|Wednesday, 18 October 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 13-07-18
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 18 July 2013 Issue No: 4410
 Parliament passes omnibus billThe Parliament in the early hours of Thursday passed the Finance Ministry's omnibus bill, bringing changes to public sector employment, including transfers and layoffs, a new tax code as well as administrative reforms.
The bill was passed with 153 votes in favour out of a total of 293 deputies present.
 Finmin Stournaras addresses parliament of omnibus bill"I fully understand the difficulties of the people amidst great crisis, but I am absolutely convinced that the path we are following is the right one. Our goal is now to achieve (fiscal) consolidation and growth. All of our tools are geared toward achieving this combination," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told a Parliament debate on the draft omnibus bill on Wednesday evening, and specifically on the new tax code, the so-called mobility scheme and layoffs in the public sector.
The minister noted that "many are trying to disprove the successful fiscal and reform efforts. The programme is going very well and proof to that is the payment of the (rescue loan) tranches. I should remind you that when we (the government) took over a year ago, the country's financing had stopped. The country was financed through treasury bills, at an enormous cost."
Stournaras added that Greece is now financed with an interest rate lower that 2.0 percent.
In the first half of 2013, he said, the primary deficit was reduced by 55 percent compared to 2012 and by 60 percent compared to the target. On a general government level, the primary deficit has been reduced by 9.5 percentage points from 2009 to 2012, while a further reduction of 1.5 percent is forecast for 2013.
Stournaras underlined that the new Income Tax Code, coupled with the Code of Tax Procedures, broadens the tax base by including groups of earners who were hitherto insufficiently taxed.
In addition, Stournaras named a number of other improvements in the new bill, such as taking into account the source of income, extending the tax-free bracket from 5,000 euros to 9,000 euros and reducing taxation on incomes of up to 25,000 euros from 52 pct to 42 pct.
 Finmin, SYRIZA leader clash in Parliament during omnibus bill debateBiting criticism from main opposition 'Coalition of the Radical Left' leader Alexis Tsipras prompted an incensed reaction from Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras during Wednesday's debate of the draft omnibus bill in Parliament.
"The road you have chosen is the only road that leads to destruction," Tsipras said, with Stournaras countering that all SYRIZA's predictions had been proved wrong.
In a reference to an upcoming visit by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and the deal struck with the troika to lower VAT for restaurants and catering to 13 percent, Tsipras warned that "those supporting you with petty gifts are those that will take all they can from you since they had you in hand, until a government comes that will restore national sovereignty in the country".
Repeating his warning not "to be overhappy with the small gifts that Mr. Schaueble brings," Tsipras noted that the reduction in VAT was a "temporary gift with an asterisk" that would be taken away if tax evasion continued and there was a bad result with tax revenues.
"Instead of presenting temporary measures and casting the blame on people for their withdrawal after six months, making the 13 percent in catering permanent and strengthen the financial crimes unit SDOE, come to an agreement with the people in catering so that the reduction has an immediate impact for consumers and those working in catering," he added.
Replying, Stournaras accused Tsipras of "investing in pessimism" after his party's predictions were proved wrong.
"You are not telling the truth and you know it...exports increased 8 percent in the first four months. The terms of the bailout agreements are already being relaxed slightly. A short while ago we reduced the special levy on real estate by 15 percent but you said nothing," Stournaras emphasised.
He also stressed that the draft omnibus bill contained measures seeking to relieve the plight of those earning "less than 1,000 euros" and that the government had tabled many amendments to ease the lot of the disabled and those with large families.
"An indication of your policy is what Cyprus attempted to do a short while ago - and we saw the result," he said.
 ANEL president personally attacks FinMin StournarasPresident of the Independent Greeks (ANEL) party Panos Kamenos launched a personal attack on Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras during his critique of the draft omnibus bill debated in Parliament on Wednesday evening.
The bill's rational, he charged, is based on what he called "the theory of forged data" by the head of Greek Statistics Office Andreas Georgiou, who is facing trial and "whom Stournaras continues to trust."
Kamenos proposed that the Greek bonds maturing on August 20, 2013 should not be paid, saying that "by the end of the year you will pay 17 billion euros."
"The supposed aid from creditors is used to pay for bonds purchased by hedge funds that you have appointed to the Financial Stability Fund," he concluded.
 Kouvelis accuses gov't of undermining substantial reform of the public sectorFotis Kouvelis, leader of the Democratic Left (DIMAR) party asked the House on Wednesday evening to vote against the draft omnibus bill, accusing the two parties forming the government (ND, PASOK) of an "extreme policy which undermines the substantial reform of the public sector that could help the country get through the crisis and the Memorandum (rescue loan agreement)."
"We (DIMAR) are being blamed for delays. Yes - for as long the Democratic Left participated in the government and Antonis Manitakis was at the Ministry of Administrative Reform, we fought against the troika's intention to ignore the state of justice and turn layoffs to administrative reform," Kouvelis told parliament during the bill debate time.
 Labour Ministry: No change in 8-hour weekThe eight-hour day will not be abolished, the Labour, Social Insurance and Welfare Ministry announced early on Wednesday morning, in response to reports on the omnibus bill being debated in Parliament.
