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Frequently asked questions:

 

Is the Task Force making a difference?

As explained in its first quarterly report, the Task Force for Greece (TFGR) is making a difference thanks to its activities in 5 areas:

(1) helping to refocus cohesion policy expenditure on projects with the highest potential economic impact. The Task Force is also working closely with the Greek authorities and other Commission services to unblock several important transport and environmental projects.

(2) helping to frame cohesion policy programmes in innovative ways that sustain bank lending to SMEs. These programmes can make an important contribution to sustaining the flow of credit to viable, cash-strapped businesses.

(3) helping to finance and implement an important reform agenda in the areas of tax administration and public finance management. Tax experts from the IMF and EU member countries are already helping the Greek authorities to strengthen tax collection and budget-management functions.

(4) reviewing changes to the governance and structure of Greek public administration, which are needed to ensure effective coordination and Greek ownership of the reform of their public administration.

(5) helping the Greek authorities determine how technical assistance can support profound structural reforms in areas such as business environment, export facilitation, public procurement, public health, etc. As its next priority, the Task Force will finalise a comprehensive road-map for the technical-assistance programme in a wide range of areas.

 

The challenges facing Greece are many and daunting. The road to structural reform and economic recovery will be long. The work of the Task Force must therefore be viewed and judged from this perspective. However, early progress in tackling reform can be taken as a clear signal of Greece's intent to embark on the process of reform.

 

Are the Greek authorities making use of the Task Force?

The Task Force is a tool that has been made available to the Greek authorities. It was set up at their request, in order to mobilise the expertise and know-how that Greece needs to strengthen its public administration.

The Greek authorities turn to the Task Force for help with implementing major public-administration reforms, and they have communicated an initial set of requests for technical assistance. The Task Force works with them to help implement administrative reforms that will have a significant and lasting impact on the efficiency of Greek public administration, as well as mobilise knowledge and resources from across the EU and international organisations.

 

What is 'technical assistance'?

Technical assistance (TA) is meant to bring expertise in key areas where such expertise or other practical experience is missing in Greece. Many EU countries have volunteered to send national experts on a short- or longer-term basis to support TA projects. The International Monetary Fund also provides expertise. The Task Force is there to coordinate this expertise and ensure it is used to meet concrete needs. In many cases, it is the Task Force itself – sometimes with other Commission services – that provides the TA.

 

Who pays for technical assistance?

The national experts, who usually stay in Greece for as little as a few days, are paid by their home countries. The Commission covers only their mission expenses. In a few cases, the cost of TA – from the IMF, for example – is paid for out of EU funds foreseen for Greece.

 

How does technical assistance work in practical terms?

TA needs are grouped mainly according to concrete policy areas (budget and taxation; the financial sector; cohesion funds and agriculture; business environment, public procurement and competition; labour market, public health, justice and home affairs; administrative reform, e-government, statistics; civil society and social partners).

When a request for TA is approved, the Task Force helps define a work programme containing clear deliverables and intermediate milestones that are agreed with the Greek authorities. The Task Force also helps them mobilise any input needed to implement the TA work programme (relevant expertise from other EU countries, and European or international organisations).

TA can be provided in the following ways:

- short-term expert missions or workshops where national administrations present their solutions to their Greek counterparts, enabling them to identify the most appropriate solution for their needs.

- more sustained support from particular EU member countries or organisations with specialised know-how. This could involve the longer-term presence of experts or cooperation with the Greek authorities to provide technical solutions in areas like ICT.

- In some instances, a national government with a strong track record in a policy field may assume the responsibility of 'domain leader'. The domain leader may be involved at an early stage of the project, including in the definition of road-maps. In these instances, the TFGR facilitates ongoing cooperation between the Greek authorities, the domain leader and other TA providers.

The matching of TA supply and demand is organised through quarterly high-level coordination meetings organised by the TFGR and which bring together the Greek authorities, (potential) TA providers and European Commission services. Prior to these meetings, EU member countries or other international organisations are requested to express their interest in providing technical assistance on particular projects.

 

What budget does the Task Force have for funding technical assistance?

There is no budget specifically earmarked for the Task Force. The Task Force first identifies the relevant needs (in terms of the transfer of expertise from national or international organisations or, in a later stage, in terms of the funding of particular services or projects). It can then mobilise resources from Commission technical assistance budgets (for cohesion policy instruments) and/or propose the use of unallocated resources from cohesion policy funds earmarked for Greece.

For the moment, most technical assistance projects are just beginning: the amount of resources involved (in terms of expert-days or project support) has not yet been costed.

However, the assistance provided in the area of tax administration – where much work has already been done – may give an indication of the orders of magnitude involved. The Commission will pay around €4 million to finance assistance provided by officials from the IMF, Commission and EU member countries over the period 2011 2013.

There are potentially 8-10 work streams involved, potentially comprising a number of smaller operational projects. Therefore, the exercise could quickly become significant in terms of scale, complexity and resource investment.

