|Wednesday, 13 December 2017|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 13-07-19
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 19 July 2013 Issue No: 4411
 Visiting German FinMin Schaeuble acknowledges Greece's efforts in meeting with PM SamarasA meeting between Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and visiting German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble at the government's headquarters in Maximos Mansion ended after 40 minutes on Thursday afternoon, or 10 minutes longer than originally planned.
It was followed by a meeting that included Government Vice-President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Adminitrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis, Alternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras and Deputy Finance Minister George Mavraganis, state deputy Chrysanthos Lazaridis and one of the premier's diplomatic advisors.After the meeting, Schaeuble also met Venizelos one-on-one.
After the departure of the German finance minister, the prime minister and government vice-president had a 10-minute talk.
According to sources, Schaeuble told those at the meeting that the "glass is very full" and acknowledged the efforts of the Greek government. He also welcomed Parliament's approval on Wednesday of an omnibus bill pertaining to prior actions demanded of Greece, including public-sector reforms.
Samaras referred to the efforts being made by the government and admitted that there had been some delays but stressed that the pace of reforms will accelerate from now on.
 Venizelos tells Schaeuble Greece needs more growth support measuresIn a private meeting at the Government Building he had on Thursday with visiting German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Government Vice-President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos focused on a review of Greece's current economic condition and the course of the fiscal adjustment programme.
According to sources close to the vice-presidency, Venizelos told Schaeuble that additional measures needed to be taken to revitalise growth, rather than further austerity measures.
Venizelos expounded on his fixed position that Greece is committed to implement the adjustment programme, but no additional austerity measures should or could be taken as these added to recession and unemployment.
Discussion between the two men focused also on the prospects of Greece being able to borrow again from international financial markets.
 No discussion on further aid for Greece before last months of 2014, Schaueble saysAdditional aid for Greece and new measures for public debt will only be discussed toward the end of 2014, provided Greece has implemented the measures agreed and achieved a primary surplus, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaueble stressed on Thursday evening in Athens, where he is on a one-day visit.
In statements a few hours earlier, the German minister had also asked all sides to stop speculating about the possibility of a new 'haircut' of Greek debt.
Speaking during a press conference at the Greek finance ministry, where he had earlier held talks with Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Schaueble said his meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Thursday afternoon had not focused on either the prospect of additional austerity measures in the autumn nor on an emerging funding gap in the Greek programme.
"We did not discuss this issue and I am not a schoolmaster delivering lessons from a podium in Greece. The programme is progressing as expected," he said. He clarified, however, that decisions for the fourth quarter will be taken when the troika returns and completes its review mission.
The German minister repeated that Greece had made significant progress "but even more efforts must be made," and emphasised the issue of public-sector reforms, noting that much remained to be done in public administration.
Stournaras, in his own statements, noted that the great challenge faced by Greece and other countries in crisis was that of "combining further fiscal adjustment with economic growth".
"All our tools must aim at achieving this combination. If we do not succeed in this, we risk marginalising large social groups and thus leading the entire effort we have made until now to failure," he stressed.
Questioned about the issue of the forced loan extracted from occupied Greece by the Nazi regime in WWII, Schaeuble spoke of an "ongoing responsibility for the greatest crisis in European history under the dictatorship of Hitler's Nazis" and said that "we must look at exactly what happened in Greece".
He underlined, however, that this was an entirely separate issue from that of war reparations, which were settled by the London Treaty that Greece had also agreed with after the Berlin Wall was torn down.
Responding to a German reporter, who asked him to comment on a meeting between Greek President Karolos Papoulias and Greece's main opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, Schaeuble avoided any reply and said he had not inquired about the issues discussed out of respect for the institution of the presidency. The German minister also avoided referring to Tsipras as main opposition leader, describing him "someone from the opposition" and the "leader of a political group".
The press conference was held after a series of meetings at the finance ministry between Greek and German officials dealing with the Greek programme, the establishment of a German bank in Greece and the signature of a memorandum on creating an Investment Fund.
Schaeuble said the German side will also support the Investment Fund through the provision of knowhow from the German bank KfW. With regard to the German bank to be founded in Greece, he said that this may be carried out in collaboration with German regional banks and give loans to Greek regions equal to the amount of the deposits made in each region.
 Greece, Germany sign memorandum of cooperationGreece and Germany on Thursday signed a memorandum of cooperation envisaging the set up of a Hellenic Investment Fund -expected to be ready by the end of the year with a capital of 450 million euros. The memorandum was signed by Development and Competitiveness Minister Costis Hatzidakis and the chairman of German bank KfW, Dr. Ulrich Schroeder, in the presence of Greek and German Finance ministers Yannis Stournaras and Wolfgang Schaeuble respectively.
