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Sweeping to office after their landslide victory in January’s Greek elections, Syriza has promised to shakeup how the system operates in a major way. Former Dutch MEP Derk Jan Eppink warns, however, that change is hard to come by, examining Greek attempts to create a land registry – ongoing since 1994, and for which it has received millions in EU funding.
5 March 2015
Writing in De Volkskrant, former Dutch MEP Derk Jan Eppink reminds readers to take Syriza’s promises of major changes in how Greece operates with a pinch of salt. In particular, he singles out Greece’s attempt to create a land registry (a Cadastre), which it has promised it would do since 1994, having secured €100m in EU funding for such a purpose. Eppink notes: “A modern economy can’t function if property titles aren’t known and enforceable. But a lack of a land registry of course offers golden chances for manipulation and corruption.”
When Eppink worked as a Commission official under then-EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein, he tried to claim back the money, given that hardly any progress had been made by 2001. This resulted in heated discussions in the Commission: a Greek Commission official accused Eppink of “anti-Greek opinions,” while the Commissioners from Germany, the UK, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark supported Bolkestein’s insistence that Greece “pay back everything.”
French Commissioner Michel Barnier, then responsible for regional policy, ultimately managed to strike a compromise where Greece had to pay back €60m. The remainder of the money was paid back in full later – but in the meantime – Greece had secured another €41.6m to make another attempt at creating a Cadastre.
As an MEP, in 2011, Eppink asked the Commission for more information about Greek plans to register 3.6 million property titles. He found that only 17% of property titles and 6% of land had been registered.
Under the new Syriza-government, Greece has reiterated its pledge to finalise the Land Registry “around 2020”. Nevertheless, on 20 January this year, Greek daily Kathimerini reported that the whole project “may go on hold,” due to lack of funds, “Pledges that some €100m would be provided through European Union structural funds have not materialized,” wrote the paper.
As Eppink concludes: “Promises aren’t worth a lot. As soon as Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem hears the word “Cadastre,” alarm bells should ring. Greece’s biggest ally is the Greek calendar.” In Dutch, to “send something to the Greek calendar” means “to postpone indefinitely.” Indeed, that seems to be what’s going on with attempts to create a land registry, something which is generally perceived as necessary to boost legal certainty of property owners and to combat corruption, one of Syriza’s stated goals.