The leaders of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, should swallow their pride and allow external experts to administer EU funding in their countries, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, a German liberal MEP of Greek descent, told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.
Born in Duisburg and a member of Germany's Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP), Jorgo Chatzimakakis comes from a political science background and is an active member of several German-Greek and German-Turkish associations.
A year ago, Chatzimarkakis published with EurActiv an op-ed titled 'Greece needs a Hercules Plan'.
He was speaking to EurActiv’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
Mr. Chatzimarkakis, you are one of the authors of the 'Hercules Plan' for Greece unveiled yesterday (21 June) in Brussels by the leader of your political group ALDE, Mr. Guy Verhofstadt.
Among other things, this plan foresees a long-term institutional reform programme, aimed at dealing with corruption and dubious political practices, with technical assistance from the relevant EU services and agencies.
Do you think that Greece is the only EU country that deserves such treatment?
The responsible commissioner, Hahn [Johannes Hahn; Regional Policy Commissioner] from Austria, told me there are three countries - Greece, Bulgaria and Romania - which would have the need for such a programme.
In what context did he tell you this?
The question of absorption of EU money is a big issue for the commissioner responsible for cohesion funds. And he sees three countries that are not able to absorb EU funding in an appropriate manner. This affects in a special manner Bulgaria and Romania, but also Greece, which has fallen even behind Bulgaria and Romania.
That has to do with the non-existent capacity of ministries to come up with proposals, but also to work on the programmes and to mend the problems in the country. It's not only co-financing problems, it's also an administrative problem and it's very severe. So we have to use technical assistance to overcome the problems in all three countries.
This is something absolutely unprecedented. Nobody has done anything similar vis-à-vis another country before.
Indeed, it hasn't been done before. Commissioner Hahn has some hundreds of millions of euro in his portfolio for so-called 'technical assistance'. That means he can send people, experts, from the European Investment Bank, from the European Commission, from the member states, for a certain time, to the respective countries, to help the administration, to implement programmes and absorb money.
But do you think the governments of these countries would be open to such an initiative? I am not sure about Greece, but maybe the Greek government doesn't have much choice. How do you expect the Bulgarian prime minister or the Romanian president to swallow their pride and accept such an anti-corruption board?
That's the problem. All the respective countries have the problem of being very proud, saying 'this cuts our sovereignty', although this is just not the case, of course. Those are just programmes that will still be presented by the member states, not by civil servants. Civil servants or experts will just help implement the financial side.
I think we have to think beyond categories of being proud or not being proud. I understand that Greeks at the moment are very sensitive when it comes to national pride. But on the other hand, young people cannot wait for a job only because the prime minister or the ministers are too proud. They have to understand there is money here on the accounts.
But the money can't pass to create jobs and help people there if politicians continue to behave like this. They should stop, the Greek, Romanian and Bulgarian politicians should stop telling people things that are not true. They should admit: we have a problem there. We could limit the technical assistance to three years and that's it.
What do you think the position of the European Parliament would be if this issue comes to the plenary?
It's a precedent, and parliamentarians will measure very carefully whether we should create a precedent. But looking at the deep crisis Greece is in, I think we will have a majority at least for Greece, and this precedent could of course pave the way for Bulgaria and Romania.