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Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 14-04-24

Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>

Thursday, 24 April 2014 Issue No: 4640

CONTENTS

  • [01] 2013 primary surplus reaches 3.4 bln euros, Alternate Finance Minister says
  • [02] Greece 'drawing away' from crisis, laying foundations for the future, PM says
  • [03] 'After four difficult years, Greece is back on its feet,' Stournaras says after meeting PM
  • [04] 'With the surplus and return to international markets, we exit the crisis,' Venizelos said
  • [05] DIM.AR on the primary surplus
  • [06] KKE party says primary surplus the result of 'bleeding the people'
  • [07] Greek debt relief on the table of the Euro Working Group meeting, according to sources
  • [08] SYRIZA leader says 'time for us to take fortunes in our hands'
  • [09] SYRIZA's Tsipras continues his tour of the island of Crete
  • [10] FM Venizelos meets with Georgian Foreign Minister
  • [11] Health minister underlines determination to complete health-sector reforms
  • [12] MERS coronavirus poses no threat for Greece, Health minister says
  • [13] Parliament president responds to judges on immunity-lifting procedures for Golden Dawn MPs
  • [14] Draft e-justice law to Council of State for processing
  • [15] Justice ministry releases draft law on UN enforced disappearance convention
  • [16] KKE on the social dividend criteria
  • [17] Egyptian delegation appealing for support of democracy begins European tour in Athens
  • [18] KfW to participate in Greek investment fund with 100 mln euros
  • [19] Startup businesses should be supported, Public Revenues secretary general says
  • [20] Some 312,000 'social dividend' applications filed so far, 39 pct of requests approved
  • [21] Sentiment stabilising in Greece, GfK Europe survey shows
  • [22] Greek Chambers Union head urges for termination of austerity and return to growth
  • [23] Greece slides 10 places in global Networked Readiness Index (NRI) in 2014
  • [24] Gov't mulls improvements in social dividend policy
  • [25] Greek fiscal deficit at 12.7 pct of GDP in 2013, Eurostat
  • [26] Labour Minister Vroutsis to address a conference on Thursday
  • [27] Shipping Ministry holds meeting on LNG use by coastal navigation ships
  • [28] Greek stocks end 2.42 pct lower
  • [29] Greek bond market closing report
  • [30] ADEX closing report
  • [31] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday
  • [32] 2014 concerts and music festivals in Athens and Thessaloniki
  • [33] Onassis Cultural Centre's 'Fast Forward Festival' brings digital theatre to Athens
  • [34] IN-EDIT International Music Documentary Festival starts in Thessaloniki
  • [35] Local mayor visits tourists injured in firecracker accident during Easter celebrations
  • [36] 16 Chinese couples to be group married on Crete are welcomed by Tourism minister, Chinese ambassador
  • [37] The Greek Army celebrates its patron Saint George
  • [38] Dutch journalists celebrate Easter on Mount Athos peninsula
  • [39] ThessISMUN conference opens in Thessaloniki
  • [40] Coastguard to be supplied with six new patrol vessels
  • [41] Overcast on Thursday
  • [42] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies Politics

  • [01] 2013 primary surplus reaches 3.4 bln euros, Alternate Finance Minister says

    Greece's primary surplus totalled 3.4 billion euros in 2013 (excluding the financial support offered to banks), Alternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said on Wednesday.

    The primary surplus figure was based on Eurostat's methodology, while the troika estimates this figure at 1.5 billion euros.

    Greece's primary surplus in 2013 amounted to 1.5 billion euros, corresponding to 0.8 percent of the country's GDP, a European Commission spokesperson said in Brussels.

    The general government's deficit for 2012 and 2013, based on the European Account System (ESA 95), excluding the impact from supporting Greek banks, fell below budget provisions, with the shortfall totaling 3.8 billion euros in 2013 or 2.1 pct of the country's GDP, a figure below the average rate both in Europe and the Eurozone, the Finance ministry said on Wednesday.