"The legal improvement on the bill related to the minimum wage does not change in any way the eight-hour day and 40-hour week, or the overall legal work schedules, as applied today," the Ministry said in its announcement, strongly denying rumors to the contrary.
According to an announcement, "the specific regulation of the omnibus bill (article 103) introduces a mechanism to establish the legislated minimum monthly and daily wages for personnel and labourers in Greece."
Full-time work rules are defined by other labour law regulations, the Ministry said, which have nothing to do with article 103 in the omnibus bill, "therefore the amending legal technicality was considered absolutely necessary to prevent confusion or doubt or even legal excess in terms of the the meaning and content of ful-time work," it said.
 Social insurance spending on track, labour minister informs ParliamentSocial insurance spending was moving within set targets in 2013, Labour and Social Insurance Minister Yiannis Vroutsis informed Parliament on Wednesday. He was speaking during the debate on draft omnibus bill, which includes measures for changing the mechanism used to set the minimum wage.
The minister defending a decision to put the cabinet in charge of setting the minimum wage, saying that the previous system of consultation and arbitration had become a "trap" for the labour market, with workers paying the price in the form of higher unemployment.
"Through a state-supported Labour Mediation and Arbitration Organisation and the intervention of labour law experts parasitically getting rich, wages were going up at a time when entire sectors were folding - and this led workers to unemployment. The system we are establishing is used in more than 20 of the 27 European countries. No one is stopping businesses from increasing the minimum wage, we are establishing the minimum safety net," he explained.
The minister also promised a new reform of the social insurance system after the summer, which he said will establish a uniform set of operating rules and a uniform method for collecting revenues.
Vroutsis underlined the need to "stay the course" and not allow "crisis fatigue" to arrest the momentum of reforms:
"We are...paying the price for decades of mistaken policies, but we are just before the end of the crisis. Woe betide us if we let the crisis get the better of us," he said.
He also pointed to positive signs, such as the decision to lower VAT for restaurants and catering, or the decision to not impose a 0.2 percent tax on business turnover and cuts to wages and pensions in the military.
The minister stressed that, at this crucial time when Greece was fighting a battle for survival, everyone had to pay their way and contribution evasion and undeclared labour were "social and economic crimes".
 Admin. Reform Minister urges local gov't to cooperate with mobility scheme, avoid new measuresSpeaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged local authorities to cooperate with his ministry in producing organisations charts of their their services and assisting the 'mobility scheme' in order to avoid new horizontal measures.
"We were accused by the (Central Union of Municipalities of Greece) of using horizontal measures. If they had done their job properly and we had outlines of positions and excess staff, there would have been no need for horizontal measures and they will not be needed if they do their jobs properly," he said during the debate on the finance ministry's draft omnibus bill.
The minister stressed the progress made in terms of implementing the mobility scheme since he took over office, noting that the count was at 'zero' and 4,200 employees were now joining the mobility regime and another 12,500 by September. Under the 'mobility' scheme, staff will be suspended from their jobs on reduced pay for a set period of time, until they either find another position in the public sector or are laid off.
Mitsotakis went on to present measures abolishing municipal police forces as an example of "real mobility" rather than measures for the "forced removal of employees". If such reorganisation had begun when Greece first signed bailout agreements "we would not now have 1.5 million unemployed nor horizontal cuts to public-sector workers," he asserted.
The minister said that forced departures will start with employees found guilty of misconduct and those that had used fake certificates, especially for foreign language skills, to get their jobs. Measures in article 106 of the omnibus bill, meanwhile, would also lead to the dismissal in December of contract workers "that had indirectly gained the status of permanent employees, brutally violating the provisions of the Constitution," he said.
The remainder of the quota for lay offs will be filled via the staff mobility scheme, with selection based on work experience, certain social criteria and the way staff had joined the public sector, especially whether they had passed Supreme Council for Public-Sector Staff Selection exams.
"If there has to be a criterion, this is ASEP. Who can disagree with this," the minister added.
Mitsotakis expressed his conviction a "silent majority" of both public and private-sector workers that wanted changes to the way the state was run approved of the measures, and not just as a practical need to meet quantitative targets for prior actions in order to continue receiving bailout loans.
The minister's indirect criticism of his predecessor Antonis Manitakis, one of the ministers supplied by the Democratic Left (DIM.AR) party before it pulled out of the coalition government, prompted a reaction from DIM.AR Parliamentary spokesman Nikos Tsoukalis.
Reforms bring significant reductions in the numbers of public-sector staff are a key measure included in the draft omnibus bill for prior actions demanded by Greece's creditors, along with changes to tax law and labour regulations relating to the minimum wage.
 Exemptions to transfer/layoff programme announcedRegulations amending the omnibus bill being debated in Parliament that include exemptions to the mobility programme in the civil sector for certain employee categories were announced by Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday.
According to the provisions introduced, a civil servant with a dependent handicapped spouse or minor and with an income of no more under 12,000 euros annually (from an originally suggested amount of 6,000 euros) will be exempted from the transfer and gradual layoff programme.
Also exempted will be judges' assistants and municipal policemen in towns with population of under 5,000 (mostly small islands).
Civil servants placed on temporary leave, in the transfer-or-layoff programme, will remain insured, the minister said.
 Interior Minister: 10 pct of municipal police officers to stay at municipalitiesAbout 10 percent of municipal police officers will remain at municipalities, Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis asserted Wednesday, in an interview to private TV station Mega.
