"Greece presents a tremendous opportunity for investments," said European Commission Task Force chief Horst Reichenbach during a press conference held at the Commission's offices in Athens on Thursday.
At the head of a team sent to provide Greece with technical assistance so that it can better absorb EU funds, Reichenbach stressed that the problem was not a lack of money but finding the right way to make use of the money that was available.
He repeated that the task force's role will be to assist in the speedy implementation of the reform programme for Greece and properly exploit EU funds by providing technical support for decisions made by the Greek government, not to supervise the government's actions.
The EU official noted that, in addition to an effort to increase Greece's absorption of National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) funds, the reforms that will be promoted within the country will chiefly concern the health sector and electronic governance, which he said would be "fundamentally revised".
Reichenbach also referred to the importance of having a good tax collection system in order to solve fiscal problems. He pointed out that the Greek government was already collaborating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in this direction and that, together with the Task Force, proposals would be put forward for overcoming current inflexibility and problems.
He took care to emphasise that the Commission's aim was not to impose additional taxes but to provide technical support to improve the functioning of tax collection mechanisms.
Ultimately, Reichenbach added, the goal was to return Greece to a growth trajectory in order to create jobs and boost its competitiveness. He noted that the situation in the country was a "bitter and difficult experience that other countries have not experienced" and insisted that the main aim was to lift Greece out of the recession.
On how this would be accomplished, the head of the Task Force said that the country had to make better use of money from structural funds, where huge sums were available and had to be used for targeted actions to improve infrastructure, energy, tourism and industry, particularly the food industry and training.
A basic priority according to Reichenbach was to make Greece more attractive for investments, while noting the problems created by the huge lack of liquidity in the banking sector. He could not offer any "magical solution" to solve this problem but noted that the EU and the European Investment Bank could activate funds in order to improve the situation.
Replying to a reporter's question, he said it would be difficult for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to undertake activity in Greece but that there are "other organisations that can intervene and create the necessary system of guarantees needed to overcome the insecurity and uncertainty."
Commenting on the lack of infrastructure projects, which he said would help power an escape from recession, the Task Force chief noted that the chief impediment was the lack of funding and Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) to get these off the ground.
Reichenbach stressed that getting infrastructure projects underway and creating jobs would be a priority issue for the Task Force. The government appeared to have the political will to go ahead with a "huge reform programme", he added, but the banking sector was the source of the problem, so the Task Force would work hard to get the government and all the parties involved in funding back to the negotiating table.
Asked about setting up Special Economic Zones in Greece, Reichenbach said that it was worth examining whether European experience could be transferred to Greece and that his team would be ready to assist if the Greek government made the decision. On the issue of privatisations, he said a meeting with the minister responsible was still pending.
Underlining the need for good cooperation "since the prime minister has to make difficult decisions," Reichenbach said the Task Force will be ready to present its proposals in a month's time. He repeated that the government was fully aware of the challenges ahead and fully prepared for the assistance it had asked from the Task Force.