    In a report, the ministry noted that the general government's primary surplus, based on ESA 95, excluding the impact from supporting Greek banks, totaled 3.4 billion euros in 2013. The primary surplus, based on the framework of an Economic Policy Program, is estimated at 1.5 billion euros, higher than the programme's provisions for zero surplus and surpassing budget provisions for a surplus of 812 million euros.

    The report stressed that according to a recent report by Hellenic Statistical Authority on measuring primary budget balance, in the framework of an Economic Policy Program, a series of spending and proceeds were addressed differently from recording of fiscal data when presented by Hellenic Statistical Authority and Eurostat. Such spending or proceeds are, for example, revenues from privatization of assets, spending on transactions related with a recapitalization of banks and proceeds from money transfer related with Eurozone central banks' income from their portfolio in Greek state bonds.

    Staikouras said that troika's estimate was fully compatible with the government's decision to distribute a social dividend, repay overdue debt to the private sector and reducing non-wage cost in the country. Earlier, Eurostat said that the general government's deficit totalled 12.7 pct of GDP in 2013, while excluding the financial support to banks, the deficit was 2.1 pct of GDP.

    Eurostat said that the general government's deficit totalled 23.109 billion euros in 2013, which excluding the financial support offered to banks led to a primary surplus of 3.4 billion euros, a figure fully aligned with data released by Hellenic Statistical Authority in April 14.

    The general government's debt totalled 318.703 billion euros, while the country's Gross Domestic Product totalled 182.054 billion euros in 2013. Financial support offered to Greek banks totalled 19.272 billion euros in 2013.

    [02] Greece 'drawing away' from crisis, laying foundations for the future, PM says

    Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Wednesday underlined that the country "was gradually drawing away from the crisis and laying the founda-tions for the future of a new Greece," commenting on the confirmation of the country's primary surplus by Eurostat.

    "Today's formal announcement of the surplus confirms the great turnaround achieved by Greece's economy, thanks to the sacrifices of the Greek people," the prime minister noted.

    [03] 'After four difficult years, Greece is back on its feet,' Stournaras says after meeting PM

    "After four very difficult years, Greece is back on its feet and we now look to the future with much greater optimism," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said on Wednesday, as he left a meeting with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

    "Everything else, as you know, is arranged via the agreements we have made," he added, when asked whether the 'countdown' had begun for a haircut of Greece's debt.

    "The discussion will begin and we will see when this will end. What matters is that we achieved a primary surplus, that we are doing very well. That's what matters," he said.

    He also declined to give reporters any details regarding Greece's proposals, replying: "We will see."

    [04] 'With the surplus and return to international markets, we exit the crisis,' Venizelos said

    Government vice-president and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Wednesday underlined that Eurostat's announcement on the primary surplus confirmed the great achievement of the Greek people, which is the result of their big sacrifices.

    "With the surplus and the country's return to the international markets we exit the crisis and return to normalcy. However, some are saddened instead of being happy," he underlined, adding that "Greece is exiting the crisis, the fiscal deficit is impressively low and the next step is to make the Greek debt's sustainability official".

    [05] DIM.AR on the primary surplus

    Opposition Democratic Left (DIM.AR) on Wednesday recognized the usefulness and necessity of a primary surplus while noting that it should be based on policies that promote economic growth and not on excessive taxes, public spending cuts, recession-causing measures and creative accounting.

    As regards the allocation of the surplus, DIM.AR underlined that its distribution should not be based on attracting votes and that the goals should be economic growth, combating unemployment and exiting memorandum-imposed austerity policies.

    [06] KKE party says primary surplus the result of 'bleeding the people'

    The Communist Party of Greece (KKE), in an announcement on Wednesday on the state budget's primary surplus ratification by Eurostat for 2013, stressed that "the primary surplus is the result of bleeding the people that will continue with the prolonged memorandums and the EU's supervision apparatuses. This truth is being hidden from the Greek people by both the government - with promises for the so-called alleviation of the debt that will supposedly relieve the people - and by the other parties of the EU that defend this reactionary structure and acknowledge the debt".