The purpose of the Fund is to finance regional infrastructure projects and enterprises -mostly small- and medium-sized- contributing to closing a funding gap faced by the country, promoting growth, employment and innovation.
"We faced several difficulties to reach today's result," Hatzidakis told reporters after the signing of the memorandum, adding that KfW was actively supporting this case, while he estimated that the German support would convince other investors to become shareholders in this effort. The Greek minister underlined the strong political symbolism of Thursday's signing, saying "we are moving together with our partners, we are doing what we must towards fiscal consolidation and regaining our competitiveness, and our European partners, Germany in particularly, shows in deeds its solidarity to Greece in the issue of liquidity and generally in an effort to overcome the crisis".
The Greek state will contribute 350 million euros to the Fund, of which 200 million euros from community funds and 150 million euros from a Public Investment Programe. KfW will support this initiative and will examine -in agreement with the German government- an investment worth up to 100 million euros. The Greek government will also seek additional funds from international financial organizations and private investors. The Onasis Foundation and Niarhos Foundation have already expressed interest in participating in the Fund, while talks are underway with France's Loans and Trust Fund.
The Fund will offer liquidity to sectors and enterprises crucial for restarting the Greek economy.
The memorandum also envisages the set up of a special working group, with representatives from Greece and international financial institutions, to offer technical assistance to the Fund.
 German FinMin Schaeuble in Athens: Talk of haircut must endAll speculation about a new haircut of the Greek public debt should end, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said at a business event of the Greek-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Athens on Thursday.
"You should not continue talking about a new haircut, it is not in your interest," Schaeuble said, because a haircut without new measures would only serve to postpone the fiscal adjustment programme into future generations of Greeks.
In Athens for a one-day visit, Schaeuble was the keynote speaker at the Greek-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce event on "Creating the Right Environment for Growth". The event was held at a central hotel and Schaeuble addressed the meeting with Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras. Also delivering a speech was Development and Competitiveness Minister Costis Hatzidakis.
Speaking of the Greek economy, Schaeuble said that as the current, second, fiscal programme has proven successful, if Greece keeps its loan obligations and achieves a primary surplus in 2014, the need of further measures or not will be considered at that time but these do not include a haircut of private sector bonds. In terms of the European Stability Mechanism, "you would have to reject its basic regulations. You cannot get guarantees and then ask for a haircut. Otherwise you will be lying. I would advise you to discontinue such talk. You have to convince those you speak with that the situation is difficult."
In Greece, which is still in recession with very high unemployment rates and Greeks going through hardships, "the only path is to follow the adjustment process decisively. There is no way around it and we know that," the German Finance Minister said.
Addressing the infusion of cash by banks in businesses, he said that banks are not willing to give out loans and sometimes do so with higher interest rates. He said the recapitalization of the four systemic banks was important and added that Germany wants to support and invest in the new development sector arising through KfW bank.
Praising efforts in Greece, he noted that "I'm very impressed by the efforts to strengthen modernization and reduce debt. Greece is the cradle of Europe. We are counting on you. We have deep respect for your efforts."
 'There are more things that unite us than divide us,' Stournaras tells Schaeuble at Athens event"There are more things that unite us with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble than those that divide us," Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras stressed on Thursday at an event in downtown Athens also attended by the German minister, while noting the huge complementarities between Greek and German economies. Schaueble in currently in Athens for a one-day visit.
Addressing an event organised by the Greek-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce in a downtown Athens hotel, Stournaras referred to the interest shown by German businesses in renewable energy sources, garbage collection, hi-tech, infomatics, medical tourism and extending the tourism period.
Stournaras especially emphasised the constant flow of capital away from the European south to the European north and the resultant disparity in interest rates in favour of the latter, which he said were a "underlying threat for European unity".
He said that he was focused on the fiscal adjustment programme because 'there is no other way, we are doing the right thing and in spite of the mistakes, we are finding solutions".
On the liquidity problems that he described as the main factor stalling business activity, Stournaras predicted that this would be restored after banks are recapitalised.
 Reforms are urgently needed, Chamber presidentGreece must move immediately to implement fundamental and infrastructural reformations after inexcusable delays, said Michalis Maillis, president of Greek-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, during an event on Thursday addressed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras.
