|Friday, 23 March 2018|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 12-03-16
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 16 March 2012 Issue No: 4023
 IMF approves 28-bln-euro loan for GreeceWASHINGTON (AMNA/P.Panagiotou)
The executive board of the International Monetary Fund on Thursday approved a four-year program envisaging the participation of the Fund to a new support package for Greece, worth 28 billion euros, or 36.7 billion US dollars.
The IMF said in a statement that the approval paved the way for an immediate disburse of 1.65 billion euros to Greece.
 Statement by Lagarde on IMF's participation in loan support programme for GreeceNEW YORK (AMNA/P. Panagiotou)
International Monetary Fund (IMF) general director Christine Lagarde, speaking to reporters following the approval by the Executive Council on Thursday of her proposal for a four-year participation programme by the Fund in the new loan agreement for Greece, totalling about 28 billion euros or 36.7 billion dollars, stressed that "Greece has made great efforts for the implementation of widescale painful measures, over the past two years, in the midst of a deep economic recession and a difficult social environment."
Lagarde said that "the fiscal deficit decreased considerably and competitiveness improved gradually. However, the challenges that Greece is facing continue to be considerable, with a big vacuum of competitiveness, a high level of public debt and a non-capitalised banking system."
Lagarde pointed out that "the priority for Greece is the strengthening of the competitiveness of structural reforms. Bold measures for the labour market will play a crucial role in this issue and will be supplemented by measures for the deregulation of professions and the markets of products, the improvement of the business environment and the privatisation of state assets."
Lastly, she stressed that "the dangers for the programme remain extremely high and there is no ground for deviations. The full and timely implementation, in parallel with the wide support of the programme by the people and the European partners of Greece, are crucial parametres for success."
 Commission to present growth package for Greece, Reichenbach saysThe European Commission is preparing a package of measures aimed at boost Greek economic growth and job creation in the country, measures which will have a significant contribution by the European Union, Horst Reichenbach told reporters.
He presented the idea of using 500 million euros for SMEs, an idea discussed with Development Minister Anna Diamantopoulou in Brussels, and expressed the hope of a successful conclusion.
The general idea, he stressed, was to offer community funds to the European Investment Bank, which would be offered to Greek commercial banks - through a leverage - with the obligation to be distributed to Greek SMEs.
The Task Force chief stressed that the issue of funding small and medium-sized enterprises was very significant, underlining the fact that there were 4 billion euros available to this end, half of which is in the form of grants and the other half in loans through Greek banks.
He said the EU was expected to offer a "risk distribution tool" fully operational to Greece by June, which was expected to help to the release of community funds for large projects, including energy infrastructure. Commenting on the progress on a total of 181 projects -characterized as significant by the Commission- Reichenbach expressed his satisfaction, saying the task force was monitoring progress on a quarterly basis. He praised the role of member-states in offering technical assistance for implementing reforms in the country. Reichenbach said the Task Force recorded positive developments in tax collection, with collection of overdue tax debt totaling 946 million euros, surpassing a target of 400 million euros.
The report said that much have to be done to combat bureaucracy in the country, such as a export control by custom offices which takes around 20 days (double from a community average of 10 days), and uncertainties over time and outcome of licensing procedures which discouraged investors. Another demand, including in the memorandum is modernizing the healthcare system, along with e-government procedures which will contribute greatly in speeding up justice.
Reichenbach reiterated that the Task Force was operating after a demand by Greek authorities. Commenting on the problem of liquidity facing Greek banks, he said it was significant to complete a recapitalisation of commercial banks, in order to overcome hurdles and help capital to be channeled smoothly to the real economy.
 'Greece making new start after PSI,' head of EU Task Force saysGreece is making a "new start" on firmer foundations that are very positive for the country's future after the successful outcome of PSI debt restructuring and the eradication of most uncertainties surrounding the second bailout package, the head of the European Commission's Task Force for Greece Horst Reichenbach said in a press conference on Thursday.
Presenting his team's second three-month report, Reichenback expressed hope that the Task Force will contribute to this effort.
Reichenback had earlier attended a meeting with representative of Greek businesses to discuss the financing problems faced by small and middle-sized enterprises, announcing that measures were being taken to address these.
During the meeting, he was also presented with the 'Social Protocol for Growth' approved by the General Assembly of the National Confederation of Hellenic Commerce (ESEE), containing suggestions for simplifying rules on the Greek market, better access to European tools and programmes, easier access to funding and debt settlement from banks and restoring Greek competitiveness and the commercial credit of Greek businesses abroad.
 Bill ratifying new bailout programme tabled in parliamentThe bill ratifying the current Legislative Act for approval of the second bailout package for Greece among the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the Greek state, the central Bank of Greece (BoG) and the Greek Fiscal Stability Fund totalling 109.1 billion euros was tabled in parliament on Wednesday night, under 'urgent' proceedings.
The bill was tabled after the Cabinet, chaired by prime minister Lucas Papademos earlier in the day, approved all acts of legislative content concerning the new agreement.