    [07] Greek debt relief on the table of the Euro Working Group meeting, according to sources

    The Finance ministry is expected to raise the issue of launching the debate over the Greek debt relief, even on a technical level, during the Euro Working Group meeting on Thursday in Brussels, according to sources.

    The government considers that the circumstances are favourable for Greece, as the meeting will be held a day after the ratification of the 2013 primary surplus (seen at 3.4 billion euros, according to the Eurostat or 1.5 billion euros, according to the troika) by Eurostat.

    The Euro Working Group will also prepare the agenda for the Eurogroup on May 5, during which Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is expected to make a political intervention on the issue of debt relief based on the decision of the Eurogroup on November 27, 2012, given that the government considers that Greece meets all the conditions to start the debate on the debt such as meeting 90 percent of the targets of the programme.

    Besides, according to government officials, the approval by the Euro Working Group of the 6.3 billion euro tranche to Greece will certify that the country has met around 90 percent of the targets.

    During the Euro Working Group, the Greek side is also expected to present a four-page memo on the main issues of the development plan for the Greek economy, which was finalized on Tuesday.

    [08] SYRIZA leader says 'time for us to take fortunes in our hands'

    Main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, addressing an open rally in the southeastern city of Ierapetra, on the Aegean island of Crete, on Wednesday evening stressed that "it is time for lies to come to an end. It is time for us to take (our) fortunes in our hands. It is time for us to change the status quo. Let us look at the truth straight in the eyes".

    Speaking on his campaign tour of Crete, Tsipras accused prime minister Antonis Samaras "and his buddies" of "representing anomaly, they are pursuing anomaly, they are conveying anomaly, from the heights of institutions to the last Greek home and anomaly in parliamentary procedures" and spoke of "prolonged anomaly".

    He also said that Crete will bring the great change and spoke of "opening doors and windows to the sun of a new Greece".

    Tsipras concluded by saying "we have great courage - we shall not fold before any powerful person, local or foreign. We have great possibilities -experience, knowledge, maturity, a sense of responsibility. We have self-knowledge - we know and we proclaim that we are not saviours and that without the active participation and intervention of the people, no change can take place".

    Responding to the speech, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said that "political anomaly is expressed by him who attempts to undermine stability in his country, which is recovering, and he is delirious because he is not succeeding".

    [09] SYRIZA's Tsipras continues his tour of the island of Crete

    Main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, currently on a tour of the southern Aegean island of Crete, lashed out at the government and its policies during his visit to the city of Lasithi on Wednesday saying that "the masks are off. We have to stop the disaster".

    Accompanied by SYRIZA candidates in the forthcoming local administration and European elections, he noted that his party has a vision and has drawn up an economic growth programme for Crete that will turn it into a key player in the reorganisation of the country's production sector.

    Tsipras launched his tour of the island from Neapoli and later met with local authorities in Agios Nikolaos. Afterward, he visited the Sitia Hospital, where he met with representatives of its staff and local people.

    [10] FM Venizelos meets with Georgian Foreign Minister

    Government Vice-President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos on Wednesday met with Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze.

    The Georgian minister acknowledged the good living conditions that 150,000 Georgians enjoy in Greece and thanked the country for the support it offers Georgia in fulfilling its Euroatlantic aspirations.

    Venizelos expressed the hope that it would be possible for Georgia and the EU to sign an association agreement during Greece's EU presidency and pointed out that the procedure of the Geneva agreement on Ossetia and Abkhazia would continue.

    Regarding Ukraine, Venizelos stressed that Athens was in favour of the de-escalation of the tension and the respect of the relevant Geneva agreement. He added that the Greek government recommended that companies operating in this country to remain there and said he was in favour of an international conference to address the economic crisis in Ukraine, in addition to the agreement with the IMF.