In his address, Maillis said Greece was in its sixth year of recession and had lost 25 percent of is GDP, and said the harsh measures taken by the government had led to very high unemployment.
"Society and businesses have reached their limits and the country must restore the distortions and illnesses of the past that led it to the present crisis...We have had very difficult, possibly very violent, adjustments. The results are already visible but there is still a lot to be done mostly in the reform sector."
Maillis expressed optimism because, he said, "there is political stability, political will, wide social agreement to go on and complete the necessary reforms to benefit the Greek people."
 Greece needs combination of fiscal consolidation with growth policies, Hatzidakis says"We must combine fiscal consolidation measures with policies supporting growth and boosting liquidity," Development and Competitiveness Minister Costis Hatzidakis said on Thursday.
Addressing an event organized by the German-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Hatzidakis said that the Greek market has a funding gap estimated around 15-18 billion euros -according to a survey by Oliver Wyman- which cannot be covered from community funds despite improving fund absorption rates. He underlined that Greece will sign a memorandum of cooperation with German bank KfW on setting up a Greek Investment Fund which will operate on private-economic criteria, with management of international standards and funds raised both from the public sector, European development banks, international development organizations and private investors.
"We have proven during all these months that we are justified in asking the support of Europe since we moved forward with speed, regardless of political costs," Hatzidakis said. He presented the structural reforms made so far such as opening up of transport services, simplifying market regulation, combatting irregularities in the fuel market, facilitating business start ups, a new investment law, privatizations, etc.
He said that the ministry's four basic initiatives by the end of the year were simplifying licensing procedures in cooperation with World Bank, changing the country's export model, drafting a national strategy on logistics and lifting hurdles/boosting competition in four basic economic sectors (tourism, food processing, building material, retail commerce) in cooperation with OECD.
 KKE on Schaeuble's visitThe basic aim of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble's visit to Athens "is to support the Greek government in accelerating restructuring, in other words the further smashing down of the people's rights on the altar of competitiveness, which is the shared strategic target of the Greek and German ruling classes," the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) charged on Thursday.
"The discussion on a possible new borrowing by the Greek state and the terms of management of the present enormous public debt, do not concern the people's relief but a share-out of losses and profits among the monopoly groups and EU states," the KKE announcement added.
 DIMAR: 'Tell Schaeuble no more austerity measures'The government should make it clear to visiting Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble that the policy of austerity in Europe must change, said Democratic Left (DIMAR) party on Thursday, on the occasion of the German official's one-day visit.
In an announcement, DIMAR said Europe needed large-scale joint initiatives to deal with the European crisis that would be based on development and social cohesion.
"Especially for Greece," it said, "it must be made clear that there can be no new measures to cut back wages, pensions and other benefits" and called for fundamental changes in the fiscal adjustment programme to link it with development, substantial funding of the real economy and support for the unemployed and citizens under duress.
 SYRIZA's Tsipras meets President, criticises ultra-high security for German Finmin's visitPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias on Thursday received main opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who raised the issues of Germany's war debts - including a forced occupation loan that Nazi authorities had demanded from Greece in WWII.
If the issue was not raised by the Greek government, then the Greek people will raise it by giving a mandate to another government, Tsipras noted.
In statements after the meeting, the main opposition leader also commented on ultra-high security measures imposed on the Greek capital for a one-day visit by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, saying that Athens "looked like a cemetery and this does no honour to either the country where democracy was born nor to Mr. Schaeuble as its guest."
He said he had come to visit the president with veteran Leftist politician Manolis Glezos in a symbolic move to stress the importance of demanding payment of the German war reparations and the occupation loan "as a historic duty to the hundreds of dead national resistance heroes".
Tsipras stressed that those governing Greece could not, on the one hand, recognise the country's public debt to hedge funds and banks and not recognise Germany's debt to the Greek people.
Papoulias noted that he had raised the issue with the German government when he was foreign minister in 1995 and had received a negative reply "but this does not mena that the entire issue has been expunged."
 Parliament passes omnibus bill with slim majorityThe 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 highly controversial bill was passed with a slim majority of 153 votes in favour out of a total of 293 deputies present.
Passed by New Democracy and PASOK deputies, the bill was voted down by main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), Independent Greeks (ANEL), the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi).
SYRIZA and ANEL had requested a roll-call vote for fifteen articles, which they voted against, while former coalition partner Democratic Left (DIMAR) voted for two articles, relating to the tax exemption of troika and EU Task Force representatives residing in Greece, as well as international organisation and diplomatic corps representatives living in Greece. Within DIMAR, nine deputies voted for only one of the two articles.