Referring to the abolition of the municipal police service he noted, "Could the municipal police cover security needs? The answer is no, because they were not trained for this and it was not their responsibility; they did not carry a gun and did not have Greek Police training."
Michelakis admitted that across-the-board layoffs are unjust and expressed strong support for the evaluation procedures applied on the structure of municipalities and ministries: "Right now, any across-the-board cutback is wrong and unjust. But we stand with our backs against the wall and we are obliged to do these cutbacks".
 Amendment for ERT staff compensation withdrawn from omnibus billFinance Minister Yannis Stournaras on Wednesday announced that he was temporarily withdrawing article 108 in the draft omnibus bill, which concerns the way that redundancy compensation for staff at the former public broadcaster ERT will be calculated.
The minister said that the article will be tabled in another bill once it is re-examined.
The article had drawn criticism from New Democracy spokesman Makis Voridis and other MPs in the ruling coalition, who objected to the exemption of specific employees from a 1967 law on compensation due to the termination of contracts.
"We who supported and voted for cutbacks to farmers' pensions will not give 80 million euros for compensation," Voridis said, calling the ERT staff union POSPERT "a SYRIZA union".
PASOK spokesman Paris Koukoulopoulos noted that PASOK had proposed that ERT be reformed while in operation and demanded that ND take responsibility for its "unilateral action" in closing down the broadcaster, which he said will cost more than a reform while it was still running.
 Golden Dawn leader addresses Parliament on omnibus billOpposition Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi) party president Nikos Mihaloliakos called for a vote against the government's omnibus bill on Wednesday.
He said a Parliament's negative vote "could possibly help even the government to negotiate harder."
The Golden Dawn leader said that the memorandum is "the nation's tombstone" and accused the government of "having stolen the people's vote, as nothing contained in the omnibus bill had been announced during the election campaign."
 Mayors and municipal employees rally outside Parliament, vow to stay in place for omnibus bill voteMayors and municipal employees gathered outside Parliament on Wednesday to protest the omnibus bill being debated in Parliament.
The bill includes civil service transfers and layoffs as well as the absorption of municipal police into the Greek Police.
The rally began a little past 11:00 a.m. at the central Athens Klafthmonos Square with the rear brought up by municipal cars and motorcycles.
Central Association of Greek Municipalities (KEDE) president Kostas Askounis said that despite the changes introduced, the substance of the omnibus bill remains the same and claimed that certain of its regulations do not agree with article 102 of the Greek constitution, which protects the administrative and fiscal independence of local government.
The mayors gave the president of Parliament and party respresentatives a related resolution from the emergency meeting KEDE held on Friday.
Mayors and municipal employees - including police and school guards - on the adjacent to Parliament streets, Vassilissis Sofias and Amalias Avenue, respectively, have vowed to remain until the end of the vote in Parliament tonight.
Part of Amalias Avenue remains closed to traffic, while metro stations at Syntagma and Evangelismos will be shut down around 5:00 p.m. by police in preparation for a 7:00 p.m. rally scheduled at Syntagma Square by the private sector employees union GSEE and the civil sector employees union ADEDY.
 PM: VAT rate to drop to 13 pct as of August 1VAT in restaurant and catering services will be provisionally reduced from 23 percent to 13 percent as of August 1, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras announced on Wednesday, in a televised message from government headquarters at Maximos Mansion on Wednesday.
Among other things, the PM also said that the decision by the troika of lenders to adopt the suggestion for lowering of the VAT during Greece's apex summer season especially is the first announcement of a tax decrease in Greece.
Samaras said that certain measures included in the memorandum would not be introduced in 2014, "which means that there will be no new cuts in pensions and salaries of the armed forces; nor will there be an additional tax of 0,002 percent on business turnover," achievements that showed "we have succeeded in our targets and shown real progress."
Speaking on the day Parliament is expected to vote an omnibus bill that includes a new tax code, Samaras said he had promoted the VAT reduction with the troika because businesses and chambers had reassured him it would bring higher revenues to the sector and the state. But he warned store owners that they also needed to do their part and issue proper receipts. "If tax evasion continues as usual, VAT will climb back to 23 percent. But if it works out, I am sure more reductions in unbearable taxes will follow," the PM said.
The premier reminded his opposition that "we have been in power for just a year" and said that Greece's image abroad during that time had improved tremendously: "Everyone knows how foreigners saw Greece from abroad, from Europe and the Americas to China, from international markets to Greek and foreign investors - and everyone also knows how differently the world views Greece today."
Samaras asserted that better days are coming. "We are not resting on our laurels. We will climb up the hill and get to the very end, which is not far," he added.
 Venizelos on VAT rate reduction in restaurant sectorThe government's coordinated efforts were fruitful, said government Vice President and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos on Wednesday, referring to the VAT reduction in restaurant and catering services announced earlier by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
"The VAT's reduction sends a very important message to the market, to the economy and to all households," Venizelos said.
He added that the benefit should pass on to consumption and strengthen our tax conscience and honesty among people and between them and the state, because this is the only way for the state to become honest before the citizens.
According to PASOK's leader, the rate reduction signifies "our institutional partners and troika's acceptance that the battle is being waged on the ground of the real economy and of development."