    [11] Health minister underlines determination to complete health-sector reforms

    Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis on Wednesday underlined his determination to complete healthcare sector reforms, stressing that the goal was "to put effective primary healthcare into action within the next two years and prove the 'Cassandras' wrong."

    The minister announced that 73 health centres had already been included in the phone appointment system and 100 units were now in operation, according to plan. He promised that current shortages in doctors will be covered by filling 900 positions for assistant medical staff, chiefly in regional and island units.

    The next step, according to Georgiadis, will be the hiring of 1,000 family doctors that will form the 'backbone' of the new healthcare PEDY system, freeing hospitals from providing primary healthcare, and of 700 rural doctors.

    The minister was attending an offer of free medication for the uninsured, mainly cancer drugs, by the pharmaceutical firm Roche. The firm will provide 11,500 units worth a total of 2.0 million euros to hospitals and to pharmacies operated by the Athens Medical Association (ISA) and Association of Pharmaceutical Enterprises of Greece (SFEE).

    "We have no problem accepting such offers from private firms and praising this initiative," Georgiadis said.

    The minister reported that the total number of uninsured individuals in Greece, currently estimated at 1.9-2.4 million, will have been fully recorded with the help of the 'Atlas' system in three weeks time, adding that providing healthcare access for this group was the greatest wager faced by the government, which has to find a solution by June.

    He announced that 13 million euros returned to state coffers from the uncovering of arms procurements kickbacks and bribery scandals will be used to fund non-emergency surgery for the uninsured, since emergency surgeries were already covered. He also clarified that the five-euro charge in hospitals and the one-euro charge for each prescription will not be paid by those with no state insurance coverage.

    [12] MERS coronavirus poses no threat for Greece, Health minister says

    Greece has absolutely no reason to fear the spread of MERS coronavirus, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis said congratulating the Centre for the Control and Prevention of Diseases (KEELPNO) which immediately took measures to avoid spreading.

    At the same time, KEELPNO is reassuring, as the test results of the taxi driver who transported the patient and those who came in contact with the 69-year-old patient are negative.

    KEELPNO was also praised for its immediate reaction by the World Health Organisation. According to KEELPNO, the MERS coronavirus is not only a European issue, but a global threat, while Greece is considered a gateway for the virus.

    [13] Parliament president responds to judges on immunity-lifting procedures for Golden Dawn MPs

    Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis on Wednesday addressed a letter to Athens Court of Appeals prosecutors Ioanna Klapa-Christodoulea and Maria Dimitropoulou-Andreadou confirming that the parliamentary procedure set in motion in response to pending requests for the lifting of the immunity of ultra-right Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi) MPs will be completed.

    While it was not made clear whether the request procedure would be completed before the forthcoming local government and European Parliament elections (on May 18 and 25), Meimarakis pointed out that when Parliament suspends its proceedings for the elections, the deadline for decisions that need to be made by the body is also moved to a later date.

    Responding to a letter by the prosecutors, who voiced concern over the statute of limitations in the case, Meimarakis said that "it is self-evident that Parliament will complete the procedure for the remaining MPs and in each case you will be notified of the outcome".

    [14] Draft e-justice law to Council of State for processing

    Justice Minister Haralambos Athanassiou on Wednesday submitting a draft presidential decree for the electronic submission of legal cases to the Court of Audit to the fifth section of the Council of State, Greece's supreme administrative court, for legal evaluation and processing.

    Similar e-justice legislations for cases before the criminal, civil and administrative courts already exists.

    Based on the draft legislation, the president of the Court of Audit will decide on the date at which the legislation will go into effect and the electronic submission of cases, issue of certificates and other documents will begin.

    [15] Justice ministry releases draft law on UN enforced disappearance convention

    The Justice ministry has raised for public consultation a draft law ratifying the UN's International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

    As is stressed in the bill, the crime of the enforced (violent) disappearance of children, adults, and others constitutes a crime against humanity, while at the same time no one may be subject to enforced disappearance or secret detention.