PASOK deputy Paris Koukoulopoulos voted against article 81 pertaining to the dissolution of the municipal police service, while veteran politician from the same party Apostolos Kaklamanis was absent from the vote itself.
On Thursday, PASOK party spokesman Odysseas Konstantinopoulos told private TV station Mega that Koukoulopoulos "will have to explain himself, talk with the party's leader and decisions made."
"When someone is parliamentary spokesman, it is best to have cleared these issues from the start. This would be more truthful, because it expresses the party line," added the spokesman.
Asked about Kaklamanis' absence, Konstantinopoulos said he had been informed that following his speech in Parliament he felt ill and went to hospital.
 European Commission welcomes Greek vote for omnibus billBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ M. Aroni)
A spokesman for European Commissioner for economic and monetary affairs Olli Rehn on Thursday welcomed the passing in Greece of a controversial omnibus bill with measures demanded by Greece's creditors.
"We welcome the approval of the omnibus bill by the Greek Parliament, on the basis of which the agreed prior actions will be implemented," Simon O' Connor said in Brussels.
Asked whether the adoption of the bill meant that all the conditions for disbursing the next tranche of bailout loans to Greece had been fulfilled, O' Connor replied that the Commission must first carefully analyse the adoption of the omnibus bill.
In order to satisfy all the prior actions for the next tranche, the Greek government must proceed with further legislative and administrative decisions and measures in the next few days, he added.
The spokesman said that the EU-IMF troika will complete its review within the next week and make the necessary recommendations to the Eurozone member-states on whether to disburse bailout funds.
Based on the Eurogroup's decision, a total of 4.0 billion euro is expected to be disbursed for Greece in July, 2.5 billion for the European Financial Stability Fund and 1.5 billion euro in returned profits from Eurozone central banks under the Securities Markets Programme (SMP).
 PM Samaras replies to FYROM counterpart's proposalsThe solution of the issue relating to the official name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) is a matter of political will rather than process, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a reply letter to his counterpart of fYRoM Nikola Gruevski proposing the setting up of a new mechanism to resolve the name issue.
In response to an invitation for a direct meeting between the two countries' prime ministers, Samaras noted that the current process of resolving the issue, under the auspices of the United Nations, has the full support of Greece and the fact that the problem has remained unresolved for 18 years "obviously" raises doubts whether fYRoM's commitment to UN special envoy Mathew Nimetz process is "real or ostensible."
In his reply, Samaras notes that Gruevski's proposal to appoint two new negotiating groups with a political mandate did not offer "added value" to the existing process, as Greece has already provided "full political mandate" to its representative involved in the Nimitz process, in addition to having already made some indicative good will gesture - such as when it agreed on giving fYRoM the status of EU candidate member.
"So, if fYRoM had shown the same political will, political courage and desire to resolve the issue, the matter would have been settled long ago," Samaras stressed.
 Finance Ministry speeds up procedures for VAT return to enterprisesGreece's Finance Ministry is speeding up procedures for a timely VAT return to enterprises within deadlines set by the country's legislation.
In a circular to tax offices, the ministry urged all tax agencies to immediately process all VAT return applications within 120 days and warned that from September all applications with a waiting time of more than 90 days should be processed with priority, otherwise the state will be obliged to pay overdue interest.
"The appearance of significant delays does not support the credibility of the state towards enterprises," the Finance Ministry said in its circular.
Enterprises and the troika are pressing Greek authorities to speed up payment of VAT returns to the private sector in an effort to boost liquidity in the market.
 Parl't rejects SYRIZA proposal for investigation committee on ERTA proposal by main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) on setting up an investigation committee to examine the circumstances of the government's shutting down of public broadcaster?ERT?in June in order to restructure it, was rejected in Parliament on Thursday evening by 163 votes against and 84 votes for.
The proposal was rejected by the New Democracy, PASOK and Democratic Left (DIMAR) parties and supported by SYRIZA, Independent Greeks (ANEL) and Communist Party of Greece (KKE).
The Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi) party was absent from the vote.
The SYRIZA proposal, signed by its leader and 71 of its MPs, asked for a committee to be set up to examine the liabilities of "people responsible for the violent attempt to abolish ERT" and to "obstruct its operation".
On Friday, Parliament will discuss the draft law on the "New Greek Radio, Internet and Television" (NERIT).
