08 September, 2003
Regional development is the top priority of the government's economic policy and a challenge to achieve real convergence with the European Union, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said on Saturday.
Addressing an official dinner, traditionally held by the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, Mr. Simitis stressed that real convergence passed through regional convergence.
''We want Greece to converge with the European Union with no parts or region of the country lagging behind in a process of improving living standards in the country,'' the premier said.
In his speech, Mr. Simitis offered a more detailed view of the government's regional policy.
''Our policy is not focusing only on regions lagging behind in growth. Our policy covers all geographical regions of the country as they all offered significant and unexploited potential in production and employment. Regional converge offers the chance to highlight all advantages attracting investments and creating employment. Within this context, it is desirable and that's what we are doing, we support more those regions with more weaknesses,'' Mr. Simitis stressed.
The Greek prime minister presented in detail the government's public investment program, ''the more stable engine'' of development procedure in Greece as he described it.
The government is channeling the biggest part of all public and private investments to the country's regions, establishes investors' support centers in every prefect (five pilot centers are already operating), sets up Business and Development Centers around the country with the aim to coordinate and integrate regional initiatives funded by a Third Community Support Framework, to support small- and medium-sized enterprises and to promote employment, and finally creates regional venture capital schemes to fund high-risk investments.
Mr. Simitis stressed that projects funded by a Third CSF program were the criteria for the quality of regional development in the next 10-15 years.
He said that 80 percent of total funds, around 14 trillion drachmas, were earmarked for projects and actions in regional Greece.
Private investments soared in regional Greece, supported by a government's development law - approved in 1998. More than 2,260 investment projects, with budgets totalling 2.9 billion euros and capital subsidies of around 1.0 billion euros, have been approved by the development law creating around 20,800 new jobs.
Mr. Simitis underlined that the Eastern Macedonia-Thrace, Central Macedonia and Central Greece regions accounted for 50 percent of all investments and around 54 percent of total subsidies.
The secondary sector accounted for 71 percent of all subsidies, followed by the tourism sector (25 percent). Mr. Simitis stressed the importance of promoting agro-tourism policy around the country.
''Without any exaggeration, we can say that with our investment program, we will have completed the formation of a new productive system in the country in the next five years. This program will be strengthened in the future by absorbing funds currently channeled to Olympic Games' projects,'' he said.
The prime minister stressed that the government's investment program contributed in overcoming chronic weakness in the country and changing the face of Greek regions.
''The results of our policy are visible to the Greek society. In contrast with the general picture in Europe, Greece is steadily reducing regional imbalances, in fact imbalances in our country are among the lowest in Europe.''
The Greek premier stressed, however, that despite improvements made there were still unexploited potential, potential that local societies and regional authorities such as municipalities and prefects could exploit more efficiently.
Mr. Simitis urged for local societies and authorities to come to a consensus in an effort to attract investments around the country and to avoid past mistakes when large investments left the country because of the opposition of local societies.
He also urged regions to end regional competition practices and to unite their forces to win the future.
''Our government rejects the idea of local differences and try to formulate a policy of local, prefect and regional development based on synthesis because we believe that everyone can and should participate in growth,'' Mr. Simitis noted.
The prime minister urged for all Greeks, the administration, businesses, workers, citizens and social agencies to participate in an effort to achieve regional development and convergence ''for a strong region, equally participating in growth, servicing the needs of citizens and respects the environment.''
Source: Athens News Agency