 VAT redution significant for Greek tourism, Kefalogianni says"A reduction of VAT is significant for Greek tourism as it enhances our competitiveness, especially in a period when we strive for it. We will see how this measure will be implemented this year and we hope that everyone will contribute so that this measure would become permanent and to give a boost to the restaurant and tourism sectors," Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni said on Wednesday in a TV interview with ANA-MPA.
The Greek minister said it was up to the private sector and businessmen to show that this reduction -which will lead to a reduction of state revenues in the first phase- could give such a boost to consumption to counterbalance an immediate reduction of revenues.
Kefalogianni said that everyone must help so that this measure will have a positive effect, supporting a case for a further reduction of tax factors on tourist package.
"Let's not forget that VAT on hotel services is very low and as a country we managed to remain at very competitive levels. Certainly, there are other services in the tourism industry in which we would like -and seek- to see a reduction in tax factors in the future," she said, adding that lightening the tax burden is a general goal of the government.
 SYRIZA criticises PM's statementsThe main opposition SYRIZA party on Wednesday criticised Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's announcement of a temporary reduction of VAT in restaurant and catering services from 23 percent to 13 percent as of August 1.
"Amidst the memorandum ruins, the levelling of salaries and pensions, of lay offs and exhaustive taxation, Mr. Samaras sees stabilisation and growth. His cynicism and hypocrisy are such as to chose the day of the vote on the omnibus bill in order to announce the new version of his success story," a SYRIZA announcement said.
 Communist Party reaction to PM Samaras' statements"It is provocative for the Prime Minister (Antonis Samaras) to speak of better days for the people, on the day the government pushed to vote in parliament a 'monstrous ' omnibus bill, which pushes thousands of workers to unemployment, while smashing the minimum wage, slashing social benefits and increasing the tax robbery on the expense of the working classes, to be followed by additional measures such as the abolition of the Sunday rest," the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) said in a statement on Wednesday in a reaction to the premier's statemants earlier in the day.
KKE also called on workers and the working classes "to turn their backs on the blackmailing and the false hopes of the current government" and to have "no confidence in governments and parties promising better days within the EU."
 Lower VAT for catering 'a personal success' for the PM, SETE head saysThe deal with the EU-IMF troika to lower VAT for restaurants and catering to 13 percent from August 1 was "a personal success" achieved by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the head of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE) Andreas Andreadis said on Wednesday.
"It is a real developmental measure that will lead to a reduction in unemployment, boost tourism and the Greek economy. SETE will assist with all its strength to ensure that this reduction is passed on directly to final consumers and that everyone hands out receipts. If, after the measure is implemented, the state's revenues from VAT in catering show a positive result, something that I am certain will happen, then similar reductions must be considered for the entire tourism package and in ferries," Andreadis added.
 Development minister defends draft bill on Sunday opening before Parliament CommitteeCountering objections to measures allowing shops to open on Sundays, Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis on Wednesday told Parliament that the eight main arguments raised were "myths". Speaking before a Parliamentary committee conducting a first reading of the bill, Hatzidakis noted that they even disputed the existence of an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study on the impact of Sunday shop opening, which had prompted the decision.
The minister presented evidence from the study showing that Sunday opening hours were a European-wide trend with clear benefits for competition and said copies of the study had been sent to all interested parties.
On the whole, bodies heard by the Committee for Production and Trade were positive in their opinion of the draft bill as a whole, though they objected strong to the Sunday opening measure and suggested amendments to measures for street markets.
 Venizelos in Ankara on FridayGovernment Vice President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos will pay an official visit to Ankara on Friday, following an invitation by his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, the Ministry announced Wednesday.
 Kapsis gives time to ERT staff to leave premisesDeputy minister for Public Television Pantelis Kapsis has given employees with the former State Broadcaster ERT a deadline of a few days to restore free access to the ERT building in the northern Athens suburb of Aghia Paraskevi, thus enabling transmission of the new public television signal and go ahead with procurement of 2.000 job positions in the new television company. Kapsis was speaking after a fresh meeting he had with former ERT employees on Wednesday afternoon.
The deputy minister told ANA-MPA that should ERT employees allow free access to the ERT building, this will allow the transmission of a short news programme before the new company is formed and the 2.000 new positions are procured.
ERT staff is expected to hold a general meeting on Thursday to determine their stance.
 Six interior ministry officials to face disciplinary action for extended, unjustified absencesSix civil servants at the interior ministry have been referred to the ministry's disciplinary board by Ioannis Mihelakis for lengthy and unjustified absence from work. An additional three ministry employees have been summoned to answer to various disciplinary offences.
Among them was a female employee who had been absent from her job without leave for more than two years, from January 2011 until March 2013. The same employee, during her absence, had served as a president in a municipal public-sector law company, even though this was incompatible with her role as a civil servant.
Another employee was absent without leave for seven months, from January 2012 until July 2012, and in the six months from June 2011 and November 2011 had not worked the required number of hours.
The remainder had been either absent or failed to work a full day for periods ranging from seven months to 42 days, while two employees were found through spot checks conducted in November 2012 to have deviated by eight to 10 hours from their full working time in that month.
Also facing called to provide explanations is an employee who failed to check whether colleagues were absent and not completing their full working hours and for failing to inform the appropriate authorities so that the salaries of the employees involved might be cut accordingly.