 ERT re-organisation only possible 'from scratch', minister tells ParliamentThe government had no choice but to entirely shut down the public broadcaster ERT, Deputy Public Broadcasting Minister Pantelis Kapsis said in Parliament on Thursday, stressing that ERT's re-organisation could only have taken place "from scratch".
He also warned that the current sit-in protest at the premises of the former ERT will not be allowed to continue indefinitely and expressed fears that there was a group of trade unionists in ERT that were determined to continue occupying the premises.
"I asked them if they agree, so that the signal will not stop broadcasting from Aghia Paraskevi and, of course, they did not accept this, because there is a group that is determined to stay until the end. This will not happen," the minister underlined.
Kapsis said that the first 500 jobs in the new public broadcaster will be proclaimed in the next few days, implementing an agreement for 2,000 jobs.
"It is a mistake for public television and the employees, for all those that insist on keeping them out of this process," he stressed and claimed that in a meeting on Wednesday with representa-tives of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), they had ter-med the plan for the new broadcaster one of the best in Europe.
"I understand the reactions on the part of employees that are losing their jobs and of the parties and citizens with the 'black screen' on ERT's [frequency]. Could it have been done differently? With all the honesty of a professional, I would like to say one thing: in order for ERT to be reorganised, this had to be done from scratch," he said.
According to the deputy minister, ERT was dominated by a culture that did not recognise worth, of political intervention that culminated in a culture of indifference and a 'public-sector' ethos that was completely foreign to the mass media.
"ERT was a network of fixed structures that prevented every effort at creative work," he said.
Regarding the cost of the reorganisation and the criticism concerning lost revenues, he said that ERT's share of ad revenue was just 10 million euros or "almost nothing" and that, in reality, it was fully subsidised.
Parliament was on Thursday discussing a main opposition SYRIZA proposal for a Parliamentary probe into the circum-stances leading to the ERT's shutdown by the government in June.
On Friday, Parliament will discuss the draft law on the "New Greek Radio, Internet and Television" (NERIT).
 Former ERT employees charge gov't with 'mockery and manipulation'Former public broadcaster ERT employees in an announcement on Thursday charged the government with "mocking and pressuring" them and added the that "the only solution the government offers is use employees' consent to cover up a political mistake and to continue violating the law".
ERT employees also underlined that the article drafted by the government regarding their compensations is being used as a "carrot and stick" and the only thing that matters for the government is to control radio and television programming and information.
 Absenteeism in civil service subject to disciplinary action, Adm. Reform ministerCivil servants who are unjustifiably absent for more than eight hours per month and their supervisors, who show negligence in addressing the issue, will be facing disciplinary action as determined by the law, Administrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Thursday.
His statement followed a report by the Public Administration Internal Audit Service (SEEDD) citing specific cases found at the ministries of administrative reform, interior, culture and sports and tourism.
Commenting on the findings, Mitsotakis spoke of "a provocative relaxation" of work ethics by a small segment of civil servants and that the decision to enforce discipline "essentially recognizes the majority of responsible and hard-working employees, who are trying to carry out their duties under difficult conditions."
In response to the SEEDD report, Interior Minister Yiannis Mihelakis on Thursday issued instructions for a precautionary inspection of adherence to working hours for all interior ministry staff since the SEEDD report was based on a random sample of 68 employee time cards in one ministry service.
On Wednesday, the ministry initiated disciplinary action against six employees for extended, unjustified absenteeism and called another three to provide explanations of their actions.
 Tourism Minister urges food businesses to adjust price lists to lower VAT rateRestaurant and food-related businesses should adjust their prices immediately to agree with the new drop in the VAT tax rate, Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni said on Thursday, following the prime minister's announcement on Wednesday that it would drop from 23 pct to 13 pct.
The decision is very important for Greek tourism, she said, adding that the market must take advantage as best as possible of the temporary measure and pave the way for the possibility of retaining the rate at that level past the summer tourism season.
"This is an opportunity that must not be missed," she said. "It is up to business people to turn their statements into action and utilize the measure with a sense of responsibility and future prospects."
The lowering of the rate was a long-standing request of parties and businesses that was approved by the troika of lenders after negotiation, and as a way of boosting tourism, a major source of revenue for Greece.
 Independent Greeks propose permanent 5% VAT in tourism servicesVAT in tourism services should be lowered permanently to 5 percent, according to a proposal on Thursday by Independent Greeks (ANEL) party, presented by MP Elena Kountoura, responsible for tourism.
Kountoura said the reduction would make Greece more competitive compared to other tourist destinations in the Mediterreanean region.