    Moreover, absolutely no extraordinary circumstances, whether "a state of war, or threat of war, internal political instability or whatever other public urgent need" could be used as an excuse for enforced disappearance, according to the UN convention.

    [16] KKE on the social dividend criteria

    Opposition Communist Party of Greece (KKE) on Wednesday commented on the criteria set by the government for sharing out the social dividend, or the section of Greece's primary surplus returned to the more vulnerable groups in society as a one-off benefit.

    According to KKE, "the government-set criteria for the distribution of the so-called social dividend - which has resulted from bloodsucking practices targeting the people - exclude tens of thousands of unemployed, low pension recipients and other vulnerable groups that live in conditions of poverty."

    [17] Egyptian delegation appealing for support of democracy begins European tour in Athens

    A 17-member delegation from Egypt began its European tour on Wednesday with Athens as the first stop, with the aim of providing a briefing on the situation prevailing in the country.

    At a press conference held at the Egyptian embassy on Wednesday afternoon, representatives of Egyptian parties, the press and of culture appealed to Greece and Europe on behalf of the people of Egypt for support in the process of Egypt's democratisation, in light of the impending presidential and then parliamentary elections.

    Egypt, as was stressed by all speakers, must be independent and not subject to the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood or of the dissension it has spread between Christians and Muslims.

    The Egyptian delegation will continue its briefing tour in Germany and Switzerland, while a second delegation will travel to France, Holland and Austria for the same purpose.

    Financial News

    [18] KfW to participate in Greek investment fund with 100 mln euros

    An agreement between Greece' s Development ministry and KfW for setting up a Hellenic investment fund was of great importance for attracting investments and reviving the investment climate in the country, Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said on Wednesday.

    "The Greek economy and the Greek society suffered heavily in the last four years, but we managed to achieve our goals and sooner than expected. The economy has stabilised, we see the first signs of growth and now we seek more liquidity," Stournaras said, adding that this agreement was contributing to efforts to offer greater liquidity in the Greek economy. "The amount of capital may not sound very large, but it will be a catalyst. It is a sign of trust from the German government and will be a catalyst for attracting more capital from private investors," Stournaras said, noting it was important to attract capital for direct investments in the country from the private sector.

    The FinMin said that the government and the Prime Minister will soon unveil a study on a new development model. "What we are working on now is a hypertotal of three studies, which will be presented by the prime minister in the next few days."

    Earlier, Greek authorities signed an agreement with German bank KfW for its participation in funding an Institution for Growth in Greece, IfG, with 100 million euros. The Fund will offer capital to Greek banks to finance Greek small- and medium-sized enterprises with favorable terms. It will also offer capital support to SMEs by participating in their equity capital and will also finance infrastructure projects which are not directly covered by European Investment Bank's programs.

    The Fund will operate under the EU's legislation, with private-sector criteria and one of its basic goals is to be a profitable entity and to offer returns to its shareholders. It will be funded with three types of capital: money from the national leg of Public Investments Program and Structural Funds, direct funding or guarantees from development banks and finally money from private investors. The Fund's board will include representatives from its founders (Greek government, KfW, EIB, CDC/BPI, Onassis Foundation) while the Greek side will not have majority control.

    A survey by Oliver Wyman showed that the Greek market presents a significant gap in funding, particularly for small- and medium-sized enterprises, a gap valued at 15-18 billion euros.

    European Investment Bank is expected to sign a memorandum of cooperation for its participation in the Greek Fund, while the Onassis Foundation has already signed a similar agreement, with a participation of up to 30 million euros.

    [19] Startup businesses should be supported, Public Revenues secretary general says

    The state should support startup businesses, Public Revenues secretary general Haris Theoharis said at an event organized by business website www.EMEA.gr.

