Speaking to reporters, the Greek minister presented his policy priorities for the period 2006-2007. These include:
-implementing a second phase of a tax reform programme envisaging higher tax-exempt ceilings and a gradual reduction of tax factors (the main factor will drop from 30 percent to 25 percent, while the highest factor will fall from 40 percent to 35 percent over the next three years).
-implementing government pledges to raise supplementary pay to pensioners,
-promoting a dialogue over the country's pension system. Alogoskoufis said the government's aim was to seek the widest possible political and social consensus on the issue,
-implementing a privatization policy in 2006. Alogoskoufis said the programme would focus on banks this year and will expand to the country's infrastructure (ports, airports) in 2007.
The minister said the government was likely to announce a consultant to the sale of Emporiki Bank next week,
-accelerating absorption of EU funds,
-adopt a more effective control of public spending,
-combating tax evasion,
-support exports, and
-implementing a National Strategic Framework for the period 2007-2013 and a Digital Strategy.
Alogoskoufis, commenting on the country's economic course, underlined the economy's strong growth rate (at 3.7 pct in 2005), a decline in unemployment to 9.7 pct and a reduction of the country's budget deficit (expected to total 2.6 pct of GDP this year), as well as a 13.1 pct jump in exports last year.
He also sharply criticized the previous governments' policies of leaving the country's fiscal condition "in quicksand", as he said, with nil foreign investments and low competitiveness.
Commenting on a same-day decision by Eurostat regarding the method for registering defense spending on state budgets, Alogoskoufis said the decision would be implemented for future budgets and that the impact of this decision would be insignificant for the years 2005-2006.
In other developments, Alogoskoufis said he agreed with remarks made by Bank of Greece Governor Nikos Garganas, as the latter warned of dangers from a rising household debt in the country.
On his part, Economy Deputy Minister Christos Folias said the government managed to cut the loss of community funds to below 10 million euros last year, and pledged that not one euro would be lost in the future.
Economy Deputy Minister Petros Doukas said the government managed to contain primary budget spending in the period 2004-06 by 0.7 percent of GDP.
Finally, Finance Deputy Minister Antonios Bezas said budget revenues rose significantly in the first two months of the year (17.7 pct up in January, 14.4 pct up in February).
Alogoskoufis told reporters after the 90-minute meeting that the Greek economy was responding positively to the government's initiatives, stressing that employment was on a better course while the unemployment rate had started to decline, developments regarding inflation were encouraging despite the big increases in oil prices, and the growth rates were above the EU average.
He said the government was implementing its programme, noting that Greece's updated stability programme was slated for approval by ECOFIN (the EU council of economy and finance ministers) next week.
Rehn stressed that Turkey is obliged to comply with this obligation, and also with the obligation to contribute to the efforts for finding a solution for the reunification of Cyprus.
During their discussion at the foreign ministry, Bakoyannis reminded the Commissioner of the constructive stance Greece has manifested on Turkey's European course, and stressed that progress in satisfying the criteria, obligations and prerequisites -- which include implementation of the Protocol extending Turkey's Customs Union with the EU to all the EU member states -- depended on Ankara itself.
Rehn described his discussion with Bakoyannis as "very constructive", and noted that Turkey clearly had a European orientation.
Replying to press questions on the possible consequences if Turkey failed to comply with its obligations, Rehn cautioned that "we must not dramatize the situation", adding that "Turkey, at this time, has all the prospects of avoiding bad developments" through accelerating reforms in the country on the one hand, and on the other hand fulfilling its obligations, satisfying the terms and conditions regarding the implementation of a just state in daily life, and regarding the Protocol and the Republic of Cyprus.
Rehn reminded that this progress would be assessed "in the well-known strict manner" always followed by the Commission, at the end of 2006.
Bakoyannis and Rehn extensively reviewed issues concerning the EU's enlargement and, according to the Greek foreign minister, "it is a known fact that there is concern in the public opinion on the further course and limits of EU enlargement".
She stressed that the enlargement must continue with "cautious steps", as it would "serve as the catalyst for peace, progress and stability in the region of the Western Balkans".
Rehn added that the Commission appreciated Greece's contribution and role with respect to stability and security in the Western Balkans region, and stressed that the next EU enlargement would concern SE Europe, "where the EU must send a positive message".
Turkey's smooth progress in EU accession talks is linked with the country's progress in crucial areas such as freedom of speech, and women's and religious minorities' rights.
He said that the EU hopes that Turkey will fulfill its commitments and will fully implement the extended customs agreement it signed in July 2005.
The Commission and the EU Council will closely watch how Turkey implements the protocol throughout 2006, Rehn added.
The Commissioner also referred to the Cyprus issue, hailing the talks UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Cypriot President Tassos Papodopoulos engaged in recently in Paris, saying that the EU encourages the leaders of both of the island's communities to begin and to continue a dialogue on key issues in order to build mutual trust that will lead to new negotiations.
Regarding the Balkans, Rehn said that Bulgaria and Romania have made great progress, adding that the EU is primarily focusing on judiciary reform and combating corruption and terrorism.