Commenting on the recent announcement by the prime minister that VAT in restaurants and catering services would be reduced to 13 pct (from 23 pct) on a temporary basis, she said that "the temporary VAT reduction in food services came late. The high tourist season is coming to end and it is rather unlikely 'tourists of the last minute' will be attracted by the measure and come to Greece." She said it was "unfortunate that the government's policy in tourism is being judged, controlled, evaluated and finally approved or rejected by the troika, which is imposing on Greece a complete anti-growth policy."
 Venizelos to participate in EU FMs meeting in MajorcaGovernment Vice-President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos will travel to Majorca late on Friday, after his visit to Ankara the same day in order to participate in a European Union foreign ministers meeting on the "Future of Europe".
The meeting will focus on issues pertaining to the European integration and the institutional evolution of the EU.
 Present and former PASOK presidents meet for talks 'on all foreign policy issues'Government vice-president and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Socialist International President George Papandreou, the current and former presidents of the PASOK party, respectively, on Thursday had a meeting "on all issues of foreign policy" according to an announcement from Papandreou's office.
The two men had an in-depth discussion on issues radical developments affecting Europe, the broader Mediterranean and the Middle East, in a period with Greece is faced with an unprecedented crisis.
They also exchanged views on the dialogue underway on the need for major institutional changes in the European Union and the Eurozone and the course of Greek-Turkish relations - ahead of Venizelos' visit to Ankara on Friday - as well as developments in Arab countries and Syria.
Finally, they discussed the economy and the priorities of 'progressive' forces and the stance that PASOK will adopt toward issues concerning Greece and its course within Europe.
 Culture minister to visit Paris for talks with French minister, UNESCO Sec-GenThe return of the Parthenon Sculptures will be at the top of the agenda of his trip to France next Monday, Culture and Sports Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos said at a press conference on Thursday.
The visit will be his first trip abroad as culture minister and includes meetings with his French counterpart Aurelie Filippetti on Monday and with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on Tuesday to discuss the Parthenon sculptures. The minister said the purpose of the meeting with Bokova is to sound out the possibility that she can help in finding a solution.
He stressed that this was an effort dating back to Melina Mercouri that "unites us all and has been hailed by all governments and all culture ministry political leaderships." He said that he had already been in contact with members of an advisory committee set up for this purpose to discuss strategy and tactics.
Other issues on the agenda include the implementation of various UNESCO conventions on illegal trade in cultural artifacts, protection of intangible cultural heritage, protection of world heritage monuments and others. The minister will once again raise the issue of adding Greek monuments to the UNESCO list.
"In an era when public finances create barriers, culture can open roads. It is my decision to exercise cultural diplomacy where this is imperative and demanded by the country's interests," the minister said.
He also announced that plans were going ahead for the transfer of the culture ministry to the old Tsaousoglou factory, with the National Bank of Greece expected to present a detailed report next week and also unveiled his intention to promote a series of events dedicated to the Holocaust, in collaboration with the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and the Israeli Embassy.
 Greek shipowners pledge to support state budgetGreek shipowners on Thursday expressed their determination to support the state budget with 140 million euros annually for the next four years.
Their decision was announced during a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. The Prime Minister said this was a significant decision and praised the role of Greek shipowners underlining that the shipping sector has always supported the country's efforts.
Samaras said that 90 pct of the shipping fleet under Greek flag and a 65 pct of the fleet under foreign flag will support this effort in a first stage.
According to sources, Greek shipowners will offer immediately 75 million euros and then the Greek shipowners union will support the state budget with 140 million euros annually, for the next four years.
 Greek trade deficit sharply down in Q1, EurostatGreece's trade deficit shrank to 2.4 billion euros in the first quarter of 2013, from 4.8 billion euros in the corresponding period last year, Eurostat said on Thursday. The EU executive's statistics service, in a report published here, said the EU-27 external current account balance showed a surplus of 29.1 billion euros in the first three months of the year, after a deficit of 1.5 billion euros in the same period last year.
Germany (45.1 billion), Holland (22.6 billion), Sweden (8.0 billion) and Austria (4.7 billion) recorded the biggest trade balance among EU member-states, while the UK (18.5 billion), France (12.4 billion), Italy (5.8 billion) and Spain (3.3 billion) recorded the biggest trade deficits.
A total of 12 member-states recorded trade balances in the January-March period, while 14 recorded trade deficits and only Portugal was fully balanced.