    At a time when Greek startups are praised, Theoharis referred to the way Finance Ministry is dealing with the creative revolution of the Greek entrepreneurship and the intentions of the government's economic staff to support the entrepreneurs' and investors' community.

    He said startups should be supported even if that offers them an advantage compared to other businesses, as this kind of companies help fight unemployment as opposed to established companies that simply offer structures instead of creating new jobs.

    Theoharis pointed out that startups in Greece face four problems: bureaucracy and everyday "obstacles" posed by the public administration, lack of infrastructure, insurance status, and taxation. The Secretary General said more steps could be taken to ease the taxation burden on new companies, whereas in relation to bureaucracy certain regulation has been put forward to facilitate their operation.

    He said that the government's economic staff was considering among others the exemption of businesses with a turnover of up to 25,000 euros from VAT payment.

    Theoharis had the opportunity to discuss with young entrepreneurs and to answer their questions regarding their experiences and the problems they have faced, such as the non-refund of VAT payments, the taxation of their cooperation with foreign professionals or of the use of virtual offices.

    [20] Some 312,000 'social dividend' applications filed so far, 39 pct of requests approved

    Authorities have approved 39 percent of the applications filed for the so-called "social dividend", according to the latest data by the General Secretariat of Information Systems.

    Some 312,000 applications have been filed so far, 70,000 of which -- amounting to 45 million euros -- have been provisionally approved, 111,000 were rejected while the filing process of 132,000 requests has not been concluded yet.

    Citizens eligible for the so-called "social dividend", or section of Greece's primary surplus returned to the more vulnerable groups in society as a one-off benefit application, can file their applications until the end of June.

    The dividend will start from 500 euros per beneficiary and could exceed 1,000 euros in the case of families with many children.

    Those who will file an application by the end of April will see the one-off benefit credited to their bank accounts by May 10.

    [21] Sentiment stabilising in Greece, GfK Europe survey shows

    Consumer confidence in Greece was stabilising but at a very low level, according to the results of the GfK Consumer Climate survey for Europe in the first quarter of 2014, released on Wednesday.

    Economic expectations currently stand at -24.6 points, a GfK press release reported. This means an increase of just under 7 points since the end of last year and of over 12 points since March 2013. The indicator is therefore at its highest level in three years.

    There was also a further rise in income expectations in March to -29.3 at present, the highest level since February 2010. However, in February, there was a fresh slide in the indicator to -38.1 points. In December, the figure was at -33.1 points.

    However, Greeks were still far from wanting to make any larger purchases. The relevant indicator stood at -26.1 points. This means an increase of just under 5 points in relation to the end of last year. In March 2013, the indicator was just a little lower at -30.3 points.

    GfK, presenting the results for 14 European countries, said that economic recovery appears to be picking up momentum in the EU as a whole, with experts forecasting a 1.3 pct rise in GDP for all 28 EU member-states in 2014 after a negligible increase of just 0.1 pct for the whole of 2013.

    GDP in most of the EU countries covered grew both against the previous quarter and against the previous year, except in crisis-hit Greece and Italy. This trend was reflected in the Consumer Climate index for the EU, which gained a total of 0.8 points in the first quarter of 2014 and currently stands at 8.4 points.

    [22] Greek Chambers Union head urges for termination of austerity and return to growth

    The head of the Central Chambers Union Constantine Michalos on Wednesday urged for a policy change marking the end of austerity and the turn to growth.

    "Our partners will need to be convinced that the immediate priority is implementing a new programme for the Greek debt relief and not simply open up the debate and postpone indefinitely the issue. And of course the Greek government should immediately begin implementing development measures, starting with the introduction of incentives initially for the survival and then the development of entrepreneurship," he said regarding Eurostat's announcement on the Greek deficit and debt.

    According to Michalos, the European Statistical Authority confirmed the data provided by the Greek Statistics Authority and the presumption of a primary surplus of around 3.4 billion euros as a result of the primary deficit data, excluding the amounts channeled to the banks.