For Serbia-Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rehn noted that if the two fail to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Court regarding former Yugoslavia, the result will be a breakdown in accession talks.
He also referred to the upcoming referendum that will determine whether Serbia-Montenegro will become an independent state or not, saying that it is important that both countries come to a mutual agreement so that the outcome of the referendum will be viable, legal and not questionable.
On the issue of Kosovo, Rehn said that Belgrade must participate fully in talks regarding Kosovo and its relations with the EU and the West Balkans.
He added that the EU encourages Belgrade to talk with Kosovo's Serbs so that the latter can participate in Kosovo's provincial institutions.
As for Kosovo's Albanian population, Rehn said that it is necessary for Kosovo to ensure the protection of minority groups, as well as the protection of historical and cultural monuments.
In response to Rehn's statements, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) MP Antonis Skylakos said: "You are not keeping an equal distance from Kosovo and Belgrade and a further change in borders, along with the adoption of the Montenegro referendum, may further fuel bad developments in the Balkans."
On his part, Greek main opposition PASOK Eurodeputy Panos Beglitis asked that new conditions not be imposed on Serbia nor should policies be 'selectively' implemented against Serbia.
Furthermore, ruling New Democracy MP Kyriakos Mitsotakis questioned the usefulness of applying tight deadlines to the negotiating process, while PASOK MP Akis Tsohadzopoulos asked whether Rehn accepts the principle of borders remaining unchanged in the future as a main element to resolving the region's problems.
Finally, PASOK MP Christos Papoutsis and Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) leader Yiorgos Karatzaferis touched on the issue of the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), while Karatzaferis also requested that the Turkish group "Grey Wolves" be made illegal.
In response, Rehn said that the FYROM name dispute is a bilateral issue that concerns FYROM and Greece and which should be solved as soon as possible through UN mediation.
The commissioner analyzed matters regarding the EU's previous enlargement, as well as developments concerning future prospects.
Referring to the issue of negotiations for Turkey's accession to the EU, he said that the path before Turkey's accession takes place will be long and difficult and much will have to be done by the Turkish side to enable it to adjust to EU rules and the acquis communautaire. However, it is up to Turkey to carry out its commitments.
Rehn said Turkey is a strong and reliable ally with an important role in the region. However, it must go ahead with adjustments required in order to join the European family (issues concerning freedom of expression, human rights and religious freedoms, etc).
Commenting on the last EU enlargement, the commissioner said it did not vindicate the skeptics who had expressed fears at various levels, adding that the EU did not open its gates en masse to working people of member-states, despite what had been said before enlargement had taken place.
He further said that fears had been expressed before enlargement for an increase in organized crime, which was not confirmed.
Rehn also referred to issues concerning the Balkans and to the candidacies of Balkan countries, saying that this voyage is difficult, but necessary for the EU. He added that there will be clear benefits regarding democracy, stability and the future of the region (it is noteworthy that 70 percent of young Serbs have never traveled abroad).
The commissioner pointed out that the European Council in Thessaloniki in 2003 set the target for the western Balkans as regards its European orientation. This process is moving ahead with the purpose of approaching standards and European values.
On the Balkans, Papandreou expressed his conviction that "their prospect and the prospect of stability and prosperity, is the European prospect", adding that he stood firmly behind the EU decision (taken at the Thessaloniki summit in 2003) for the accession course of the entire region.
Regarding Turkey, Papandreou reiterated his 'dedication' to the neighboring country's European course, provided it materialized all the conditions set out by the EU.
Papandreou also briefed Rehn on his recent discussions with UN secretary general Kofi Annan and with Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, stressing that "a very important initiative has been forthcoming from Mr. Papadopoulos, which could be a good start for a development towards a substantive discussion, negotiation and ultimate solution, to the benefit of all the citizens of Cyprus".
The PASOK leader further said he impressed upon Rehn that "Turkey's European course, but also the fact that Cyprus is today inside the EU, means something very simple: That any solution must utilize the European acquis communautaire and must also be compatible with the acquis communautaire".
Papandreou described his meeting with Rehn as "useful", and expressed hope that "it will contribute to the future developments, particularly, of course, to various initiatives as well, such as that pertaining to Famagusta".
Referring to Greece's proposal, with which Frattini agrees, regarding the creation of a European coast guard, the Commissioner said that the central idea is to promote cooperation in the Mediterranean and to push for joint action towards this end.
He said that joint working groups will be set up to help EU member states faced with problems of human trafficking, while using a satellite system to oversee the Mediterranean is under consideration.
Bakoyannis and Frattini agreed that the EU must enable younger generations from the West Balkans - entrepreneurs and artists - to have easier access to Europe.
Frattini said that he is in favor of the Greek government's ideas on this issue and is in favor of sending positive political messages to West Balkan countries, one of them regarding the issuance of visas.
He added that there will be a Road Map to facilitate the issuance of visas and that he will request the Ministerial Council to authorize the European Commission to facilitate the process.
Athens congratulated the minister on the assumption of her new duties and wished her every success in her mission, adding that both SAE and he personally will always help in issues concerning Greece.