 Sunday a 'fete of democracy and participation', Venizelos said ahead of internal party electionsFinance Minister and Government Vice-president Evangelos Venizelos, who was chosen by PASOK's National Council as the sole candidate to stand in elections for party president, appealed for mass participation in the election process during a press conference on Thursday.
"Sunday will be a fete of democracy and participation and at the same time a useful opportunity to rally PASOK and for an organisational mobilisation," he said.
He urged all the party's members, voters and 'friends' to turn out for the internal election process in order to "unite our course for the good of the country and support the party".
Venizelos said that PASOK wanted to communicate with all Greek men and women who are experiencing the crisis, adding that the party needed to once again become reliable, based on meritocracy and worthy of its role.
He emphasised that the goal was to win the elections, adding that PASOK must be the movement that unites the centre-left and has a decisive role in political developments.
Venizelos also said that "no one is superfluous in PASOK, we are all walking together, PASOK is united and rallying, it must be generous and have its arms open." He opposed exclusions and expressed disapproval of pettiness and superficial behaviour, wherever they appear, stressing that they do not express him.
On the possibility of the return to PASOK of deputies who have been recently expelled, he said that each case will be handled separately, but after the March 18 elections and his emergence as president of the party.
Venizelos, who is expected to submit his resignation from the government on Monday, having, as he said, consulted with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on the question, pointed out that he will not stop supporting the government until the proclamation of elections and up to the elections.
The country, as he also said, needs strong administration and termed a "daydream" all that is being said about renegotiating Greece's agreements with the EC/ECB/IMF troika. He also criticised New Democracy party president Antonis Samaras and the stance he is observing, underlining that "it is inconceivable for one to agree and take common decisions, and also to vote and after to say that it does not express me and that you shall renegotiate."
He admitted that mistakes were made by the PASOK governments in the two years of governance, since there were also delays and disagreements, but he also underlined corresponding responsibilities of Greece's European partners.
 Opposition parties criticise FinMin VenizelosThe Communist Party of Greece (KKE), the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) and the Democratic Left on Thursday strongly criticised Government Vice President and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos regarding his responsibilities for the situation the country has found itself in.
KKE stresses in an announcement that "with great audacity Evangelos Venizelos is attempting to present white as black". The KKE added that the "people must harshly punish the PASOK and New Democracy parties with their struggle and vote, for all the barbaric things they have done to them and the worse that they are bringing to them."
SYRIZA underlines that "in essence Venizelos commits himself to continuing the same criminal policy and that he will finish the plan for the levelling of working people, the country's sellout and the shrinking of democracy."
The Democratic Left accuses Venizelos that for "the umpteenth time he attempted to beautify the situation and to exclude himself from the policy being exercised," while adding that the citizens are aware that the vice president and Finance minister "constitutes the continuation of the government of George Papandreou."
 ND leader Samaras visits Competition CommissionNew Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras on Thursday expressed concern about the high prices of consumer goods.
Samaras visited the Competition Commission offices on the occasion of the World Consumer Rights Day and discussed ways in which prices could be reduced considering that in a number of wide consumption goods they remain high in spite of the economic crisis.
Samaras said that "while wages and pensions are being cut it is unnatural and provocative to watch the prices of many consumer goods going up."
 Samaras meets with livestock breeders' repsNew Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras on Thursday underlined that the regeneration of the Greek countryside and the support of the animal husbandry sector are of national importance. He pointed out that a stronger farm sector can and should play a central role in the country's economic recovery and its exodus from the crisis.
In his meeting with representatives of livestock breeders' associations and federations, he pledged that measures will be taken to compensate for losses recorded as a result of funding cuts affecting farmers in "disadvantageous and mountainous regions".
 BoG governor on 2009 deficit: 'Both parties fully aware of fiscal derailment risk before elections'Testifying before a Parliamentary committee investigating claims that Greece's 2009 deficit had been deliberately inflated to pave the way for swingeing austerity cuts, Bank of Greece governor George Provopoulos on Thursday insisted that both main parties in the country had been fully aware of the risks of fiscal derailment before the 2009 elections.
In potentially devastating testimony for the PASOK party, which won the 2009 elections with the slogan 'There is money' and promises of generous government spending, he said that he had personally informed the leaders of the two main parties of the emerging problem.
He stressed that the statistics generated in the first months of 2009 were an early indication of the problems to come, being significantly larger than those in the previous year, while economic indices in the first half of the year were a warning bell that borrowing would soon become difficult.
Though the Bank of Greece had repeatedly warned of the risks that the deficit would career out of control, the appropriate measures were not taken and the leaderships of the two main parties did not appear convinced, he added.
Finally, when Greece sent two different tables of Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) data to Eurostat within the space of days from two different governments, this led the ECOFIN Council to request that Eurostat carry out a detailed investigation into the weaknesses of Greek statistical methods, focusing on the state's transactions with social insurance funds, public utilities and hospitals.
Replying to questions, Provopoulos insisted that the political system had been adequately informed about the dangers threatening the Greek economy before the elections, including the risk that the deficit would rise to a two-digit figure and that he had personally informed the leaders of the two main parties.