 

Could you give concrete examples of technical assistance provided by EU member countries?

The TFGR has launched projects in agreement with the Greek administration. Concrete projects have so far been agreed in the areas of:

- Tax administration, with a joint IMF/EU (Directorate-General TAXUD and TFGR) action plan, already supported by a number of EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden).

- Public financial management, especially expenditure control.

- Administrative reform, with domain leaders France (central level) and Germany (regional level).

Other areas will include:

- Health sector, for which Germany has agreed to be domain leader and where specific projects still need to be decided.

- Business environment, where several potential areas of assistance are under discussion. In many cases, the TFGR will itself act as domain leader.

Coordination is done through quarterly high-level meetings organised by the TFGR and involving the Greek authorities, (potential) TA providers and Commission services. Prior to these meetings, national governments or other international organisations are requested to express their interest in providing technical assistance on particular projects.

The Task Force quarterly report gives an overview of the expertise mobilised and assesses progress on the ground.

 

What are concrete examples of how the Task Force is leveraging Commission and Member State expertise to help modernise the Greek state?

(1) Public Administration reform. We are helping Greece to eradicate the bad habits of an antiquated civil service and build a modern European administration.

Together with tax collection, this is the most crucial structural reform, the success of which will determine the future of the country. Efforts are focused on improving the administrative capacity of both the central state and local authorities. An ambitious roadmap is being prepared that will evaluate all 750,000 officials, create a policy coordination structure, an HR policy, e-government, streamlined budgetary procedures and draconian anti-corruption measures.

(2) Health and Social Security reform. We are helping Greece to put an end to excessive pharmaceutical expenditure that simply served commercial interests rather than patients or public coffers.

This is an absolute must in order to enable the Greek government to control pharmaceutical expenditure, one of the higher per capita worldwide. Electronic prescription is already being phased in with significant savings, to the point that pharmaceutical companies are downsizing their posh offices in Athens.

(3) Completion of the Land Register. Documenting the country's properties through the Land Register will open new avenues for investment, commercial development of tourist sites and full security for foreign investment in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth.

Greece was until now the only country in Europe without an official Land Registry. The Greek government has decided to finalise the registration of its entire territory within three years. Already, 40% of real estate properties are in the final stages of registration.

(4) Tax Administration Reform. We are helping Greece to put its tax system in order; without a proper functioning tax system and administration there can be no sustainable economy.

Several EU countries have declared their readiness to provide technical assistance through experts from their respective tax administrations. Since November 2011, the Task Force together with DG TAXUD and the IMF has been continuously pushing for change in tax audit, audit of large taxpayers, audit of high wealth and high income self-employed taxpayers, debt collection and dispute resolution.

Following an agreed work-method, in the coming weeks the European teams will address those gaps and needs to help the Greek tax administration achieve its first concrete results in the areas of debt collection, audit of high-wealth individuals and dispute resolution.

Technical assistance has generally been well received, and in certain areas such as the audit of high-wealth individuals or debt collection, some positive trends have been established. However, and in view of the existing capacity problems of the Greek tax administration, further efforts will be required as well as a renewed political commitment to adequately reorganise, staff and equip the tax administration and radically overhaul and simplify tax legislation. It needs to be clear that this will require long-term efforts from all parties involved.

 

 

Detailed background on Tax Administration technical assistance

 

The Task Force for Greece has:

(1) secured funding to support continued involvement by the IMF in those fields where the Fund has provided technical assistance since April 2010. A contract worth approximately EUR 3 million (USD 4.3 million) will be signed between the Commission and IMF in the next few weeks, financing TA provided by the IMF over 2011 2013.

(2) endeavoured to marshal goodwill in various EU Member States and other institutions ready to help (OECD, Eurostat, etc.) in order to step up technical assistance to Greece. In the area of tax administration, TFGR will be able to draw on the existing FISCALIS programme (managed by DG TAXUD) to send Member States' experts to Greece and finance working visits by Greek officials to other countries, for an estimated amount of more than EUR 1 million over 2011 -2013.

 

 

In detail, in the field of Tax Administration:

Nine "policy areas" identified for further cooperation

 

- Strengthening debt collection and management

- Strengthening the tax dispute resolution system

- Revamping the taxpayer audit function

- Enhancing control of large taxpayers

- Enhancing control of High Wealth Individuals (HWI) and High Income Self-Employed (HISE)

- Improving registration, filing and payment enforcement

- Improving taxpayer services

- Improving risk and revenue analysis capability

- Rebuilding the tax administration organisation

 

A draft action plan built around these nine policy areas, with 4 priorities:

- Strengthening debt collection and management

- Strengthening the tax dispute resolution system

- Revamping the taxpayer audit function

- Enhancing control of large taxpayers

 

- Strong willingness of Member States to cooperate, demonstrated at the 20 October 2011, 5 December 2011 and 6 March 2012 coordination meetings in Brussels.