On her part, Bakoyannis congratulated the SAE president for work being accomplished and expressed her "undivided support for initiatives undertaken by SAE which promote Hellenism all over the world."
Athens also met on Thursday with Culture Minister George Voulgarakis, in the presence of SAE Vice President Constantine Vertzagias. Athens provided a briefing on programmes prepared by SAE, since its founding, for the dissemination of Greek culture abroad and for the promotion of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
A long-proposed metro network for Thessaloniki, as well as an envisioned underground traffic tunnel off the city's seawall, as well as upgrades to the Macedonia Airport, the port and another 30 projects was discussed.
Papageorgopoulos is expected to vie for another term as the city's mayor in the October municipal elections.
In an initial and brief comment regarding the same-day Eurostat ruling, Economy Minister George Alogoskoufis merely noted that the decision would be implemented for future budgets and that "the impact of this decision would be insignificant for the years 2005-2006."
Papandreou, who heads the main opposition party's economy and finance sector, charged that the relevant minister and the government's entire economic team "owe the Greek people an apology" for the high-profile audit of Greece's state finances in late 2004.
Eurostat on Thursday said that EU governments should record their military spending when deliveries actually arrive, while leases of military equipment organized by the private sector should be viewed as financial leases, not operating leases - a fact that determines the date that a government can register the payment.
Speaking from Iraklio, Crete, Simitis said "my own presence aims at the active contribution to PASOK's broader effort and in general of that of the progressive forces, for the country's progress and growth."
According to Simitis, the announcement by Eurostat "vindicates PASOK for the manner in which it kept account of the defense expenditures (registration of the defense expenditures during the date of the delivery of the military equipment) and renders wrong the method which was followed by the New Democracy party."
The theme of the former prime minister's speech was "Policies for growth and social cohesion". However, the greatest part of his lengthy speech was focused on criticism against the government which has completed two years in power.
Koronias was testifying before Parliament's Institutions and Transparency Committee regarding the illegal phone-tapping software secretly installed in the company's systems, which had monitored calls by highly-placed Greek officials - including the prime minister - for over a year.
During his testimony, Koronias stressed that Vodafone had "not requested, not ordered and not received" the legal low-phone interception programme developed by Ericsson, which the phone-tapers had managed to activate in order to monitor the roughly 100 mobile phones that were under surveillance.
He said that the low-phone interception programme was added to Ericsson systems at the request of its customers after the September 11 attacks, but underlined the costly service had not been purchased by Vodafone.
Koronias also emphasized that the Greek mobile-phone provider had never been officially aware of the inactive low-phone interception software's presence in its systems, but only the supplier Ericsson.
At the same time he pointed out that Vodafone, as a provider, would not be given access to the source code for the software. Ericsson did not provide this to its customers and the software was operated only Ericsson's authorized staff, he said.
Asked who might have made the 'rogue' software, Koronias said that it would have to be someone with intimate knowledge of Ericsson's programming environment that could write directly in assembly language, which operators were not able to do.
"The complexity of the programme points to someone with extremely high expertise," Koronias said, while clarifying that Vodafone's staff did not possess this level of skill.
Vodafone's CEO also expressed annoyance at the comments made by the Authority for the Protection of Communications Privacy (ADAE) in the report it released on Wednesday, one day before he was due to appear in Parliament.
According to ADAE's report, the 'ghost' software found at Vodafone was of a 'general type' since it contained parts that were not used by Vodafone or by Greek companies in general. The software could have been used by any company in any country that had the specific Ericsson system installed.
ADAE also found that the software was installed in three digital centers, as opposed to the two already known, as well as discrepancies between the list of phone numbers Vodafone and Ericsson submitted.
Furthermore, according to ADAE, changes were made to the software after its installation.
Commenting on part of the report, Koronias said that the person able to infiltrate into the low-phone interception system was interested in penetrating Ericsson's systems.
The system could be parameterized and use in other countries possessing Ericsson's programme, he added.
He also pointed out the difficulty for policies for legal surveillance, given that the 'ghost' software could operate, even if the legal low phone interception system had not been activated.
The Vodafone CEO then gave a step-by-step account of the company's action from the time when the discovery of the 'ghost' software was discovered until it informed the government.
Koronias said that he had treated the matter as an issue of national security once he discovered that the prime minister's phone was among those being monitored.
He stressed that he had asked for the software to be removed in order to protect the rights of the company's subscribers and that this had not "wiped out" any traces.
Questioned about his meetings with the public order and justice ministers, he said that the central issue raised was how someone could infiltrate Vodafone, one of the top mobile phone providers in the world that had international security certificates, and also security issues in Greece in areas like defense, the TAXIS system used by the finance ministry and software used by banks.
Regarding the death of Vodafone staff member Costas Tsalikidis, Koronias said that he had brought this to the attention of the ministers and the Supreme Court prosecutor, placing himself and the company at their disposal, because it had coincided with the discovery of the 'ghost' software and informing the government.