According to the central banker, the margin for the newly elected PASOK government take action in the last quarter of 2009 that would have restricted the extent of the derailment "existed and was imperative".
Structural reform measures could have cut short the deficit's momentum and had a huge impact on markets, which would have been reassured to see the government taking measures, but this did not happen, Provopoulos added.
Questioned about the infamous statement by then finance minister George Papaconstantinou, in which he compared Greece's economy with the Titanic, Provopoulos played down the impact this might have had on financial markets, noting that markets and institutional investors did not base their assessment of a country on a minister's statement, "however unfortunate".
The Parliamentary investigation into the 2009 deficit was launched following allegations made to the press by a former board member of Greece's statistical authority ELSTAT, Zoi Georganta, that the country's public deficit for 2009 had been deliberately and artificially inflated under pressure from Eurostat and Germany.
Greece's 2009 deficit was revised upward in November 2010, from 13.6 percent of GDP to 15.4 percent of GDP, making it the worst fiscal deficit in Europe. Georganta told Greek media that this was achieved using unorthodox methods that included the spending of several utilities under general government data.
Georganta went public with her allegations after ELSTAT's entire board, with the exception of Georgiou, were summarily dismissed by Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos in September 2011.
 Diamantopoulou annouces replacement of entire ministry department following bribery arrestsDevelopment, Competitiveness and Shipping Minister Anna Diamantopoulou emphasised her determination to eliminate obstacles to investment in Greece while talking to reporters on Thursday - especially those involving corrupt officials blackmailing potential investors and the public for bribes.
As part of this effort she announced that 100 civil servants working at the ministry's Investments department, where two employees were recently arrested for taking bribes, had been asked to resign and would be immediately replaced by new staff, whose positions had already been proclaimed.
In addition, the minister said that the Public Administration Inspector had been instructed to investigate the financial information and bank accounts of all employees in the investments department from 2005 until the present day, since the incident in question was first reported in 2005.
"We must show zero tolerance toward those that break their vows," she underlined and urged business people to immediately report incidents of extortion or blackmail.
She emphasised that the ministry's main focus will be on attracting investments and resolving the problems faced by potential investors, with changes to the way that public administration operates that will seek to eradicate such incidents.
The ministry's current three priorities will be to unblock foreign investments and attract new investments, inject liquidity into the market and to table a draft bill on 'friendly enterprise' in the next few days, the minister added.
Diamantopoulou also announced that a working team will be set up to examine all the problems obstructing large investments. Concerning German investments, in particular, the minister announced plans to travel to Berlin next week in order to talk with the German industry association and the German government. She said the problems faced by German investors attempting to carry out business activity in Greece had already been identified and letters sent to each individual business involved. At the same time, Diamantopoulou added, she was expecting an official letter she had requested from the German side.
 Minister on security, 'protection' of downtown AthensNew Citizens Protection Minister Mihalis Chryssohoidis on Thursday expressed a determination to put an end what he called arbitrariness in downtown Athens, warning that extremist elements "patrolling" the capital's urban neighborhoods as self-appointed protectors of law and order will be sent home.
Speaking in Parliament, Chryssohoidis said protection of the democratic right of citizens, particularly the weak and poor, to defend their ideas without putting their lives at risk must be addressed. He underlined that large-scale vandalism and hooliganism by hood-wearing individuals should not be repeated, adding that a sense of security will have to be restored. He also stressed that downtown Athens should be free of drug dealers, users and prostitution.
Communist Party (KKE) parliamentary spokesman MP Thanassis Pafilis criticised the minister, saying that stores are being closed by their owners in other districts as well and not only in downtown Athens, stressing that this is the result of the government's economic policy.
Chryssohoidis also referred to a draft law introducing armed guards on commercial ocean-going vessels, stressing that he is willing to include improvements suggested by New Democracy (ND) party. He backed the re-establishment of a ministry of merchant marine, clarifying that the coast guard will have to continue being a part of the country's law enforcement doctrine in line with the rest of the security forces.
KKE and Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) expressed opposition to the draft law clause, claiming that the appointment of armed guards onboard ships will increase the aggressiveness of pirates.
The Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.O.S) party supported the draft law, stressing that it will vote "present" for Article 7 concerning the obligations of foreign-flagged ship captains.
 Parliament approves draft law providing for armed guards onboard cargo vesselsThe draft law introducing security services by armed guards on ocean-going cargo vessels, among other clauses, was passed in Parliament on Thursday after Citizen Protection Minister Mihalis Chryssohoidis tabled a number of amendments.
The draft law also included clauses regulating retirement package lump sum issues for the members of the Greek Coastguard and the armed forces.
Another clause, also included in the draft law, provided for the implementation of Article 111 and 112 of Law No. 4055/2012 on fair trial effective as of March 12, 2012.
 State service evaluation to be completed by end of this year, minister saysEvaluation of state services and staff has already begun and a picture of its structure and the level of services it provides will have emerged by the end of the year, Administrative Reform and e-Government Minister Dimitris Reppas said in statements to Flash radio on Thursday.
"Unless the state plays its developmental role, we will never overcome the crisis," Reppas noted, adding that the state had to be eliminated in sectors where it now offered nothing but a financial burden to society.