 President Papoulias to receive SYRIZA leader TsiprasMain opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras will be received by President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Thursday at 13:30.
Tsipras will be accompanied by SYRIZA deputy Manolis Glezos.
 Traffic restrictions in Athens because of visit by German finminSpecial traffic restrictions will apply in central Athens on Thursday because of the visit of Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to the Greek capital on this day. Specifically, according to a police statement, owing to strict security measures and special vehicle traffic arrangements, neither public gatherings nor marches will be allowed in the city centre from 9 am to 8 pm.
Restrictions will also apply for (a) the section of Attiki Odos from the Athens International Airport "El. Venizelos" (AIA) to the junction of Ymitos Ring Road with Katechaki Ave.; (b) Katechaki Ave. from the exit of Ymitos Ring Road to the Mesogion junction within a range of 100 meters, (c) bridges, interchanges and intersections along the above roads, and the wider local area under the AIA Police Directorate.
 Independent Greeks: Schaeuble 'persona non grata'Opposition Independent Greeks (ANEL) spokesman Notis Marias on Wednesday called on the government to demand German reparations for WWII from German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, visiting Athens on Thursday, whom he termed "persona non grata".
"New Democracy and PASOK's joint memorandum rule, instead of holding 'human sacrifices' by laying off thousands of civil servants and by imposing unbearable taxes to Greek citizens, should demand of 'persona non grata' German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble the immediate payment of Germany's war reparations and occupation loan to Greece which totals 162 billion euros, plus interest," said Marias.
 U.S. Treasury Secretary Lew to visit Athens SundayWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA/P. Panayiotou)
The U.S. Department of the Treasury on Wednesday announced that Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew will stop in Athens, Greece on Sunday, July 21, 2013, on his return from the G-20 Meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in Moscow from July 19-20, 2013.
In Greece, the Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras to discuss Greek economic reforms and Europe's policies to support a strong and durable recovery. The visit comes ahead of President Obama's meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on August 8, 2013 in Washington, D.C., the announcement added.
Secretary Lew will depart Moscow for Athens on Saturday evening. He will depart Athens for Washington, D.C. on Sunday evening, it concluded.
 Parliament names Judicial Council to try former FinMin PapaconstantinouParliament on Wednesday selected the five members of the Judicial Council that will rule on the guilt of former finance minister George Papaconstantinou on charges related to the 'Lagarde issue'.
According to a preliminary investigation committee's report that was approved by majority vote in Parliament late on Monday night, Papaconstantinou was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanour regarding his involvement in the so-called Lagarde issue relating to possible tax evasion by Greek depositors abroad.
 KKE's Pafilis speaks to ANA-MPA WebTVCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) Parliamentary spokesman Thanassis Pafilis on Wednesday termed the main opposition SYRIZA party a "bad copy of PASOK" while speaking in a televised interview shown on ANA-MPA WebTV on Wednesday. He also excluded any kind of cooperation with the main opposition party.
"If we wanted to act as administrators of the capitalist system we would be ministers and we would have no reason to exist. We want to overthrow capitalism. We cannot be part of an administration government," Pafilis noted.
"The recipe of the past that wants us to cooperate with some factions of the Left -which sometimes expressed social needs and some other times did not- is not valid any more. We want social polarisation among workers to be abolished and the working people united on a class basis, regardless of what they vote for," he added.
 Democratic Left opposes abolition of vocational school classesThe Democratic Left (DIM.AR) on Wednesday expressed its opposition to the abolition of key subjects in vocational schools and unveiled its own proposal for improving them.
In an announcement, DIM.AR proposed a single type of 'technological school' that will provide basic knowledge and vocational skills, stressing that children attending such schools cannot be treated as "children of a lesser god".
 European Commission denies 10-billion-euro shortfall in Greek programmeBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - M. Aroni)
A spokesman for European Commissioner Olli Rehn on Wednesday denied press reports claiming a 10-billion-euro funding gap in Greece's programme by September.
"The programme for Greece is fully funded for the coming 12 months, so there is no financing gap for the coming 12 months," spokesman Simon O' Connor told reporters, dismissing the report in the German paper "Suddeutsche Zeitung".
Beyond that, he noted, the existence of a relatively small financing gap of about 2.8-4.6 billion euros in the final months of the EFSF-funded programme in 2014 was nothing new.
"The existence of a relatively small gap has been known," O' Connor said, noting that the funding gap was referred to in the latest troika review and would again be noted, slightly reduced this time, in the next review due to be released in a few weeks.
The spokesman said the size of the funding gap can be estimated with greater accuracy in the autumn, when more information is available concerning public finances and privatisation revenues in 2014. He did not rule out the possibility that the funding gap may be covered from unused loans destined for the recapitalisation of Greek banks.
He said that the 50 billion euros given to Greek banks had not been fully used because of a greater-than-predicted participation by the private sector but clarified that bank 'stress tests' must be carried out to confirm these estimates.
Asked to comment on the reduction of the VAT rate for restaurants and catering in Greece to 13 percent from August, O Connor noted that the reduction was considered feasible, without risk to the budget, on condition that it was temporary.
 German finance ministry denies 10 billion euro funding gap in Greek programmeBERLIN (ANA-MPA - F. Karaviti)
The German finance ministry has denied press reports claiming there will be a 10-billion-euro funding gap in the Greek programme by September, noting that there is no such reference in the EU-IMF troika's latest report.
