Funding of Greek projects frozen until 2014

Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for regional policy, has made clear that Greece will not receive any additional financial support by his department before the year after next.

The former Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) science minister told the Salzburger Nachrichten on Saturday that it had been previously agreed how much money the European Union’s (EU) 27 members would get between 2007 and 2013. Hahn stressed that his commission would not provide any extra funding for current or future infrastructure improvement activities or other projects in Greece this and next year.

Hahn’s statement came shortly after German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) called stronger financial engagement of the European Commission’s (EC) department for regional policy in the debt-stricken southern European country. EU state and government leaders are currently discussing the possibility of cancelling Greece’s debts to a stronger extent than initially planned to help the country reduce its losses and create new growth.

Speaking to the Salzburger Nachrichten, Hahn refused to discuss individual projects his office financially supported. “Creating jobs and improving people’s quality of life must be our targets,” he said about decisive criteria. The ex-ÖVP Vienna chairman pointed out that the EU member countries’ regional authorities had the final say on how the provided money was spent.

Hahn explained that around two million projects were financially supported by his department between 2007 and 2013. “We are currently spending three billion Euros on projects which should help tackle youth unemployment and increase digital networks in Italy,” the commissioner told the Salzburger Nachrichten, adding that these issues would be of high relevance in the future.

The former Austrian science minister said he hoped that Europe’s government leaders would contribute to ongoing discussions more intensely to ensure an efficient spending of the money provided by his office. Speaking about the difficult economic situation in Greece, Hahn said he decided to assign a task force to help the country in modernising its administration. He said a new fund was focusing on supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Greece.

Asked by the Salzburger Nachrichten whether the EU is already losing its patience with Greece due to lacking progress, Hahn warned: “We cannot afford losing our patience.” The commissioner for regional policy said recently started initiatives “are already bearing fruit.”

Some analysts think that Greece would be asked to leave the Eurozone, the group of EU countries which use the Euro as their currency, to avoid a worsening of the economic climate in the EU due to its sky-high debts. Hahn said the goal must now be to help Greece structurally develop further “that this question (of whether Greece should exit the Eurozone) will not be relevant anymore in a few years’ time.”

Austria was among the first 12 EU states to introduce the Euro. Coins and notes were given out for the first time on 1 January 2002. New investigations by public opinion institute Gallup and the EC’s research group Eurostat show that young Austrians are more optimistic about the future of the currency than elderly countrymen. Ninety-one per cent of Austrians between 15 and 29 think that the Euro will survive the crisis, while only 75 per cent of residents of Austria aged 50 and above said the same.