Reppas said the evaluation process had begun at his own ministry, with the environment ministry next in line.
"By the end of the year we will know not just how many services we have but also what level these services are, how good they are, whether they meet today's requirements," he added.
At the same time, he noted, there would also be an evaluation of the staff and he did not rule out the possibility of dismissal for those with a negative evaluation, stressing that current Constitutional obstacles would have to be overcome.
He pointed out that the Memorandum signed by Greece called for the departure of 150,000 public-sector employees by 2015, while the labour reserve measure had resulted in the departure of 15,000.
"There are 640,000 permanent employees working in the public sector today and about 80,000 contract workers - in other words 720,000 - and those working for public utilities and companies not listed on the Athens bourse and supervised by the state are another 25,000. We are talking, therefore, about approximately 745,000-750,000 employees in total, of which roughly 190,000 are teachers and about 165,000 are uniformed staff of all categories and ranks," he added.
The use of evaluation as a method to dismiss employees was disputed on Thursday, however, by the head of the European Commission's Task Force in Greece Horst Reichenbach in a statement, during a press conference to present the Task Force's three-month report.
Reichenbach noted that evaluation formed part of the effort for administrative reform and was a standard practice in many EU member-states but stressed that it was not a means for deciding whether to carry out dismissals or not.
"Evaluation is related to the priorities that have been set, with political directions and is not a criterion for dismissal," he said.
 Prosecutor probe into press reports of assassination attempt against ex-PMAn Athens first instance prosecutor has ordered an investigation into allegations of an assassination plot against former prime minister Costas Karamanlis, following press reports dating from last June.
In fact, the prosecutor, Nikos Ornerakis, on Wednesday filed felony charges of "preparations for acts of high treason" and "disruption of the normal function of state" against unknown persons.
According to reports, officials of the national intelligence service and police officers serving on Karamanlis' personal security detail have already been interviewed.
 Papandreou participating in discussion in Strasbourg on FridayPASOK party leader and Socialist International President George Papandreou will participate in a discussion on the theme "Greece is being saved or ruined by Europe", and with Daniel Cohn Bendit as an interlocutor, in Strasbourg on Friday.
The discussion, that will be coordinated by the manager of the "Nouvel Observateur" magazine Renaud Dely, will be taking place in the framework of events being organised by the magazine in light of the French presidential elections.
 NATO permanent naval force SNMG1 sails into PiraeusThree of the four ships of NATO's permanent naval force under the codename SNMG1 sailed into the port of Piraeus on Thursday. They are the Dutch frigate (flagship) De Ruyter, the German Reinland and the Canadian Charlottetown, while the fourth ship, a Spanish frigate, is docked at the Souda naval station.
The specific force which is active in the framework of the NATO Active Endeavour operation on combatting terrorism will stay in Piraeus until the 19th of the month and then, as was revealed on Thursday by the Force's commander Ben Beckering, it will carry out joint training with ships of the Greek fleet.
Moreover, before arriving in Piraeus, the NATO force carried out scheduled anti-aircraft firing at the Firing Range in Crete.
The Force's commander also said that due to the economic crisis all of NATO's operations are planned in such a way so as to have the smallest possible cost, giving as an example the fact that the specific force has four ships instead of eight that was the initial plan.
 Amendment on Henry Dunant Hospital passed in ParliamentAn amendment which, among others, regulates the sale of the Henry Dunant Hospital in Athens, was passed in Parliament on Thursday despite the opposition expressed by former Parliament president Apostolos Kaklamanis, as well as the Communist Party (KKE) and Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA).
The clause in question also allows private practice physicians to use receipts for services rendered in case of collaboration with National Health System (ESY) public hospitals.
Deputy Health Minister Mihalis Timosidis defended the amendment, stressing that the option was included to compensate for shortages in medical staff recorded in ESY hospitals and health centers that are located in remote regions of the country.
 Eurozone to return slowly to growth in 2013, Ernst & Young reportAlthough the Eurozone faces a challenging year with large amounts of public and private sector debt yet to be refinanced, tight credit conditions, further fiscal austerity and more job losses, Ernst & Young said in its Eurozone Spring Forecast predicting a slow return to growth in 2013. But the European Central Bank (ECB) has to continue to play a central role by being prepared to cut interest rates further and purchasing government bonds in peripheral countries.
With a default on Greek sovereign debt negotiated and a second bailout agreed, and assuming that policy-makers continue to keep up the momentum by putting a credible firewall around Spain and Italy, EEF is forecasting a mild recessionary fall in Eurozone GDP of 0.5 percent this year, with nine of the seventeen Eurozone members economies set to contract. However, EEF expects Eurozone GDP to grow by about 1 percent in 2013 before picking up to 2 percent a year in 2015-16.
The main constraints to Eurozone growth this year will stem from fiscal consolidation, which EEF estimates will amount to more than 1 percent of GDP, and tight credit. Despite the introduction of the long-term refinancing operations (LTRO), which has boosted financial markets and ensured that the prospect of a banking credit crisis has receded, latest data indicates that much of the liquidity provided has not yet been lent on into the wider economy.
