Minister: EU cohesion policy served Greece well, should be upgraded in future

EU Regional Policy Commissioner Corina Cretu [R] with Greece's Economy Alternate Minister Alexis Charitsis. [European Commission]

The EU’s cohesion policy supported Greece in its most serious crisis, demonstrating the value of the bloc’s second-biggest funding scheme, Greece’s Alternate Economy Minister Alexis Charitsis told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

The minister also said that EU member states need to remain united in maintaining and even strengthening the Cohesion policy in the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

Alexis Charitsis spoke to EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos in a telephone interview.  

What did you discuss at the EU General Affairs Council (12 April)? What are the intentions of the EU member states on the post-2020 cohesion budget?

I, together with other colleagues, pointed out during the debate that this was not a debate like all others; it is very critical for the member states at this stage to have a united attitude in maintaining and strengthening cohesion policy.

For Greece, cohesion policy is not just another financial instrument but an integrated strategy for the convergence of EU member states, to alleviate regional and intra-regional disparities, to support the real economy, entrepreneurship and jobs. So, it is very important for the overall debate on the post-2020 MFF to not shrink cohesion policy. Unfortunately there are voices that, due to events like Brexit, talk about shrinking this policy.

We say that cohesion policy is an identifying element of the EU. There is also a need on a financial level as well as the processes and planning policies to be upgraded in the next period. There is a considerable degree of consensus from most member states in this direction.

Do you think that there should be money taken from regional funding to reinforce other priorities such as security, immigration etc?

In no way. We have made specific suggestions. I remind you that a few weeks ago I presented 10 positions of the Greek government for the cohesion policy and the Greek government in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented again a few weeks ago Greek positions on the MFF.

We have made concrete proposals on how to raise new financial resources, funds to tackle our deficit. And it is important for us that these two texts, namely the one from the Ministry of Economy to strengthen the cohesion policy and the overall text for the MFF, complement each other. They are not, as in other countries, at a distance.

Greece is due to exit the bailout in August and the country is preparing its own ‘growth strategy’. What is the role of cohesion policy in that?

First of all, I would like to point out the relationship between cohesion policy and what has happened to date [in Greece]. We achieved very significant successes in recent years in the utilisation of cohesion policy resources in Greece in a very difficult economic and fiscal situation for our country.

We said that at the Council as well, that this is very good evidence and should be used as an example of the importance of cohesion policy as a whole.

A country in a crisis was supported by the cohesion policy. Let me also emphasise the cooperation we had with EU agencies to reach these results and to bring Greece to the top of the EU countries that absorbed EU funds.

After August, obviously, the challenges are even greater.

We want the resources available for member states not to be simply absorbed but absorbed in a way that provides added value to European economies.

In this sense, we are trying to design programs that leverage available resources and private funds to create a higher investment flow now that the situation in the Greek economy is improving. We look at targeted interventions to respond to the real needs of Greek businesses today, after all these years of crisis.

Things that are related to supporting SMEs, stimulating the secondary sectors, industry and manufacturing that is very important for us, promoting policies to tackle climate change, and supporting a very critical aspect, research and the economy.

These are projects that the Greek economy needs. The response shown so far indicates that the design and the consultation with all the stakeholders involved are giving tangible results. This is what we want to strengthen in the coming years and, of course, as the conditions improve, they will become more favourable with the country’s exit from the bailout in August 2018 and have greater opportunities for us to really use these very important funds.

There are arguments suggesting fewer regional funds and more private money through the Juncker plan. How do you view this approach?

It is an approach that exists in wider circles in Brussels too. In our opinion, what we need right now and in the next period is to make full use of all the available financial resources. In this sense, we also need to strengthen the regional funds and thus the cohesion policy.

It is the member states, regions and local authorities that show better than anyone else what their real needs are at national and regional level. So we need this reinforcement. From that point onwards, this should be complemented by the use of funds from the Juncker plan and other European programs that can leverage private resources in this direction and the attraction of more investment.

We do not see these in contrast, but completely complementary. This is our logic and that is what we are trying to implement and we think this is happening with success. It is no coincidence that Greece, at the moment, according to the announcements of the European Commission and the EIB in February 2018, ranks first in exploiting the resources of the Juncker plan.

That is precisely what we are trying to do: utilise these resources complementary to and with the Structural Funds.

EU’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici recently said that Greece needs no ‘precautionary credit line’ but its own growth strategy. Do you think that Greece can really set its own growth plan – considering that we will have elections in a year and a half – without having consensus of all the political parties for this plan?

What Mr Moscovici said is shared by most European officials. A debate on the preventive support line has long been overcome at European level.

The discussion about a precautionary credit line ended a long time ago at the EU level. I think that it only concerns some circles in the country that serve their own purposes and not, at this stage, the country’s interest that is a safe exit from the program.

This is the goal we have and I think that the progress of the program’s conclusion shows that this objective is consistently being served. Beyond that, of course, the Greek government took the initiative and proposed to the European authorities a holistic growth strategy. I also had the opportunity to coordinate this effort and keep a close eye on all this work.

It is precisely our logic to set our own priorities on how to make use of EU resources, how we will use national funds, how we will drive growth in the coming years, and of course, this is a debate that has been widely opened to Greek society on the initiative of the Greek government.

Let me remind you that regional conferences are currently taking place across the country. Next Monday and Tuesday, we will have the opportunity to discuss in Rhodes with the local actors on the issues of the southern Aegean islands. It is a debate that will be transferred to the parliamentary level in the coming period, and so we will see the opportunities for greater convergence and consensus.

Our aim is to have consensus on a series of key national goals, such as reducing unemployment, creating new jobs, supporting Greek businesses, changing the production model that, in our opinion, was one of the main causes of bankruptcy of the country. In this sense, convergence and consensus on our part is perfectly legitimate and will be pursued to the fullest extent possible in the coming period.

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