In a re-opened investigation into Tsalikidis' death that is now underway, meanwhile, first-instance court prosecutor Ioannis Diotis on Thursday heard testimony from the coroner Giorgios Dilernia who examined the body at the time and the head of the coroners' service Philippos Koutsaftis.
Dilernia said the 39-year-old's death had clearly been caused by hanging, while both coroners agreed on a verdict of suicide and said that disinterment of the body would not bring about any result.
Tsalikidis was found hanged in March 2005; just days after the company discovered the 'ghost' software in its systems and informed the government. A police investigation at the time had attributed the death to suicide but this has been questioned by the family, especially in the light of later developments and the revelations about the phone-tapping scandal.
The phone-tapping plot was revealed by the government in February, after a nearly year-long covert investigation by the authorities had failed to find those responsible. It said the roughly 100 phones that were tapped included those of ministers, high-ranking police and armed forces personnel, activists, journalists, business people and even one U.S. Embassy employee.
One was the omission of key evidence concerning a third monitoring centre, in addition to the two revealed by the company - "with all that this might entail for the credibility and the motives concealed by this move," the spokesman said.
Secondly, the last paragraph of the ADAE report said that Vodafone had provided the independent authority with data for only certain dates, saying that it did not keep all the data that had been requested in its files.
"I remind you that in an extract of a recent official announcement by the company it spoke about a "precise picture" that had been "fully recorded in magnetic media", Antonaros said.
The revelation of more and more evidence proved the correctness of the government's approach in referring the case to justice as soon as it came to the government's attention, so that all aspects of the case might be fully investigated, he added.
"Justice is now investigating this case in depth. The investigation is continuing with the aim of solving the case," Antonaros stressed.
Asked if the findings of the report might lead to prosecution of Koronias, the spokesman confined himself to saying that the investigation was still underway and that this was a matter for justice, while he refused to comment on an announcement on Wednesday that Koronias had been promoted by the parent company Vodafone.
Magginas' proposal was made after Vodafone's CEO Yiorgos Koronias testified before parliament's Institutions and Transparency Committee regarding his company's involvement in a phone-tapping that targeted high-ranking government officials, including the prime minister.
Committee President Mr. Karamarios agreed with the proposal and said that a relevant request will be submitted to the Hellenic Authority for Information and Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) which would carry out the inspections.
Ericsson company issues statement
The Swedish Ercisson company, whose software has been installed with the Vodafone company, issued a statement on the phone-tapping issue on Thursday night, stressing that is has no involvement whatsoever in the creation, introduction and use of the illegal software in Vodafone's network and it is prepared to help authorities find the truth concerning the phone-tapping issue.
Ericsson was replying to press reports on the issue on the occasion of a testimony made before a relevant Parliamentary committee by Vodafone's managing director George Koronias on Thursday.
The Swedish company also said that it notified Vodafone immediately when it was the first to discover the phone-tapping network, adding that "Ericsson has nothing at all to hide."
The announcement by the Ericsson company further stresses that its aim and intention is to provide its "undivided support for state authorities to find the truth and to this end it has already given, and will continue to give, substantiated replies and information for all questions put by the relevant authorities."
"In the context of the Excessive Deficit Procedure monitoring, and following bilateral consultations with member states, Eurostat has observed cases of complex contracts for military equipment that led to uncertainties as to the appropriate recording in national accounts (ESA 95), to heterogeneous accounting practices across member states, and to significant difficulties in terms of source data availability," Eurostat said.
"The decision specifies the time of recording of government expenditure, and thus the impact on the government deficit, for borderline cases of military equipment under long-term contracts, notably in cases of leased equipment, complex systems or heavy equipment built over many years," it said.
The decision also defines those cases where cash source data could be acceptable as proxies for deliveries for military equipment expenditure, pending improvement of accrual based source data.
Regarding the leasing of military equipment, Eurostat decided that leases of military equipment organized by the private sector should be considered as financial leases not operating leases.
"This supposes recording an acquisition of equipment by the government and the incurrence of a government liability to the lessor. Thus there is an impact on government deficit and debt at the time that the equipment is put at the disposal of the military authorities, and not at the time of payments on the lease," Eurostat said.
Regarding long-term contracts where deliveries of identical items are spread over a long period of time or where payments cover the provision of both goods and services, ie. training, Eurostat decided that "government expenditure should be recorded at the time of the actual delivery of each independent part of the equipment or of the provision of service."
In the case of military equipment built over many years, the time of government expenditure and thus the impact on government deficit must be recorded at the time of actual physical delivery of the finished product, not at the time of transfer of ownership, which often occurs during the building process.
Eurostat has found that at present, most member states record their military expenditures at the time of payment. This, Eurostat says, is acceptable as an interim solution and pending improvement of accrual based source data.
This practice can be followed when the cash data are corrected with observed and accurate data on receivables and payables associated with the contracts in question; or the cash data are used for small deliveries only, or are corrected for large deliveries; or the time of payment is close to delivery (within one year of the time of delivery).
The objective of Eurostat's decision is "to provide a reasonable benchmark (...) when assessing the quality of member states' government finance statistics, notably in the context of the Excessive Deficit Procedure reporting."