In response to tighter financing conditions, an increase in spare capacity and weaker domestic demand, businesses are likely to scale back investment spending. Spanish and Italian firms are forecast to cut capital spending by 5 percent or more in 2012, while in France and Benelux investment will remain flat or edge down slightly. Amongst the larger economies, only in Germany is investment spending likely to grow meaningfully but not until the second half of the year.
Despite a moderation in inflation this year (assuming no further rise in oil prices), consumer spending is also likely to be reduced reflecting an uncertain external outlook and deepening fiscal austerity although perhaps by less than might be expected. At the Eurozone level, EEF predicts that growth in consumer spending is likely to be negative at -0.7 percent. This outlook for business investment and consumer spending means job creation is set to weaken in most Eurozone economies. With Germany again set to be one of the few exceptions, EEF forecasts unemployment rates to rise across the Eurozone in 2012 peaking at 18.2 million at the turn of the year, although given the relatively strong balance sheets of many European corporates this trend could be quickly reversed if confidence begins to return.
The ECB will continue to play a critical role in 2012 by providing extensive support to the Eurozone economy. Should the economic environment deteriorate, EEF believe this should include lowering interest rates further to 0.5 percent and stepping up purchases of government bonds to facilitate debt refinancing by peripheral countries at affordable interest rates. Without action, there is a risk of a series of disorderly defaults among weaker countries that could threaten the future of the Eurozone.
 List of 160 major projects in Greece waiting to be materialisedBRUSSELS (AMNA/M. Aroni)
The acceleration of the large investment projects in Greece and support for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) were at the focus of talks in Brussels on Wednesday between Greek development minister Anna Diamantopoulou and European Commissioner for regional policy Johannes Hahn, the Commissioner's spokesman Ton van Lierop said in Brussels on Thursday.
Van Lierop said that the subject of the meeting was acceleration of the materialisation of major investment projects in Greece, noting that there is a list of 180 priority projects waiting to be materialised. He said the planning of these projects needs to be completed by 2013, adding that the possibility exists to extend the funding of those projects to 2015.
He also said that the two officials discussed boosting liquidity to SMEs in Greece, via the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the creation of a guarantees fund for their support, and expressed certainty that this matter will be settled soon.
On the major investment projects in Greece, Van Lierop said that this is a matter of joint decision by the European Parliament and the EU member states.
 Head of German industrialists favours investments in GreeceBERLIN (AMNA/F.Karaviti)
"Greece has gone bankrupt and cannot make it on its own," Hans Peter Kaitel, president of German industrialists said in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Kaitel noted that Germany and other Europeans are currently helping, but stressed "it must become clear that help will sometime come to an end".
He said he was in favour of investing in Greece, given the right opportunities and appeared satisfied with the settlement of pending issues between the Greek state and German companies.
Kaitel underlined, however, that Greeks themselves must invest in their country.
 Labour minister meets EU Commissioner for employmentBRUSSELS (AMNA - V. Demiris)
In a meeting with European Commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion Laszlo Andor on Thursday, Greece's Labour and Social Insurance Minister George Koutroumanis discussed the efforts underway to boost employment and fight joblessness in Greece.
In statements afterward, Koutroumanis said that he had the opportunity to brief Andor on the situation in Greece, which was marked by severe recession and a massive rise in unemployment, especially among young people.
He called for measures with the assistance of the European Union to boost employment, asking Andor to speed up the processes and greater flexibility in transferring funds to use on boosting employment.
Koutroumanis submitted a request to include Greece in the countries that will benefit from a redistribution of funds for employment, with emphasis on the need to create a new social protection and solidarity body.
He said that there had been recognition on the part of the Community of the major efforts made in the last six months, which had doubled absorption of Community funds, which was at roughly 70 percent at present and expected to reach 100 percent by the end of the year.
 Greek Environment Minister to meet with SchaubleBERLIN (AMNA/K.Voutsadakis)
Greek Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister George Papaconstantinou was to meet on Thursday with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble in Berlin on the production and export of green energy from photovoltaics in Greece under the so-called "Helios" programme.
Moreover, Papaconstantinou will meet with the Federation of German Industries (BDI) during which the minister will brief German industrialists on the developments referring to the Helios programme, and afterwards a open debate will follow with representatives of the photovoltaics sector that have expressed interest in the programme and the prospect of participating in it.
 Unemployment jumps to 20.7pct in Q4 2011Unemployment in Greece jumped to 20.7 percent in the 4th quarter of 2011, up from 17.7 percent in the third quarter of the year and from 14.2 percent in the corresponding quarter in 2010, the independent Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) said on Thursday, with the mean unemployment rate for the year 2011 reaching 17.6 percent and the number of unemployed shooting to 1,025,877 persons.
ELSTAT, in a report, said that in the 4th Quarter of 2011 the number of employed amounted to 3,932,790 persons, while the number of unemployed amounted to 1,025,877. The unemployment rate was 20.7% compared with 17.7% in the previous quarter, and 14.2% in the corresponding quarter of 2010.