The ministry stressed, however, that any funding gaps that arise will be covered through additional measures taken by Greece.
"The important decisions that must be taken now concern the implementation of prior actions," the ministry said and noted that the latest report said the Greek programme was "broadly on track".
 EU Commission: 20 pct of Greek households below poverty lineBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA - M. Spinthourakis)
Roughly one in five households in Greece, Spain, Bulgaria and Croatia live below the poverty threshold, meaning that their total income - including welfare transfers - is less than 60 percent of the average in their country, according to a press release issued by the European Commission on Wednesday.
The percentage of households below the poverty line for the European Union as a whole was 16 percent, with the smallest percentages found in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands (less than 10 percent).
Based on the press release, those most at risk from poverty are those with a low level of education. In Greece, 29.6 percent of individuals with low education were poor based on official figures (24.2 percent for the EU as a whole). Poverty also affected 19.7 percent of those with medium-level education (14 percent average in EU) and 7.3 percent of those with higher education (7.1 percent average in EU).
Finally, Greece and Cyprus are the only EU countries in which the number of men in higher education is greater than the number of women.
 Commission refers Greece to Court certain Greek casinos and Aluminium of GreeceBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/M.Aroni)
The European Commission announced on Wednesday that it has referred Greece to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for failing to comply with two distinct Commission decisions that ordered Greece to recover incompatible state aid from three Greek casinos and from Aluminium of Greece SA. In both cases, over two years after the Commission decisions, the full aid amounts have still not been paid back, the Commission said in a press release.
"Member States have numerous possibilities to support business in line with EU state aid rules. However, when subsidies procure distortive advantages to selected companies without furthering any common interest goal they must be recovered swiftly. This is necessary to restore a level playing field and to preserve the effectiveness of the rules themselves," said Joaqu?n Almunia, Vice President of the Commission in charge of competition policy.
As regards the Greek casinos, the press release notes: "In 2009 the Commission received a complaint about the taxation of admissions to casinos in Greece. Indeed, a ? 12 admission tax per person was imposed on private casinos, while the public casinos of Mont Parn?s and Corfu and the private casino of Thessaloniki were only paying ? 4.8. The Commission considered that this different fiscal treatment provides a selective advantage to certain casinos and causes the State to forgo revenues which it would otherwise have collected. In May 2011, the Commission therefore ordered Greece to recover the aid granted through this advantage since 1999 and to end the incompatible scheme."
As for the Aluminium of Greece, the press release notes: "In July 2011, the Commission requested Greece to recover incompatible state aid in the form of preferential electricity tariffs from Aluminium of Greece. The aid amount is calculated as the difference between PCC's revenues from the standard tariff between January 2007 and March 2008 and the revenues from the tariff that was actually applied to Aluminium of Greece SA in the same period. According to information provided by Greece, the Commission calculated the aid principal as amounting to ? 17.4 million."
"In both cases, Greece had four months from the decision to ensure its implementation. In November 2012, one and a half years after the decision, Greece abolished the measure in favour of the casinos. For the casino of Mont Parn?s and for the casino of Thessaloniki, the recovery orders are (for their largest part, i.e. approximately 85%-90%) suspended by national courts, in violation of applicable EU rules. For the casino of Corfu, no payment at all has been reported.
"Regarding Aluminium of Greece SA, the aid has not been recovered up to date. The recovery procedure has been suspended by a national court, in clear violation of EU law.
"In both cases, the beneficiaries and (in the case of the Greek casinos only) Greece have appealed the Commission's 2011 decisions before the EU General Court. However, no interim measures have been requested (nor granted) and the appeals have no suspensive effect.
"Member States have to recover state aid that has been found incompatible by the Commission, within the deadline set in the Commission decision. This is very important because delays in the recovery of unlawful subsidies maintain the distortion of competition created by the aid... If a Member State does not implement a recovery decision, the Commission may refer the matter to the Court of Justice under Article 108(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (TFEU) that allows the Commission to directly refer cases to the Court for violations of EU state aid rules. If a Member State does not comply with the judgment, the Commission may ask the Court to impose penalty payments under Article 260 of the TFEU," the press release also notes.
 Greek merchant shipping flet down 3.2 pct in MayThe Greek merchant shipping fleet totalled 1,926 vessels in May, down 3.2 pct compared with the same month last year, after a 2.7 pct decline recorded in May 2012, Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) said on Wednesday.
The statistics service, in a report, said that the Greek fleet's total capacity was 44,023,373 dwt in May, down 0.1 pct from May 2012.
 Greek economy can exit recession in 2014, German economistThe Greek economy could exit a recession in 2014 if the Greek government implemented a series of prior actions, Michael Heise, chief analysts in Allianz Group said on Wednesday.
Addressing an event organized by the German Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Heize said the opening up of specific markets and professions in the country could boost the Greek Gross Domestic Product by 3-7 pct, adding that "there are strong evidence of a primary budget surplus in 2013".
The German analyst, however, stressed that the pace of reforms needed to be accelerated to safeguard that a consolidation programe becomes feasible. He said that control of health spending, reforming a tax process code, creating an asset registry and strengthening tax collection mechanisms should be priority goals for Greek authorities, adding that a modernization of the public sector through reducing the number of civil servants, combating corruption and reducing administrative costs and hurdles, were also necessary.