Member states must comply with this recent decision in the next notification exercise which is to take place before April 1, 2006.
"Some revisions to the data, on government deficit mostly, may occur due to the application by member states of the rules above," Eurostat noted.
According to reports, the first confirmed instance of the H5N1 virus in Albania was detected in a rural chicken coop in the Sarande region in the country's southeast.
The report comes after positive tests for the virus were derived from a handful of dead swans found in several sites of northern Greece last month, although no poultry - either in production units or in household pens - have tested positive for "bird flu" in Greece so far.
Speaking during an interview on Sky radio, Pavlopoulos said "It's not enough to establish a civil servant code but you have to implement it as soon as possible."
Referring to the past, he said "while there may have been good intentions, results were not apparent."
The main difference between the old and new code, according to the minister, is the way the hierarchy is organized and civil servants' career growth.
Another important change is in the way civil servants will be evaluated, with the emphasis being on performance.
"What we're doing now is placing greater importance on how the civil servant carries out his/her duties, if he or she is performing them properly," Pavlopoulos explained.
Significant steps are also being taken for civil servants' continuing education.
The ministry has signed a collective agreement with ADEDY and with 12 regional institutes, making continuing education a priority "not paid vacation as was the case in the past."
"The 'New School of Athens' constitutes an important initiative, both symbolic as well as substantive, that tries to fuse various opinions floating internationally regarding global governance," he said, speaking on behalf of Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who inaugurated this institution in her previous capacity as Athens Mayor.
Because the New School of Athens views globalization as a reality full of opportunities, the foreign ministry's Hellenic Aid agency has decided "to participate and support this initiative with ideas, positions and actions, hoping that we will thus contribute decisively and dynamically in the solution of international problems, in the understanding of civilizations, in the harmonious balancing of technology on the one and the democratic, eternal and human principles on the other."
"Globalization renders borders porous and internationalizes problems. Bullet-free states do not exist anymore. Problems travel fast, they know or recognize no borders and they threaten even the developed societies," he added.
The internationalization of problems therefore requires "an international alliance to confront these problems at the source, at least the ones that are manageable, as for instance poverty which, despite the Millennium Declaration has taken on uncontrollable dimensions," Stylianidis said.
The deputy minister also referred to the 'Millennium Goals', noting that while they were set out by the UN in 2000, they have still to be attained.
"During the recent meeting of the world leaders that took place at the United Nations in September 2005, all participants agreed that the world community moves extremely slow and often with poor results, it therefore needs to intensify and better coordinate its efforts both within the international organizations and among member states themselves and, of course, among the Citizens' Society," he noted.
He went on to describe Greece's contribution, saying that "in this international alliance that acts under the umbrella of the United Nations, Greece became donor for the first time after the year 2000, as up until then she was considered a recipient country."
"Our political participation in the war against global poverty became more systematic and intense after the year 2004, when Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis assured the President of the European Commission Mr. Barroso and stated publicly at the UN Security Council and in the gathering of the world leaders in September of that year that Greece, despite her budgetary constraints will contribute with all her powers in the realization of the 'Millennium Goals' following the European targets," Stylianidis continued.
In 2004, Greece spent ¬ 464 million or 0.23% of GNP for activities undertaken in the developing world, either bilaterally, multilaterally, through international organizations or through the Citizens' Society, according to the deputy minister.
Referring to the ministry's Hellenic Aid agency, Stylianidis described it as 'the national coordinator' of Greece's policy of international cooperation and assistance.
"If the political diplomacy develops relations among governments, the economic diplomacy develops relations among markets and the development cooperation promotes relations among societies, ie. among people. It is certain that the latter are much more powerful, as they contribute to the understanding of civilizations," he said.
"During this past year, Hellenic Aid, restructured to be more transparent and efficient, realized, together with NGOs, programmes of development assistance or urgent humanitarian/food assistance in 46 countries," he said.
Referring to the Balkans and the Hellenic Plan for the Economic Reconstruction of the Balkans, Stylianidis said that Greece has spent ¬ 550 million on infrastructure projects while Greek private investments total more than ¬ 8 billion in the region, creating more than 200,000 jobs.
Athens Mayor Theodoros Behrakis on Thursday addressed the sessions of the international conference of the New School of Athens on the theme "Beyond the Millennium Declaration-Embracing Democracy and Good Governance", which was organized by the Athens Municipality.
At the conference, which began on Thursday, the importance was noted of the representation of all trends and views worldwide, with the objective of constructive dialogue and convergence on the substantial problems of growth and prosperity of developing countries.
The conference is being attended by more than 100 representatives of the public and private sector, of the society of citizens and of international organizations from the five continents.
In his address, Behrakis stressed that "Athens feels the weight of its name, not only as a title of honor, but also as an obligation towards the international community." He added that "this is why we decided to also contribute, to the degree of our strength, to the world's search for the creation of conditions of better world confrontation of the problems."
Alternate government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros also said that an even clearer picture will emerge when three government agencies begin cross-checking computerized figures in the coming months.
He added that the number of employed persons in the country at the moment, 4.386 million, is the highest number ever recorded in Greece.