The number of employed persons decreased by 3.6% compared with the previous quarter, and by 8.5% compared with the 4th Quarter of 2010. The number of unemployed persons increased by 16.8% compared with the previous quarter and by 44.1% compared with the 4th Quarter of 2010.
The unemployment rate for females (24.5%) is considerably higher than the unemployment rate for males (17.8%) while, in a comparison of the different age groups, the highest unemployment rate is recorded among young people in the age bracket of 15-29 years (39.5%). For young females, the unemployment rate is 44.9%.
As regards the educational attainment level, the unemployment rate is higher among persons who have not attended school (30.9%), for those who did not completed ISCED 1 level programs (28.0%) and those who have completed the ISCED 5B (23.1%). The lowest unemployment rates are observed among persons who have completed ISCED 5AS and ISCED 6 programs (11.9%), and among those who have completed ISCED 5A (14.8%).
Also, 90.8% of unemployed persons are looking for a full time job as employees. More specifically, 46.8% of those looking for job as employees are looking exclusively for a full time job, while 46.4% are looking for full time job, but, if needed, would accept to work part time.
A significant part of the unemployed persons (6.1%) did not accept a job offer, during the 4th Quarter of 2011, because of various reasons. The main reasons reported were: a) the location of the job was not suitable (29.1%), b) the wage was not satisfactory (26.0%), c) the working hours were not convenient (16.2%).
The percentage of the "new" unemployed, that is the percentage of persons who entered the labour market for the first time is 24.0%. It is noted that the percentage of the "long term" unemployed, that is the percentage of persons that have been looking for a job for more than 1 year (irrespectively of being "new" or "old" unemployed), is 54.6%.
The unemployment rate is higher for persons of foreign nationality (25.2%) compared with those of Greek nationality (20.2%). Conversely, the percentage of the economically active persons with foreign nationality is much higher than the corresponding percentage for persons of Greek nationality (72.8% compared to 51.7%).
The geographical areas (NUTS II regions) with the highest unemployment rate are Western Macedonia (25.0%) and Sterea Ellas (23.8%). The lowest unemployment rates are observed in South Aegean (11.9%) and Ionian Islands (13.9%).
During the 4th Quarter of 2011, 81,587 persons who were unemployed one year ago found a job. During the same period, 37,631 persons who were inactive one year ago, got into employment. On the contrary, 218,401 persons who were working one year ago, during the 4th Quarter of 2011 are unemployed and 98,594 persons, who were working, are now inactive. In addition, 123,286 persons who were inactive one year ago, during the 4th Quarter of 2011 entered labour market and are searching for a job.
In an examination of changes in employment by different sector of economic activity, it is observed that compared to the 4th Quarter of 2010 there was a decrease in employment in all sectors.
In the primary sector the decrease was 7.0%, in the secondary 17.1% and the tertiary sector 6.4%.
The percentage of part time employment amounts to 7.1% of the total of the employed. The percentage of part timers who choose to work part time because they cannot find a full time job is 58.3%, while 8.0% choose a part time job for other personal or family reasons and 5.1% because they are looking after children or incapacitated adults. The percentage of employees is estimated at 63.0% of the total of the employed persons and is by far lower than the mean percentage of employees in the European Union which is 80%.
 Main parties to blame for soaring unemployment, Dem. Alliance saysThe two main parties, PASOK and main opposition New Democracy, are chiefly to blame for soaring unemployment in Greece, Democratic Alliance party MP George Kontoyiannis said on Thursday after ELSTAT announced that the official unemployment rate had reached 20.7 percent in the last quarter of 2011.
Kontoyiannis stressed that at a time when more than one million people were out of work, the two parties in the coalition government were insisting on horizontal cuts to wages and pensions and continued to postpone vital reforms and privatisations that could boost growth and remove a host of disincentives to enterprise, accusing them of "protecting the party armies".
 Employment in retail sector down 3.9 pct in Q4The number of employed people in the retail sector fell 3.9 pct in the fourth quarter of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The statistics service, in a report, said that the number of employed people in food stores fell 1.1 pct, while employment in other stores -except food and fuel- dropped 5.4 pct in the October-December period.
The employment index fell 4.0 pct in the fourth quarter compared with the third quarter of 2011.
 European Commissioner Damanaki meets with Italian ag policy ministerROME (AMNA)
European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs & Fisheries Maria Damanaki on Thursday met here with Italian Agriculture Policy, Food and Forestry Minister Mario Catania focusing on the reforms promoted in the fisheries sector by the EU.
Damanaki stated that the European Commission and the new Italian government will cooperate in the implementation of viable reforms in the sector. "The North Sea fisheries will be funded with 100 million euros this year thanks to sustainable programmes. Now, we should do the same in the Mediterranean," she stressed.
According to the European Commission plans, the fishermen's income should increase 22 pct by 2022 while the overall employment in the sector should increase to 25 pct, she said.
 Statements by Infrastructures minister after signing of contract with Siemens on extension of Athens MetroThe contract between the Hellenic state and Siemens for the construction of the signalling system for the new extensions of the Metro in Athens was signed on Thursday.