Heise said that the Greek public debt would be sustainable if the cost of state borrowing fell to 3.7 pct and the country recorded annual growth rates of 2.2 pct by 2025.
Mihalis Maillis, president of the Chamber, addressing the event said that the key to reversing an economic recession in the Eurozone -especially in the South- was restructuring policies in the banking sector.
 Marinopoulos continues expansion of franchise businessMarinopoulos SA -a Greek supermarket chain- on Wednesday said it has opened six new franchise shops so far this year as part of its franchise expansion plan, raising its total franchise network to 298 units.
The six new shops were opened in Athens, Thasos, Feres Evros, Artaki Evia, Monofatsi tower Heraclion Crete and in Arcadia.
Marinopoulos operates a franchise network with 80 Carrefour Express shops, 34 Carrefour Marinopoulos shops, 90 Smile shops and 94 OK shops.
 Goldmine investment to continue in Chalkidiki, company spokespersonHellas Gold SA intends to continue in the northern Chalkidiki Peninsula, its spokesperson Constantine Georgantzis told ANA-MPA on Wednesday, following press reports on Tuesday by parent company Eldorado Gold managing director Paul Wright.
According to press reports, Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold said it would delay activity at the Skouries and Perama mining sites, originally scheduled to start production in 2015, after budget cuts that were related to a sharp drop in gold prices globally.
Georgantzis said the announcement was valid but did not affect the investment occurring now at Chalkidiki. "There is, on the contrary, an attempt to increase the absorption of capital intended to be invested here," he said, adding, "There were some delays in applying the plan, and this has led to the postponement of the production start to 2016, but beyond this the company is continuing its policy of hirings. Within a month, company staff will increase from 1,200 to 1,400."
The coordinating committee of Stageira-Akanthos associations of residents, who oppose the mining, said in an announcement that "the delay of the so-called mining investment project does not mean we will stop." They alleged the company had delayed "because of illegalities and following residents' charges", especially after the company "had in no way achieved social agreement to be able to operate in the area" and declared that "We shall continue our struggle against the destruction of our land."
 Greek stocks end significantly higherGreek stocks ended significantly higher for the second consecutive session in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, as strong buying interest for selected blue chips such as OPAP, OTE and PPC pushed the composite index of the market above the 830-point level. The index rose 1.72 pct to end at 832.73 points, off the day's highs of 836.79 points. Turnover, however, remained a low 45.40 million euros. An announcement by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of a VAT reduction in the restaurant/hotel sectors had a positive impact on market sentiment, with analysts noting it was the first significant development measure taken by the government.
The Large Cap index rose 1.74 pct and the Mid Cap index rose 0.60 pct. MIG (7.36 pct), OPAP (5.52 pct), OTE (4.71 pct), Jumbo (4.37 pct) and Athens Water (3.51 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Titan (3.47 pct), National Bank (2.82 pct) and Hellenic Petroleum (0.61 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses. The Travel (5.18 pct), Telecoms (4.71 pct) and Personal Products (3.41 pct) sectors scored gains, while Constructions (1.65 pct) and Banks (0.86 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 84 to 36 with another 28 issues unchanged. Alsinco (20 pct), NEL (18.75 pct) and Selonda (18.70 pct) were top gainers, while Sidma (19.64 pct), AEGEK (11.82 pct) and Audiovisual (9.75 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +0.30%
Personal & Household: +3.41%
Raw Materials: +2.31%
Travel & Leisure: +5.18%
Food & Beverages: +1.59%
Financial Services: +3.44%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Alpha Bank, Piraeus Bank, OTE and National Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.437
Public Power Corp (PPC): 6.47
HBC Coca Cola: 19.40
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.56
National Bank of Greece: 2.42
Eurobank Properties : 6.80
Piraeus Bank: 0.956
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds was stable at 8.79 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, from 8.74 pct the previous day, with the Greek bond yielding 10.32 pct and the German Bund 1.53 pct. There was no turnover in the market.
In interbank markets, interest rates were mixed. The 12-month rate rose to 0.52 pct, the nine-month rate rose to 0.43 pct, the six-month rate was 0.33 pct, the three-month rate was 0.21 pct and the one-month rate was 0.12 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe July contract on the FTSE Large Cap index was trading at a premium of 0.43 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover rising further to 43.544 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 28,612 contracts worth 40.281 million euros, with 53,613 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 14,620 contracts worth 3.263 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Alpha Bank's contracts (4,654), followed by National Bank (2,423), Eurobank (1,620), Piraeus Bank (1,631), MIG (384), OTE (1,279), PPC (869), OPAP (316), Mytilineos (205), Hellenic Petroleum (200), GEK (212), Intralot (173) and Jumbo (121).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.333
Pound sterling 0.876
Danish kroner 7.569
Swedish kroner 8.758
Japanese yen 133.12
Swiss franc 1.252
Norwegian kroner 7.995
Canadian dollar 1.386
Australian dollar 1.448
 Shootout in Athens between police and unidentified gunmenPolice are searching for unidentified individuals who opened fire with kalashnikovs at 8:40 a.m. on Wednesday at the DIAS motorcycle police officers near Athens Police Headquarters (GADA) on Alexandras Avenue in Athens.