Responding to questions as he left the education ministry, Tsitouridis said that there was a steady reduction in unemployment, which in the last two years had fallen below 10 percent for the first time.
On social insurance and pension's reform, the minister said that the government hoped to "tidy-up the funds" based on the current legislation and "make the best possible diagnosis on the major issue of pension reform," that the government after the next elections could use as a guide.
Speaking to reporters, in the sidelines of an international tourism fair in Berlin, the Greek minister said it was feasible to achieve a goal of 25 million tourist arrivals in the next decade and underlined the contribution of tourism as a main pylon of the Greek economy.
Mrs Petralia, in its first official visit to an international tourism fair since taking over the Tourism ministry, sounded determined to resolve chronic problems hindering the development of the tourism sector and said she was not afraid of any political cost. The country's tourism product was enriched with new forms of tourism, spa, medical, agro-tourism, cultural and stressed that special emphasis would be given to support city tourism. Petralia said the post-Olympic Games use of Olympic sport facilities was top priority for the ministry and said positive developments were expected soon for the five largest Olympic facilities.
German Chancellor Angella Merkel is expected to visit the Greek pavilion at the ITB fair in Berlin on Friday.
The five countries involved in the programme, which is funded under the European Union's Interreg III B, are Greece, Italy, Cyprus, Malta and Turkey.
Dimas said that all EU member-states agree that scientific assessment for the safety of genetically modified organisms must be excellent. However, he pointed out that the EU's Council of Environment Ministers is unable to express an opinion on proposals concerning genetically modified organisms which are due, on the one hand, to the different policies of EU member-states on this issue and, on the other, to the lack of confidence regarding the assessment of environmental danger.
"For this reason it is very important that absolute confidence exists in scientific assessment processes on which the process of decision-making is based," the commissioner said.
Lastly, Dimas said that the European Commission does not share the view contained in certain press reports which speak of a victory of the United States and of other countries (Canada, Argentina) which submitted a report against the EU on modified goods.
The two men also discussed issues related to operational cooperation between the European Union's member-states for the more effective surveillance of the sea borders with the objective of combating illegal immigration and other serious forms of organized crime.
Specifically, the merchant marine minister outlined Greece's interest for the support of initiatives, aimed at laying the bases for the creation of the European Coast Guard (Eurocoast Guard).
These initiatives include the improvement of the existing systems of surveillance of sea regions, the development of a network of joint sea patrols in the Mediterranean Sea, and cooperation of EU member-states with third countries which border the European Union.
The bill incorporates three European Union directives concerning a common tax status for mother and subsidiary companies, the mutual administrative assistance of EU member-states in the sector of direct taxation and the abolition of the obligation of companies to keep accounting books and issue particulars when they have their headquarters in another country.
A union report, based on the very satisfactory export figures for 2005, said Greek exports reached 13.964 billion euros last year, the highest level in the last 60 years, recording a 13 percent annual growth rate. The Exporters' Union said the increase was general towards all geographical regions and all large categories of exported products, and in particular farm products.
The report said markets, such as Libya, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, were reappearing, although exports to Japan were steadily falling. The United Arab Emirates, Syria, Poland and Libya were included among the top 20 export markets in the last decade, while Serbia & Montenegro, Israel, Lebanon and Malta were left outside the list. Spain and Bulgaria are emerging as very promising markets, while Germany and Italy maintained their leading positions for Greek exports.
The Exporters' Union, however, stressed that despite a significant increase in exports, the country's trade deficit remained huge, since exports accounted for only 32 percent of import payments in 2005.
The findings were contained in recent surveys by the ICAP market research company and by the National Statistics Service of Greece, which showed that 77.3% of households had difficulty in meeting their needs, Bank of Greece governor Nikos Garganas said.
Garganas asked banks to show more stringency in awarding loans, and more care in risk management.
He announced the terms of a new decree that sets new rules for loan-award criteria and internal control systems for banks.
"Implementation of these new regulations will contribute to more rational risk assessment for banks, opening the way for credit institutions to offer lower interest rates to creditworthy customers," Garganas noted.
The new internal controls will entail minor costs for banks in the short-term, he added.
Its initiatives include an event at the physical sciences research centre Dimokritos on March 12 on "The consumer movement in Greece: modern challenges and action priorities", with an opening speech by PASOK leader George Papandreou.
PASOK MP Anna Diamantopoulou, in charge of the party's development and consumer policy sector, stressed while presenting a 35-page pamphlet on Thursday that the present government was denying the problem of high prices, even though it was common knowledge and was also backed by the measurements of consumer watchdogs.
"The deputies of PASOK have become protagonists of inaccuracy lately. Replies given by the government are based on the official and published data of the National Statistical Service, the Bank of Greece and Eurostat and not on the selective references or inaccuracies of Harilaou Trikoupi (the street in which PASOK's head offices are located)," the announcement said.
"The results we are achieving in the struggle against the high cost of living are, indeed, better than those of the failed governments of PASOK," it added.
In a speech to the industry's employees, she criticized the government on its overall policy and termed it "one-sided, autocratic, to the benefit of the few and at the expense of the many."