The delivery of the specific stations had been delayed for almost two years due to this pending issue.
Speaking during the signing of the contract, Infrastructures, Transport and Networks Minister Makis Voridis said "I am quite pleased to say that today, with the signing of this contract, one of the policy commitments of the (Lucas) Papademos government is being fulfilled."
Voridis added that "I must hail not only the compensation that the Siemens company accepted to pay to the Hellenic state, but also its commitment for a series of investments in Greece."
The minister requested from the company the speediest possible implementation of the project so that the extensions of the Metro can be provided for the citizens for use as soon as possible.
 Production index in construction sector down 34.6 pct in Q4The production index in the construction sector plunged 34.6 pct in the fourth quarter of 2011, compared with the same period in 2010, after a decline of 33.5 pct recorded in the previous 12 month period, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The index was down 16.8 pct compared with the third quarter of 2011, after an increase of 26.3 pct recorded in the same period in 2010.
The statistics service said the index covers all construction activities in the country.
 Credit conditions remain negative in FebCredit conditions remained negative in the first two months of 2012, with the value of bouncing checks totaling 298.6 million euros, while the value of unpaid bills totaled 41.1 million euros, official figures showed on Thursday.
A report by Teresias, the market's watchdog, showed that bouncing checks fell 14.3 pct in February compared with the same month last year, but rose 9.21 pct compared with January 2012, while unpaid bills fell 17.21 pct on an annual basis and rose 1.52 pct on a monthly basis.
Bouncing checks totaled 13,868 in volume, worth 155.8 million euros in February, while unpaid bills totaled 11,054 in volume and 20.7 million euros in value.
 About 40,000 fail to register in welfare benefit censusBetween 30,000 and 40,000 of the estimated 240,000 recipients of welfare benefits in Greece have failed to register in a census carried out at Citizen Service Centres, the deadline for which expires on Friday, either because they did not appear at all or because they lacked the necessary supporting documentation, sources at the health ministry revealed.
The same sources noted that of the 700 people drawing a disability benefit for blindness on the island of Zakynthos, only 100 appeared before health inspection committees, of which 60 were discovered not to be blind after all. They also stressed that the drive to discover more recipients of fraudulently claimed benefits will not stop with the census but continue - based on charts released by the World Health Organisation and EU services that give average percentages for each ailment and disability - with targeted inspections at municipalities with abnormally high percentages of benefit recipients.
 Bussiness Briefs-- Greece's central government cash balance showed a surplus of 657 million euros in the first two months of, compared with a deficit of 1.171 billion euros in the corresponding period of 2011, the Bank of Greece said on Thursday.
-- The Hellenic-Indian Chamber of Commerce on Thursday expressed its disappointment over negative developments in negotiations to sell SEKAP, the tobacco industry subsidiary of ATEbank.
 Stocks end moderately higherStocks continued moving higher, although at a slower pace compared with the previous session, at the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday. The composite index of the market rose 0.75 pct to end at 750.32 points, while turnover remained a disappointing low 49.371 million euros.
The Big Cap index rose 0.96 pct, the Mid Cap index ended 0.42 pct higher and the Small Cap index ended 0.42 pct up. The Telecoms (7.6 pct), Utilities (3.43 pct) and Raw Materials (2.74 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Financial Services (1.61 pct) and Personal Products (1.42 pct) were top losers.
OTE (7.60 pct), National Bank (5.36 pct), PPC (4.67 pct) and Alpha Bank (2.90 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Hellenic Postbank (7.69 pct), Eurobank (7.42 pct) and Piraeus Bank (4.69 pct) were top losers.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 76 to 66 with another 27 issues unchanged. Intertek (27.75 pct), Kreka (27.03 pct) and Yalco (20 pct) were top gainers, while Naftemporiki (29.88 pct), Ilyda (29.69 pct) and AEGEK (19.5 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: -1.24%
Personal & Household: -1.42%
Raw Materials: +2.74%
Travel & Leisure: Unchanged
Food & Beverages: +0.40%
Financial Services: -1.61%
The stocks with the highest turnover were OTE, National Bank, Alpha Bank and Eurobank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 1.42
Public Power Corp (PPC): 3.36
HBC Coca Cola: 14.86
Hellenic Petroleum: 5.22
National Bank of Greece: 2.36
EFG Eurobank Ergasias: 0.90
Bank of Piraeus: 0.39
 ADEX closing reportThe March contract on the FTSE 20 index was trading at a premium of 0.74 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover shrinking to 42.029 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 12,469 contracts worth 18.413 million euros, with 22,526 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 169,400 contracts worth 23.617 million euros, with investment interest focusing on GEK's contracts (46.457), followed by Cyprus Bank (14,414), National Bank (21,454), MIG (6,211), OTE (18,021), PPC (2,848), OPAP (1,091), Piraeus Bank (15,572), Alpha Bank (19,786), Marfin Popular Bank (5,953), Mytilineos (2,768), Hellenic Postbank (8,652), ATEbank (1,587), Ellaktor (1,453) and Intralot (1,240).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.325
Pound sterling 0.845
Danish kroner 7.546
Swedish kroner 9.049
Japanese yen 110.45
Swiss franc 1.227
Norwegian kroner 7.68
Canadian dollar 1.315
Australian dollar 1.260
 Former French culture minister Lang supports archaeologists' global campaignFormer French culture minister Jack Lang on Thursday sent a message of solidarity to the Association of Greek Archaeo-logists (SEA), for its global campaign under the slogan "monuments have no voice, they have us".