    He added this development was the first step towards the final settlement of the Greek debt sustainability issue.

    In order to achieve a debt reduction, Michalos noted, the country's European partners need to take specific decisions -- such as reducing interest rates and extending the repayments schedule -- but also the Greek government needs to prepare and implement a national plan of developmental reconstruction.

    "We need a new stable tax regime, with reasonable rates for businesses, we need to solve the problem of companies' overdue insurance fees, to change the attitude of financial institutions regarding the provision of liquidity to companies," Michalos said. He also underlined the need to target specific areas for development, such as the primary sector, energy, tourism, shipping, education, health and above all productive SME entrepreneurship.

    [23] Greece slides 10 places in global Networked Readiness Index (NRI) in 2014

    Greece has slipped 10 places to 74th position in the global Networked Readiness Index (NRI) rankings, according to the World Economic Forum's global survey in 148 countries, published in its Global Information Technology Report 2014. Greece had ranked 64th in the 2013 GITR, which was conducted among 144 countries, though slightly improving its overall score from 3.9 in 2013 to 3.95 in the 2014 report.

    The findings of the report were presented in Athens on Wednesday by the Federation of Hellenic ICT Enterprises (SEPE), which noted that Greece, despite slipping in the global rankings, had shown improvements in several areas. This was not sufficient, however, to reverse a steady downward trend since 2007, during which the country has consistently lost ground from its best-ever ranking of 48th among 122 countries and an overall score of 4, especially in terms of adopting innovations and reforms with the help of new technologies.

    WEF analysts note that Greece, even though it has slipped several positions in the rankings, is showing a slow but steady improvement in a series of subindexes making up the NRI. This includes a rise to 87th place, two higher than in 2013, for the environment subindex and a rise to 82nd place (from 90th place in 2013) for the impact subindex. Conversely, it slipped to 63rd place (from 47th in 2013) for the readiness subindex and 68th from 67th in 2013 for the usage subindex. Greece also did well in terms of Infrastructure and Digital Content, ranking 40th with a score of 5, and in terms of business environment, especially the number of steps required to start a business, where Greece ranks 34th with a score of 5. The country is doing especially well in terms of broadband penetration, where it stands at 27th place, though not on affordability of mobile cellular tariffs (137th).

    Less impressive are the results in terms of the political and regulatory environment, where Greece barely scrapes into 114th position, or in the quality of the educational system (112th position), while it occupies one of the lowest positions worldwide in terms of venture capital availability (146th) or government procurement of advanced technology products (141st), as well as government success in ICT promotion (140th). Performance is also poor in terms of the impact of ICT on new products and services (129th position) or ICT use for B2B transactions (107th).

    [24] Gov't mulls improvements in social dividend policy

    The government wants to allocate the full amount of 525 million euros, which is the social dividend coming from the primary surplus, and as soon as possible, according to a senior Finance ministry official.

    The same official did not rule out any improvements after the deadline of June 30th in case an amount remains unallocated due to exceptions.

    According to sources, the Finance ministry is considering two options: either to increase by 500 euros the income threshold of 6,000 euros or take into account the tax declarations submitted by citizens for 2014 in addition to 2013.

    Authorities have approved 39 percent of the applications filed for the social dividend, according to the latest data by the General Secretariat of Information Systems.

    Some 345,000 applications have been filed so far, 85,000 of which -- amounting to 65 million euros -- have been provisionally approved, 130,000 were rejected while the filing process of 130,000 requests has not been concluded yet.

    [25] Greek fiscal deficit at 12.7 pct of GDP in 2013, Eurostat

    BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/Maria Aroni)

    Greece's fiscal deficit was 12.7 pct of GDP in 2013, while the country's public debt totaled 175.1 pct of GDP, Eurostat said on Wednesday.

    The EU executive's statistics agency, in a report released here a few hours before the official announcement of a report on Greece's primary surplus for 2013, said that the fiscal deficit figures included Eurostat's estimates of a sum earmarked for the support of Greek banks.