Xenoyiannakopoulou, who headed a party delegation, also criticized EAB's management not to allow the entry of television crews in the area of the company and stated that "what occurred today stunned and grieved us."
She said "we view it as a kind of insult towards the main opposition party, as well as a restriction in the briefing of the Greek people who are the main sponsors of the operation of this company which is public."
The PASOK Secretary directed her remarks to EAB president Theodoros Damianos who did not allow the entry of television crews at areas of EAB and to the company's restaurant, which the PASOK team visited.
Damianos answered that the decision not to allow the entry of television crews "is valid for all and the briefing of the Greek people can be made at any moment and not necessarily by cameras in the company."
A spokesman for the Federation of Social Security Foundation Pensioners said the direction of change would be "bitter", accusing the government of attempting to lower pensions and privatises the social insurance system.
The finance ministry's secretary general promised that a meeting would be arranged with Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis in the near future.
Among pensioners' demands are a rise in the lowest category of pensions to 1,050 euros per month from all funds and a heating allowance of 500 euros.
A SESME announcement said it has repeatedly expressed its disagreement with any changes in an existing legal framework and stressed its full opposition to any plans to expand working hours on Sundays.
The Union said letting retail shops open on Sundays would not lead to any increase in turnover, it would clearly lead to higher costs to enterprises in the sector and would not lead to any new hirings.
These figures highlighted how far Greece lagged behind other European states in innovation, George Mylonas, president of the Nothern Greece's Industry Union (SBBE) said on Thursday.
Addressing a seminar organized by EKETA, the National Central for Technological Development, Mylonas said the innovation gap between Greece and the rest of the EU was huge. He said that according to figures by the European Trend Chart of Innovation for 2005, the number of new brand names per million inhabitants in Greece was 24.9 in 2004, compared with an average 87.2 in the EU.
Mylonas said Greek enterprises should focus on the production of innovative products and services since "there is no survival without innovation". He stressed that the state should also help by creating a better environment to support innovation. Mylonas noted, however, that a new legislation along with actions included in a Fourth Community Support Framework programme was creating favourable prospects for innovation in Greece.
SBBE recommended the creation of networks between leading Greek enterprises in sectors or markets with the leading universities in the country and the hiring of high quality staff for research and development.
The statistics service said the consumer price index fell 12.3 percent in February from the previous month, while durable goods' prices fell 3.0 percent, transportation prices eased 0.5 percent and prices of services offered by hotels and restaurants fell 0.7 percent.
Food and beverage prices rose 1.8 percent in February, while housing prices were up 0.4 pct. Greece's harmonized inflation rate rose to 3.2 percent.
The centre opened in the coastal suburb of Hellenikon, founded by the Ukraine Association of Greece backed by the Priamos Maritime SA and the Greece-Ukraine chamber.
Attending the opening were a representative of Ukraine's government, embassy officials and the mayor of Hellenikon.
The incident occurred at Menidi at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, just 15 minutes after OSE passenger train 504 set out from Larissis station in Athens headed for Thessaloniki, when it collided with cargo train 80504, which was also headed for Thessaloniki and was on a stop at the Menidi station at the time, resulting in the derailment of the engine car and the first two passenger cars of the train's six cars.
The injured passengers and co-driver were rushed by ambulance to several hospitals in Athens, most of them with superficial injuries, after being disentangled from the derailed cars by the fire brigade.
The circumstances of the accident were being investigated by the Nea Ionia traffic police in cooperation with OSE experts.
According to eyewitnesses, the passenger train was not moving at high speed when the accident occurred.
Prosecution against Anastasios Bambalis concerns homicide through negligence, causing bodily injury through negligence and disrupting the safety of rail communications through negligence.
Bambalis was released after being prosecuted, while traffic police authorities in the district of Nea Ionia were ordered by the prosecutor to begin a preliminary enquiry.
Speaking to reporters, the defendant spoke of a human error and of a misunderstanding between officials.
Savage had been living permanently in Holland over the past 20 years and was extradited in September 2005 at the request of the Greek authorities.
Police believe the Irishman was the mastermind of the operation to bring cannabis into Greece in 1997 on the ship.
The court, basing itself on evidence produced during the trial, found him guilty only of simple complicity and sentenced him to five years in prison, without the right of suspension and so Savage will carry out the rest of his sentence in a Greek prison.
Savage had drawn the attention of British authorities and the press for over 20 years, since he had allegedly been a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and then of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), while he has also been convicted for armed robbery.
However, he appears to have changed his activities since the '90s. Based in Amsterdam, he succeeded, according to international prosecuting authorities, in becoming his country's main importer of cannabis and ecstasy pills.
His name had also been linked by some to the murder of journalist Veronica Gerin, who had exposed drug traffickers in Ireland.
To date, foreign nationals released from prison are sent to police detention centers to await their extradition.
The circular was sent following a request by the Ombudsman, which confirmed complaints about poor conditions at police detention centers due to overcrowding.
Additionally, Makris says that relevant agencies must take all necessary actions, such as issuing travel documents, quickly in order to ensure foreigners' speedy extradition.
