In an effort to tackle the refugee crisis, Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Cre?u decided on Wednesday (23 September) to let member states make more flexible use of certain EU funding programmes.
Cre?u stressed that the executive was exploring how EU funds could further contribute to addressing the migration challenge, in the framework of cross-border cooperation programmes, and macro-regional strategies.
The Commission’s announcement is good news for the countries hit hardest by the refugee crisis, Greece and Italy, in particular.
More than 245,000 refugees have entered Greece, especially from islands that lie along the Turkish coastline. Approximately 116,000 have reached to Italy.
Many Greek islands have also suffered a severe blow to tourism, with popular holiday destinations such as Lesbos and Samos having been turned into a gateway for refugees fleeing war zones in the Middle East, mainly from Syria.
The Romanian Commissioner noted that more than 20 billion euros are already available for programmes related to social integration for the period 2014-2020.
“I invite them [member states] to speak to me and my services immediately – we are completely open to changing programmes in order to adapt to new circumstances,” Cre?u said.
She added that it was very much up to member states to see what types of investment they needed, as in certain instances, they were not a priority when the programmes were first being prepared.
In a resolution on 4 September, the Union of Greek Regions had urged the Commission to consider amending the priorities of interregional and cross-border programmes in order to include the immigration problem, and the integration of immigrants.
The call was repeated last week in Brussels (21 September) during a meeting between the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the Union of Greek Regions, Kostas Agorastos.
Christiana Kalogirou, Regional Governeor of the North Aegean, hailed EU the executive’s decision:
“I very much welcome the decision of the European Commission as it is in the direction the Greek Regions have been requesting since the beginning of the immigration crisis. This positive step needs now to be quickly customized in order to start the implementation. The problems we are currently facing are of extreme urgency and we need to act fast."
“It’s urgent to address the refugee crisis. However, the funding of actions and infrastructure [related to the refugee crisis] cannot cancel the design of other infrastructure needed in regions. They need extra funding and will for new infrastructure and logistics," Giorgos N. Stasinos, President of the Technical Chamber of Greece, told EurActiv Greece.