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Bolstered by EU Billions, Greece Recovers

Flamingoes have returned to Lake Karla. (Photo by Ecotourism Greece) Posted for media use

Flamingoes have returned to Lake Karla. (Photo by Ecotourism Greece) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 5, 2018 ( News) – In the face of massive external and internal imbalances that resulted in loss of market access, in April 2010 Greece was forced to request financial assistance from its European and international partners. Unprecedented billions were provided, and now Greece is well along the road to recovery.

European Commissioner for Regional and Urban Policy Corina Crețu of Romania, who also serves as Vice-president, European Parliament (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use.

European Commissioner for Regional and Urban Policy Corina Crețu of Romania, who also serves as Vice-president, European Parliament (Photo courtesy European Commission) Posted for media use.

This week, European Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Crețu is in Greece to visit or inaugurate three major transport and environment projects underwritten by €1.3 billion in financial support from the European Union.

In addition, the Commission has adopted a decision to invest €121 million in a motorway connecting the Aktio peninsula to the Ionia highway, to link northwestern Greece to the south.

The successful preparation, implementation or completion of these projects was made possible by the New Start for Jobs and Growth in Greece plan. The Commission launched this plan in 2015 to complement the stability support program which successfully concluded on August 20.

The plan provided for exceptional measures to facilitate maximizing the use of EU funds in Greece, in order to stabilize its economy and boost growth, jobs and investments.

In his State of the Union speech this year, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker paid tribute to how far Greece has come since 2010.

“Then there is Greece,” President Juncker said. “After what can only be described as some very painful years, marked by unprecedented social hardship – though also by unprecedented solidarity – Greece successfully exited its programme and is now back on its own two feet. I applaud the people of Greece for their Herculean efforts.”

Lake Karla Celebrated After 20-Year Restoration

On October 5, Commissioner Crețu will participate in the inauguration of the Lake Karla project, 300 km (190 miles) north of Athens on the plain of Thessaly, in which the EU has invested €125 million over the past 20 years.

In the 1960s, to increase farmland, the authorities emptied Lake Karla, one of the largest and most

important lakes in Greece. By draining the lake they damaged an ecosystem many thousands of years old. Birds and animals perished as wetlands disappeared, taking with them a unique fishing culture, with fishermen spending months in reed huts they built on the lake.

But today the story of Lake Karla is one of what the Ecotourism Greece calls “ecological progress, hope and sustainability that can stand as a model for many areas of the world.”

Restoration efforts started in the 1980s, addressing the re-establishment of a functional reservoir and wetland.

Lake Karla’s big restoration project was launched in 2000. The rehabilitation of the former lake has been funded by the Operational Program Environment, approved by the European Commission for the period of 2000-2006.

The reconstructed lake will offer many local benefits: Flood protection of the surrounding plain area, environmental restoration and wetland conservation; meeting of irrigation needs for 92 km2 of surrounding farmland; meeting of water needs for the 75,000 inhabitants of the nearby city of Volos; and the emergence of sustainable tourism.

With the support of the lake’s management body, European efforts to bring back the lake have recreated a wetland for birds: flamingo, egret, grey heron, wigeon, teal, cormorant, coot and mallard duck. Of special note is the delicate small-sized falcon known as the Lesser Kestrel, Falco naumanni, or ‘Kirkinezi’ in Greek.

Otters have returned to the shoreline, a species considered as Endangered in Greece and Near Threatened globally. Otters are protected in most European countries.

Recovering Greece a Top Absorber of EU Funds

In total, €288.7 billion in loans have been provided to Greece since 2010. This includes €256.6 billion from its European partners and €32.1 billion from the International Monetary Fund.

Amidst political, economic and financial turmoil and the imposition of capital controls in July 2015, the Hellenic Republic concluded an agreement for stability support in the form of a loan from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in August 2015.

In parallel to the stability support program, the Commission launched the “New Start for Jobs and Growth in Greece” plan in July 2015 to help maximize the use of EU funds in the country.

Supported by the launch of the ESM program, the Greek economy demonstrated greater resilience than initially expected. Real GDP started to recover on a quarter-on-quarter basis in mid-2016.

Yet, the European Commission warned in an Institutional Paper of July 2017, that “the recovery remains fragile and strongly dependent on the progress of the reviews of the ESM stability support programme.”

Making progress environmentally and fincially, Greece successfully concluded the requirements of its stability support program on August 20.

Among the top absorbers of EU funds, for the period 2014-2020 Greece has already received almost €16 billion from different EU funding sources, an amount equivalent to over nine percent of the country’s 2017 GDP.

Greece is also the top beneficiary of the Juncker Plan’s European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI). The EFSI is now set to trigger almost €11 billion in investments and support more than 20,000 small and medium-sized businesses in Greece.

On May 29, 2018, for the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027, the Commission proposed a Cohesion Policy budget worth €21.7 billion for Greece, an increased envelope in an overall reduction of the Cohesion budget, in order to support a lasting economic recovery in the country.

Commissioner Creţu said, “Greece is already one of the main beneficiaries of EU funds and for the next decade, the Commission proposes even more Cohesion Policy resources for lasting growth in the country, jobs and an ever better quality of life for the Greek people.”

Modern Mobility Key to Greek Recovery

Two major railway projects and a motorway are poised to create a paradigm shift in Greece’s transportation network.

On October 4, Commissioner Crețu visited the state-of-the-art high speed Tithorea-Lianokladi-Domokos railway line, currently in its final development phase.

This high speed rail line will reduce travel time between Athens and Thessaloniki. As soon as additional signalling and telecommunications works are completed, it will take a record 3.5 hours to travel by train between Greece’s two major cities.

Extreme rocky slopes, numerous gorges, long tunnels, waterfalls, stone bridges and structural steel viaducts make for one of the most scenic railway routes in Europe.

Designed for passenger trains running at up to 200 km/h and 160 km/h freight trains, the construction of the line would not have been possible without the EU’s financial support, amounting to €1 billion from different EU funds.

Once operational in 2019, this railway line will promote clean mobility in the country, making rail travel an attractive option compared to air, car and bus transport.

Commissioner Crețu also will visit the Thriassio Pedio Freight Complex in the Attika region, the first integrated intermodal freight center in Greece, which benefitted from €200 million of EU funds.

This complex will be a key hub on the Athens-Thessaloniki rail route. It is expected to boost trade and the competitiveness of the Greek economy. The operation of the freight complex and the construction of a new logistics center are expected to create over 3,000 jobs.

Freight trains from Thriassio will be able to reach the Northern Greek border at Eidomeni in 6.5 hours. With its rail access to the port of Piraeus, the complex can help Greece become a transport gateway for international freight traffic towards Central and Eastern Europe, along the Orient–East Mediterranean Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) corridor.

Finally, the European Commission is investing €121 million in the Ionia motorway linking the Aktio peninsula, in northwestern Greece, to the south.

This motorway, which will run from Aktio to the Lake Amvrakia area and connect to the newly opened Ionia motorway, will ensure smoother travels in western Greece, to and from the Rio-Antirrio bridge, to the island of Lefkada and to the Aktio aiport.

The EU has already invested €83 million in the first phase of the project, in the 2007-2013 budget period.

Once work is completed in 2022, the travel time on this TEN-T section will be 30 minutes shorter, and road safety is expected to improve.

Commissioner Creţu said, “Greece is now back on its own two feet. And these four projects will, each in their own way, help Greece write a new chapter in its history.”

Featured Image: A train navigates the scenic Tithorea-Lianokladi-Domokos railway line (Screengrab from video by Chris Mavropoulos) Creative Commons license via YouTube