greece today.
I look forward to the debate.