Italian authorities on Thursday signed an action plan with representatives of the European Commission (EC) to accelerate work on a major European project to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pompeii.
"Works at the site will have to be completed bindingly within 2015," EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn told a joint press conference with Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini and the government's under-secretary Graziano Delrio held in Pompeii to mark the agreement.
The action plan set out specific measures and targets to complete the Great Pompeii Project, which was being supported by some 78 million euros (105 million U.S. dollars) worth of investment through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The Great Pompeii Project was launched in 2012 by the European Union (EU) after the world famous archaeological site was declared to be in a state of emergency in 2008 due to its deterioration.
Only 1 percent of the funds, however, have been used so far while another 24 percent have been destined to the stage of works completion, Hahn was quoted as saying by Corriere della Sera newspaper.
"The residual 75 percent must be used within the end of 2015" or it will be lost, he stressed.
Currently, 12 restoration programs are ongoing at the site, and nine others will open soon
The EU commissioner said the EC and Italian authorities will monitor the action plan four times between now and the end of the project to ascertain progress and guarantee the full use of funds by the end of next year.
The Great Pompeii Project is mainly aimed at consolidating the structures of the archaeological site, carrying out preservation work, improving the training of staff and building a water canal and drainage system in the non-excavated state property area leaning over the ancient buildings.
Significant measures will be also taken to protect Pompeii against the influence of organized crime, and the Italian authorities will be working closely with the EC to oversee security and legal aspects of the project from beginning to end.
"The Pompeii challenge is a challenge for the whole of Italy," Franceschini told the press conference.
He said he was "satisfied" with Thursday's agreement to speed up the works.
"The investment in cultural heritage is a dutiful mission for maintenance of what the generations before us have created. Too many times in the past governments of various colors have not been able to value the cultural heritage," the minister pointed out.
In March, the EC urged Italy to take more care of Pompeii, that it defined a treasure "not only for Italy but also for the world," after UNESCO warned the Mediterranean country that Pompeii was "destined to collapse entirely" unless urgent measures were taken.
A long series of collapses at the Roman city, that was buried under ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., has being hitting the international headlines for the past months, prompting Italian authorities to pledge quick steps and concrete results.