The services sector recorded the biggest trade surplus in the EU, worth 32.4 billion euros, along with the financial services sector (8.0 billion euros), IT (5.5 billion), transport (4.8 billion), insurance services (2.4 billion), construction sector (1.9 billion) and telecoms (1.1 billion euros).
The EU's current account balance showed a surplus with the US (29 billion), Switzerland (15.9 billion), Brazil (8.1 billion) and Hong Kong (7.9 billion) and a deficit with China (25.7 billion), Russia (18 billion) and Japan (2.4 billion).
 Greece successfuly launches e-auction platform for state property assetsThe Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund on Thursday announced the official launch of its electronic auction platform with the successful auction of two state property assets.
Investors showed increased interest in the auction with bids submitted totaling 1.5 million euros. The first property is located in Kolonaki, central Athens, a architecturally preserved building which was auctioned at 1.1 million euros. The second asset, auctioned for 400,000 euros, is located in Kalamitsa beach, Kavala.
Andreas Taprantzis, the Fund's executive, said: "We are satisfied with the successful launch of this modern and fully transparent procedure of exploiting state assets through the internet".
 One in three workers in tourist enterprises uninsured, reportUninsured work is thriving during the summer period in Greece, with one in three workers in tourist enterprises uninsured, official figures showed on Thursday.
Groups of inspectors are inspecting the country's most popular tourist destinations to find cases of uninsured work in seasonal enterprises (including tavernas, bars, nightclubs, hotels, sea sports outfits and travel agencies) and imposing heavy fines on employers.
The inspecting groups made a total of 1,345 inspections in June, and found 1,680 uninsured workers of a total of 4,818. Fines imposed totalled 995,000 euros.
 Tax evasion rife in tourist destinationsTax inspections conducted by the Financial Crimes Squad in major tourist destinations around the country revealed widespread tax evasion by the vast majority of inspected enterprises and imposed heavy fines. There were 1,088 tax inspections conducted from June 15-July 15 in restaurants, aquatic sports, night clubs, rented rooms and hotels in top tourist destinations. These uncovered that 538 enterprises were guilty of tax offences.
The greatest percentages of tax offenders were found in Rhodes (84.62 pct), followed by Zakynthos (80 pct), Santorini (77.14 pct), Tinos (72.73 pct), Paros (68.18 pct), Syros (57.89 pct), Aegina (37.14 pct), Argolis (45.45 pct), Messinia (44.44 pct), Korinthia (40 pct), Mykonos (43.33 pct) and Chalkidiki (37 pct).
Tax inspection agencies are also focusing their inspections on holiday property assets in popular Greek islands, such as Paros, Antiparos, Mykonos, Paxi, etc.
 Intrasoft-led consortium wins 26-mln-euro contract in the EUA consortium led by Intrasoft International has won a contract worth 26 million euros to offer consultancy services on technical and operation level to cover the needs of the Trans-European systems (TES) of customs and taxation in the European Union.
The consortium also includes Sword Technologies and IBM Belgium. Intrasoft International's participation is expected to reach 67 pct of the project's total budget.
 Capital market approves Lambrakis Press squeeze-out planGreek capital market authority on Thursday approved a demand by Stavros Psyharis for a squeeze-out of all the shares of Lambrakis Press Organization (DOL) and set a July 25th as the last trading day for the shares in the Athens Stock Exchange.
Under the proposal, Psyharis will pay 0.64 euros per share for Lambrakis Press shares owned by Hellenic Exchanges, Clearing and Settlement and Loans and Trust Fund.
 Greek stocks extend rally for third sessionGreek stocks continued moving higher for the third consecutive session in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday, with market sentiment buoyed by the approval of an omnibus-bill in Parliament and a visit by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to Athens. Buying activity focused on bank shares, such as National Bank and Alpha Bank. The composite index of the market rose 1.71 pct to end at 846.95 points, off the day's highs of 847.54 points. Volume, however, remained at very low levels of 38.47 million euros.
The Large Cap index rose 1.37 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 1.67 pct higher. National Bank (10.33 pct), Intralot (4.70 pct), Alpha Bank (3.89 pct) and Titan (3.60 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Coca Cola HBC (1.65 pct), Jumbo (0.38 pct) and Frigoglass (0.21 pct) suffered losses.
