It is necessary to create a friendly business environment for investors in Greece, said European Commissioner for Regional Development Johannes Hahn during his visit to Athens.
He is the first senior European official to visit the country after the long election period and the two consecutive election races. He met in Athens with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the Ministers of Finance and Development Yiannis Stournaras and Kostis Hatzidakis and with the city mayor George Kaminis.
"To me, the most serious obstacle to the use of European Union funds are the highly complicated competencies between the ministries and often between local, regional and central government," the Commissioner said, adding that the Task Force for Greece can help the government to allocate them in a specific and proper manner.
Johannes Hahn said that during his meetings, he has found delays in the implementation of projects and the use of funds, but expressed hope that the new government was determined to make up for lost time.
The most flagrant example he gave in this respect was the very low use of funds for social policy from Greece. "I am surprised how the rate of use of these funds from a country with so many unemployed people may be lower than the average for the entire European Union." According to Johannes Hahn, the same are the reasons for the delay in the implementation of projects related to waste management, making a property register and building of highways.
According to Johannes Hahn, there is a strong investment interest regarding Greece but there are still serious obstacles such as the complex procedures for obtaining permissions, the unclear tax system and the long deadlines for the settlement of legal matters.
The European Commissioner attributed particular importance to his conversation with the Minister of Development Kostis Hatzidakis and defined him as the most appropriate cabinet member to take on the specific matters. "During his term in the European Parliament, Kostis Hatzidakis was the Chair of the Committee for Regional Development and he is very well aware of how to use Structural Funds."
Johannes Hahn stated that he talked with Minister of Development about the list of priorities and the progress of the implementation of 181 projects worth 11 billion euro, included for funding in the National Reference Strategic Framework. 15 of them worth 250 million euro have been accomplished and another 100 are expected to be completed on time. For the rest, he said, "we have to see how they will progress."
The two politicians talked about the concession contracts for the management of highways, illegal dumps, the financing of small and medium-sized enterprises and about the property register, the absence of which is particularly hindering investors because it is not clear who the owner of a specific property is.
"There is interest in the country, however. It has a potential and I think that if we start working together, these difficulties can be overcome in order to revive the economy. I have been always optimistic but after that visit, this feeling is stronger than ever," he said.