The incident occured a few metres from the GADA building when DIAS officers stopped the car for a check. The suspects, who were either two or three, got out of the car and started shooting at the police, who returned fire.
The suspects fled in the car which was later found abandoned in the same general area of Ambelokipi. No injuries were reported.
 Shooting near police headquarters 'no surprise', Ind. Greeks sayThe shooting incident near the headquarters of the Greek police in Athens was "no surprise" according to a statement made on Wednesday by the opposition Independent Greeks party Parliamentary spokesman Vassilis Kapernaros.
In scathing criticism of Public Order and Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Dendias, he said that "the minister of Manolada, of the unhospitable Zeus, of the decomissioning of the country's police personnel, of the Avras tests at OAKA and the illegal abolition of army camps, with their simultaneous conversion into detention centres for illegal migrants, has once again proved his inadequacy."
Kapernaros noted that underpaid and ill-equipped officers had once again laid their lives on the line, even though Dendias claimed that the 61,000 serving on the Greek police force were more than the country needed.
"It is exactly what we expect from the minister who is ignorant of how many illegal migrants live in his country," he added.
In an incident on Wednesday morning, unidentified individuals opened fire with kalashnikovs on DIAS motorcycle police officers just metres from the Athens Police Headquarters on Alexandras Avenue in Athens. The DIAS officers had pulled over a car for a routine check when the occupants, either two or three in number, got out of the car and started shooting.
Police returned fire and the suspects fled in the car, which was later found abandoned elsewhere in Ambelokipi. No injuries were reported.
 Parcel-bomb sent to Athens courts neutralisedA bomb-parcel sent to the Athens first-instance court complex in Evelpidon was successfully neutralised by bomb disposal experts on Wednesday afternoon.
The booby-trapped parcel had been sent to building 6 in the court complex but was identified as suspicious by court employees in the Athens public prosecutors' department, who called the police. The Athens bar association was listed as the parcel's sender.
An investigation has been launched by the Police Special Crimes of Violence Department.
In a stetemnt later in the evening, Justice Minister Haralambos Athanasiou said: "The Greek judges have proven that they are not intimidated by acts of violence against them whereever they come from. They will continue to work concentrated on their duties, defending democratic institutions and the citizens' rights. Society should condemn such acts and express its faith in institutions and human values."
 Two terrorism suspects detained pending trialTwo 30-year-old men who were arrested last week for their alleged membership in a terror group were detained pending trial following their testimony before a special investigating magistrate on Wednesday.
The two were being interrogated by the antiterrorist police squad in Athens on Friday over their possible involvement in the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire group.
Investigations are focusing on their possible link with the informal anarchist federation International Revolutionary Front (FAI-IRF), which has claimed responsibility for three terror acts in Greece and one in Jakarta, all in June of this year.
The incidents involved a booby-trapped package sent to the former director of the antirterrorist squad, the bombing of the cars of the Korydallos prison director (in the Dafni section of Athens) and of an employee of the Nafplio prison (in the southern city of Argos), as well as arson at the Sheraton hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Both suspects deny any involvement.
 Actor Andreas Barkoulis hospitalisedActor Andreas Barkoulis, 77, was on Wednesday morning admitted to the intensive care unit of a western Athens hospital, suffering of an acute lung oedema.
Doctors at the Vougiouklakio hospital in Aegaleo appeared reservedly optimistic, describing his condition as stable.
 Fire breaks out near KarystosA fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon at Tsakei, in the region of Karystos, southern Evia. Strong winds blowing in the area are preventing the effort to put out the fire.
A team of forty firemen and 17 fire-engines were deployed, assisted by six men on foot, a helicopter and two water-bombing aircraft.
 Fire breaks out in VarimbombiA fire broke out on Wednesday evening at Petra in the region of Varimbombi, Mt Parnitha, in the north of Athens. Strong winds were blowing in the area.
A team of 45 firemen and 16 fire-engines were deployed, assisted by three groups of men on foot.
Forest fire in Kavos Isthmion region, Korinthos
A fire is burning since Wednesday afternoon in a pine forest in Kavos Isthmion region, Korinthos, also threatening a residential area with olive trees around homes.
Strong fire-fighting forces from around the Peloponnese are making efforts to contain the blaze. Two water-bombing aircraft and a helicopter assisted ground forces until sunset.
Traffic on the Isthmos-Epidavros highway has been diverted for safety reasons. Investigators from the fire department are looking into the causes of the fire.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAVGHI: Minimun wage and 8 working hours at stake.
DIMOKRATIA: Confusion over tax statement submission.
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: Employers' government.
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Volley of fire against 'guillotine'-omnibus bill.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: VAT reduction in food services 'locks in'.
ESTIA: Middle class devastated.
ETHNOS: Drop in university entry base marks.
IMERISSIA: Compromising solution - Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos' agreement focused on Parliament.
KATHIMERINI: Landmark voting in Parliament on Wednesday.
LOGOS: In omnibus bill fever.
NAFTEMPORIKI: Gifts and 'double agenda' in German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble's luggage.
RIZOSPASTIS: Antipopular bill for capitalistic profit.
TA NEA: Tax statements from the beach!
VRADYNI: Working days and working hours in the air.
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