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Commissioner Hahn in South Aegean: "I welcome the smart specialisation strategy submitted by the region"

(25 April 2014)

Commissioner Hahn in South Aegean:

Commissioner Hahn was in the Greek region South Aegean on 23-24 April to meet with Governor of the South Aegean region Mr Yiannis Mahairidis. South Aegean - which comprises 79 islands in the Dodacanese and Cyclades – is the 10th of the 13 Greek regions the Commissioner has visited so far. Top of the agenda was the future use of EU regional funds for 2014-2020 and also how to make the best use of the funds in the remaining years of the current period.

Commissioner Hahn said, "I have come to these regions because I wanted to see and here for myself what is going on. It is so much better to listen to people and see things with your own eyes than read papers in Brussels."

At the stakeholder meeting attended by SMES, locals representatives and press, Commissioner Hahn stressed the importance of sustainable tourism, cultural heritage energy and agro-food sectors for the islands ' economy. But he also underlined the importance of tackling the regions environmental challenges - namely 16 illegal landfills. He said, "The last period 2007-13 is the last one where EU funds are available for closing down and rehabilitating the landfills. This really is a matter of urgency - illegal landfills in South Aegean are not just a health issue – it is also about the reputation of the islands. A failure to tackle this will drive away tourism and moreover Greece risks being fined."

The Commissioner also stressed the role of ICT in tackling some of the islands particular challenges of connectivity - particularly in the area of public Administration, e health and e-education. He said, "living and working conditions can be improved through ICT . We just approved 3 major projects to extend broadband to island and remote communities in Greece, to digitalise schools and the public administration. The money available must be used, and the projects implemented. That is the challenge".

He concluded, "Our policy is about offering possibilities. You have to make the choices . I welcome the rather mature smart specialisation strategy already submitted by the South Aegean - the focus and strategy is there - and this should ensure the quality of the projects."

The Commissioner also visited two EU funded projects, the Grand Master's Palace that is being restored and a company Melissokomiki Dodecanesou producing and packaging beehive products.

Later on 24 April Commissioner Hahn travelled to Athens where he met Greek Minister for Regional Development Kostis Hatzidakis. Commissioner Hahn told journalists after the meeting that he was impressed by the "extraordinary progress" in Greece. He also congratulated the Minister on the Greek Partnership Agreement delivered last week to the European Commission which he said " at first sight this looks very promising ."