The Bank (5.64 pct), Constructions (2.56 pct) and Telecoms (2.09 pct) sectors scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while Food (1.61 pct) and Personal Products (0.16 pct) ended lower.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 78 to 44 with another 23 issues unchanged. Forthnet (19.94 pct), Marak (19.12 pct) and Alsinco (16.67 pct) were top gainers, while Yalco (20 pct), Varvaresos (18.18 pct) and ANEK (14.29 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Oil & Gas: +1.40%
Personal & Household: -0.16%
Raw Materials: +0.15%
Travel & Leisure: +1.77%
Food & Beverages: -1.61%
Financial Services: +0.01%
The stocks with the highest turnover were OTE, Alpha Bank, Piraeus Bank, OPAP and National Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.454
Public Power Corp (PPC): 6.56
HBC Coca Cola: 19.08
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.67
National Bank of Greece: 2.67
Eurobank Properties : 6.85
Piraeus Bank: 0.98
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank further to 8.59 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, from 8.79 pct the previous day, with the Greek bond yielding 10.20 pct and the German Bund 1.51 pct. Turnover was a thin 2.0 million euros, all buy orders.
In interbank markets, interest rates were largely unchanged. The 12-month rate was 0.52 pct, the nine-month rate was 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 around its fair value in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover rising to 64.181 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 42,340 contracts worth 60.839 million euros, with 53,924 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 18,432 contracts worth 3.342 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Alpha Bank's contracts (5,509), followed by National Bank (2,418), Piraeus Bank (1,039), Eurobank (4,882), OTE (1,272), MIG (682), PPC (662), OPAP (343), GEK (307), Ellaktor (216), Intralot (325), Mytilineos (124) and Hellenic Petroleum (111).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.328
Pound sterling 0.873
Danish kroner 7.569
Swedish kroner 8.750
Japanese yen 133.19
Swiss franc 1.255
Norwegian kroner 7.971
Canadian dollar 1.384
Australian dollar 1.450
 Former minister's daughter gifts suspected 'black money' properties to Greek StateThe daughter of former minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos on Thursday presented the court with a contract that hands over to the Greek state the three properties allegedly bought with money given to her father as kickbacks for lucrative defence contacts. Tsohatzopoulos is currently in jail until the end of his trial for a kickbacks and money-laundering case.
Areti Tsohatzopoulou, through her lawyer Mihalis Dimitrakopoulos, presented the Athens Criminal Appeals Court with a notarial document that gifts the three Athens properties - one on Deinkratous Street and two on Kefallinias Street - to the Greek state.
According to Tsohatzopoulou's lawyer, his client is only interested in being able to stay in Greece with her three children and in being "absolutely up front with her fellow citizens".
 35st River Party in KastoriaThis year's music and camping-out River Party will open on July 31 by the Aliakmon River in Nestorio, near the northern city of Kastoria.
The festival, which will run to August 4, is considered one of the 12 most significant festivals in Europe. This year's roster includes 35 performers from Greece and abroad.
Its schedule is as follows:
Wednesday, July 31: Dub Inc., Sokratis Malamas, Yiannis Angelakas, Tricky Pony, Yiorgis Christodoulou, C. Roussos
Thursday, August 1: James, Tzimis Panoussis, Ypogia Revmata and Thanos Anestopoulos, Mikael Delta, Panos Mouzourakis (The Big Band Project), The Burning Sticks
Friday, August 2: Marios Frangoulis (Show Must Go On), Alkistis Protopsalti with Giorgos Perris, Yiannis Charoulis, Marietta Fafouti, Minor Project & Sma Rag Da, Steve Kis
Saturday, August 3: Vassilis Papakonstantinou, Lavrentis Macheritsas, Babis Stokas, Dimitris Starovas, Yiannis Zouganelis, Kostis Maravegias, Imam Baildi, Rous CJ Jeff
Sunday, August 4: Stelios Rokkos, Goin' Through the Band, Mikro, Olga Kouklaki Feat, Liset Alea, Banda Latiniko, Dinamiss.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailies at a glanceAVGHI: Hail Schaeuble! We who are about to die salute you!
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: Schaeuble brings new memorandum.
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Mr. Schaeuble, that's your work.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: Reduction of all taxes on the table.
ELLADA AVRIO: Military law for Schaueble's sake.
ESTIA: The antidote to unemployment.
ETHNOS: Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on VAT reduction in food services: Wager...of honour for the market.
IMERISSIA: Solution for the debt.
KATHIMERINI: Omnibus bill passed, rifts in PASOK.
LOGOS: Greece gets poorer - One of five households unable to pay its obligations.
NAFTEMPORIKI: Greek debt's sustainability will be discussed in autumn.
RIZOSPASTIS: Hands off Sunday holiday.
TA NEA: That's the 13% VAT rate , that's the wager.
VRADYNI: We are winning against all odds.
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