European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn tells DW that Greece will receive no additional funds. Despite the crisis, he adds, the EU will allocate funds to all member states according to agreed criteria.
European Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn said his role is to strengthen economic and social cohesion within the 27-member bloc. He added he believes that supporting the competitiveness of EU member states to create jobs and greater cross-border cooperation among countries and regions. EU regional policy is funded through specially established funds that provide funds to EU member states and regions with structural problems.
The commissioner's budget, based on seven-year funding periods, amounts to 247 billion euros ($324 billion) for the period from 2007 to 2013. That accounts for nearly 36 percent of the total EU budget for that period. For Greece, about 20 billion euros are earmarked for this period.
DW: Will the European Commission need to have more money available for projects in Greece? The 27 heads of government made this proposal at the EU summit in January?
Johannes Hahn: No, the structural funds have a clearly defined budget for each member state. With Greece, the goal of our work is to invest these funds, together with our Greek partners, in a sustained, intelligent and clever way in good projects that create jobs.
In view of the general crisis situation, do you think it makes sense to plan more funds for Greece for the next budget period?
I think it is important that we establish a process for allocating the budget according to common rules for all 27 member states - and for all 28 after Croatia joins. This process needs to take the level of wealth and education into account, as well as the unemployment situation. These are, so to speak, the most important parameters for allocating funds for each region and for an entire country.
That means there is no special budget for Greece. The criteria that I use to evaluate a country result automatically in the budget, derived from the total budget that we agree for the next period from 2014 to 2020.
Nevertheless, there is some concern that Greece receives more funds at the expense of others and that approved funds could be cancelled. How do you view this situation?
Hahn said he weighs projects against strict criteria before funding them
No, this is not the case as a defined budget exists for each country. And that can't be changed. There is also no possibility of taking away funds from one country and giving them to another during the period. The agreed budgets are fixed and the member states can count on them. This is especially important for the countries that require these funds. And they can rely on them. A part of our success is that budget funds are defined for seven years.
As the EU's fourth-largest recipient country, Greece received plenty of funding in the past. Were the country's needs so huge? And were the funds usefully deployed?
There has been a focus on specific topics as part of the structural funds policy in past years. Today, we have a clear idea of the areas in which we prefer to invest, such as supporting small and medium-sized businesses, promoting energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewable energies in total energy production.
In the past, member states could decide how to deploy the funds themselves. The only requirement was that the funds had to be correctly invested. Greece has implemented a wide range of projects, for instance in the area of infrastructure and research and development. I have looked at several of these. There have also been projects in the areas of education and rural development. We have made a very robust estimate that nearly 530,000 jobs have been created or at least secured through the structural funds over the years in Greece, a member of the EU since 1981.
Greece has been hard hit by the economic and financial crisis. To what extent does this affect your work?
With our regional policy, we can change and improve the Greek situation because, ultimately, we have an impact on its administration, which has been one of the country's biggest problems in the past and, frankly, remains so even today. It can take up to four years for a large EU-funded project to be prepared in such a way that we can decide on it. That is absolutely too long, compared to other EU members. The process must be accelerated. And our policy, if you will, will do that.
In September, I had a comprehensive list compiled of nearly 200 projects to be implemented in Greece. The projects are worth about 12 billion euros. I was able to convince the Greek government to publish the list on the Internet so that everyone can follow how the projects are implemented. Nine projects were implemented at the end of 2011 and an additional five in the first quarter of this 2012.
Author: Ralf Bosen / jrb
Editor: Sean Sinico