The law incorporates the directives of the European Union and renders the ombudsman an agency for promoting equal treatment in the public sector.
The ombudsman states in his special report that the clauses contained in the specific law aim at combating phenomena of both direct and indirect discrimination, while organizing a complex group of protection apparatuses for the person harmed, which greatly exceeds the traditional model of imposing sanctions in individual cases.
Although new and enlarged administrative and penal sanctions are anticipated, according to the report, emphasis is transferred to the mediatory actions of special public agencies on the promotion of equal treatment, the activation of the citizens' society and the assumption of positive measures.
The report added that these new forms of action appear to respond to the particularities of "sensitive groups", which are the recipients of protection provided, and to the need for wider social coordination on combating the phenomenon of discrimination.
Construction of various canals and channels to funnel more water from creeks and streams originating from nearby Mt. Kerkini and Mt. Beles is envisioned. According to the Centre for Greek Biospheres and Wetlands, the lake's surface totaled 27 square kilometers in 1987, falling to 14 square kilometers in December 2003.
A study for the project has been budgeted at 450,000 euros, while the entire project is estimated to cost roughly 5.5 million euros.
Ecumenical Patriarchate Vartholomeos will later host a reception in Kalantzis' honour following a church service.
Sofia, the wife of King Juan Carlos I, the Spanish monarch, is on a private visit to Greece.
She is expected to depart Irakleio later on Thursday afternoon.
Speaking to the press at Larnaca Airport upon his return from Athens, where he held talks with the Greek political leadership, President Papadopoulos said ''I think Mr Rehn was clear, and as he himself has reassured us, each time he has meetings he reiterates the same call to Turkey, to fulfill its obligations."
Asked about the next steps, after his meeting in Paris with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on February 28, President Papadopoulos said ''we expect the United Nations to inform us about the procedure to be followed and Turkey's answer if it will accept to contribute to this initiative.''
A statement issued after the meeting in Paris said that "the leaders of both communities (in Cyprus) have agreed that bicommunal discussions on a series of issues, agreement on which is needed for the benefit of all Cypriots, will be undertaken at the technical level."
Asked if there are indications that Turkey will consent to what has been agreed in Paris, Papadopoulos said ''no nothing''.
As regards the issues to be discussed at the technical committees, President Papadopoulos said that these concern two parallel procedures. The first one concerns the preparation of the talks and the second one confidence building measures, he added.
He said the progress of each procedure depends on the progress of the other one.
He also said that UN Secretary General agreed that this whole procedure can open the road for preparing the talks ''and that according to the progress made he (Annan) will think about his further actions.''
Regarding his meeting in Athens, Papadopoulos said he discussed the Cyprus question.
''As always we have ascertained the full support of Greece to actions and efforts by the Republic of Cyprus as in the recent initiative we have undertaken for the preparation of the resumption of talks in Cyprus,'' he added.
Speaking on his return to Cyprus, following a three day visit to Austria, Christofias further expressed satisfaction for statements made by EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn where he called on Turkey to keep its word by implementing the Ankara Agreement and its obligations towards Cyprus.
Regarding his visit, Christofias said Austrian officials are "especially demanding and are calling on Turkey to undertake real initiatives on the Cyprus problem that will lead to a solution of the problem and lifting of the occupation on the basis of UN resolutions, high level agreements and European law."
He said Austrian officials demand, and had stated this on Wedneday during Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik's meeting with her Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul, that Turkey should implement the obligations derived from its accession course and in particular the Ankara Agreement.
During his talks with Austrian National Council President Andreas Khol, President Heinz Fischer, Kohl, and members and President of the National Council's House Foreign Affairs Committee Peter Schieder, Christofias said he analyzed the Cypriot positions on the measures promoted by the government to assist Turkish Cypriots.
He also expressed the Republic of Cyprus' gratitude for Austria's support and the "active and intense participation in the last 37 years of Austrian soldiers in UNFICYP."
Invited to comment on statements made on Thursday in Athens by Enlargement Commissioner Rehn that Turkey should implement the Ankara Agreement and its obligations towards Cyprus, Christofias said that in 2006 Turkey's progress whether it satisfies the obligations set out by the EU will be scrutinized.
"For this reason, I express satisfaction because Mr. Rehn has reminded Turkey of its obligations" and "rightly said that if Turkey does not fulfill its obligations, there is the danger that the right to veto will be used."
According to an official press release, the EU ministers will discuss about the issue of Kosovo, in the presence of the Special Representative of United Nations Martti Ahtisaari.
Other issues to be discussed are the situation in the Middle East after the electoral victory of Hamas in the Palestinian areas, the issue raised by the cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in the European press, the issue of nuclear arsenal of Iran, the situation in Ukraine, in view of parliamentary elections to take place March 26 and the situation in Belarus, in view of the presidential elections on 19th of March.
An informal meeting of foreign ministers of the EU and the countries of the western Balkans will take place on the sidelines of the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers, with the participation of the foreign ministers of Croatia, Albania, Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYROM and Turkey.