SEA President Despina Koutsouba told AMNA that the association intends to ask Lang to mediate with the Greek culture ministry leadership on cultural heritage protection issues.
SEA has launched an international appeal directed to their colleagues and people in Europe and worldwide to defend cultural heritage and historical memory.
The public awareness campaign, focusing on the threats with which monuments in Greece are faced as a result of the cuts imposed within the framework of the austerity measures into effect, was formally launched on March 14.
In an urgent appeal, the archaeologists underlined that "the peoples of Europe share the same destiny," adding that "the same austerity packages and authoritarian measures, that now tear Greece and its monuments apart, are going to be imposed across Europe".
 Strengthening broadbandness and bridging digital gap in Greece, Infrastructures ministry's aimThe Infrastructures, Transport and Networks ministry's steadfast position on the utilisation of the digital dividend, with the aim of strengthening broadbandness and the bridging of the digital gap in the Greek state was underlined by minister Makis Voridis during an address at the international seminar titled "The Digital Dividend: Challenges and Consumer Interests", that was organised by the National Telecommunications and Post Offices Committee under the auspices of the Infrastructures, Transport and Networks ministry.
In parallel, the minister referred to the modernisation of the legislative framework of landbased digital television with the separation of network provider and content provider, based on international practices.
The seminar's focus was the digital transition, the best strategies for the utilisation of the digital dividend and the benefits resulting for the Greek economy, the market and the consumers.
 Helpline for women victims of violence receives 5,089 calls in first yearThe SOS 15900 national helpline for women victims of violence received more than 5,000 calls and 37 e-mails asking for help during its first year of operation, according to figures released by the General Secretariat for Gender Equality that set up the support service on Thursday.
Of the 5,089 calls received, 76 percent concerned cases of violence between members of the opposite sex (3,955 calls).
Of these 3,955 calls, approximately three quarters were made by the abused women themselves and another 997 by third parties, such as friends, parents, siblings, other relations, neighbours and others. The majority of calls made by abused women (83 percent) were reports of domestic violence at the hands of a spouse, 87 calls were for sexual harassment, 46 calls were reports of rape, four concerned cases of prostitution and one a case of trafficking. There were also 272 calls (9 percent) that concerned other forms of violence not listed above.
Of the 2,958 women that called the helpline, 1,897 or 64 percent were mothers.
The women calling the helpline generally requested psychological and social support (47 percent), legal advice (31 percent), legal aid (15.6 percent), shelter (9 percent) and employment (3 percent).
According to the helpline operators, it is hard to draw up a profile of the average woman calling the helpline and this does not fit into the older stereotypes of a younger, low-income or unemployed woman with low-level or no education.
 4.4R quake jolts Agrinio in ongoing seismic activityA light earthquake measuring 4.4 on the Richter scale jolted the wider area of Agrinio on Thursday morning, and seismologists said they were monitoring seismic activity in the region in recent days, which was emanating from the Ozeros Lake fault.
Seismologists at the National Observatory's Geodynamic Institute said the quake was strongly felt in the area, while three more quakes followed that did not exceed 3.0 Richter, while several quakes had occurred in the preceding days, all of which were under 4.0 R.
No damage has been reported from the recent seismic activity.
 Fair on FridayFair weather and northerly winds are forecast in most parts of the country on Friday, with wind velocity reaching 3-7 beaufort. Temperatures will range between 0C and 19C. Cloudy with possible local showers in Athens, with northerly 4-6 beaufort winds and temperatures ranging from 5C to 15C. Fair in Thessaloniki, with temperatures ranging from 4C to 14C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceRevelations that a gang was looting the largest social security fund (IKA), the law against corruption, the political parties' decimation and an alleged assassination plot against then prime minister Costas Karamanlis, dominated the headlines on Thursday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Charges pressed on Karamanlis assassination plot".
AVGHI: "Political parties in pieces".
AVRIANI: "They 'vanished' the financial documents from the PASOK party coffers".
DIMOKRATIA: "Assassination plot against Karamanlis!".
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "Documents burn the Memorandum 'duo' (referring to then prime minister George Papandreou and then Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou)".
ESTIA: "Greece's political life 'Italianized' - Welter of parties in general elections".
ETHNOS: "Mafia looting IKA a Lernaean Hydra ".
IMERISSIA: "Corruption a landmine - SOS on the economy".
KATHIMERINI: "The law against corruption remains on paper".
NIKI: "How to make an extra 1,000 euros every year".
LOGOS: "Wave of layoffs in the next six months".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Government has new antisocial bills in the drawer".
TA NEA: "The story of the bribery".
VRADYNI: "39 billion euros in loans in the red".
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