    [26] Labour Minister Vroutsis to address a conference on Thursday

    Labour Minister Yiannis Vroutsis will address the annual conference of the Greek People Management Association, HR FORUM 14, which will take place on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 9.00 am, at the Grande Bretagne hotel, according to a ministry announcement.

    [27] Shipping Ministry holds meeting on LNG use by coastal navigation ships

    The Shipping and Aegean Ministry wants to lead the way in the innovative use of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) as fuel by coastal navigation passenger ships, which can contribute to lowering their operational costs, while at the same time stimulating coastal navigation industry's competitiveness.

    That was the comment offered by Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis after the end of a ministry consultation on Wednesday about the introduction of LNG on passenger ships, a meeting which among other issues centred around the financing possibilities of such LNG projects.

    Many stakeholders of the LNG market participated in the consultation, including Pireaus Bank, the Pireaus Port Authority (OLP), the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Poseidon Med, Qatar Energy and Kopelouzos Group. Apart from the minister himself, officials from all the ministry's relevant directorates also participated in the consultation. All participants confirmed their willingness to promote the usage of LNG on coastal navigation passenger ships.

    The participants in the consultation set the central target of having at least one coastal navigation passenger ship use LNG in the coming two years.

    Varvitsiotis stressed that such LNG usage will ultimately benefit the consumer, while also being in harmony with the European strategy for the reduction of pollutants' emission and the usage of environmentally-friendly fuels. He noted this "is also consistent with the National Energy Strategy and the development of the natural gas pipelines", adding that the ministry is actively working on the abolition of bureaucratic hurdles to the LNG project.

    [28] Greek stocks end 2.42 pct lower

    Greek stocks came under strong selling pressure, to end significantly lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, reversing a three-day rally which pushed the composite index of the market 6.21 pct higher. The index ended 2.42 pct down, at 1,230.20 points.

    Analysts said news that Eurostat's ratification of a Greek primary budget surplus in 2013, paving the way for a discussion in a restructuring of the Greek debt, has been discounted by the market which was now focusing on forthcoming share capital increase plans announced by banks and on new bond issues which were absorbing a significant part of liquidity from the market.

    Turnover remained a strong 115.02 million euros. The Large Cap index fell 2.60 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 1.34 pct lower. All blue chip stocks ended lower, led by Jumbo (6.13 pct), National Bank (4.09 pct), Piraeus Bank (3.95 pct) and Intralot (3.67 pct). The Media sector was the only one to end higher (2.23 pct), while Insurance (5.13 pct), Personal Products (4.82 pct) and Raw Materials (3.12 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.

    Broadly, decliners led advancers by 87 to 34, with another 20 issues unchanged. Mouzakis (21.01 pct), Perseus (19.76 pct) and Ideal (14.79 pct) were top gainers, while Kyriakoulis (26.95 pct), Geniki Bank (18.08 pct) and Varvaressos (14.69 pct) were top losers.

    Sector indices ended as follows:

    Banks: -2.86%

    Insurance: -5.13%

    Financial Services: -2.75%

    Industrial Products: -1.68%

    Commercial: -0.74%

    Real Estate: -3.01%

    Personal & Household: -4.82%

    Food & Beverages: -2.79%

    Raw Materials: -3.12%

    Construction: -2.29%

    Oil: -2.27%

    Chemicals: -1.00%

    Media: +2.23%

    Travel & Leisure: -1.14%

    Technology: -0.98%

    Telecoms: -2.93%

    Utilities: -1.22%

    Health: -2.81%

    The stocks with the highest turnover were Piraeus Bank, Alpha Bank, OPAP and OTE.

    Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:

    Alpha Bank: 0.67

    Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.35

    Coca Cola HBC: 17.93

    Hellenic Petroleum: 6.40

    National Bank of Greece: 3.05

    Eurobank Properties : 8.32

    OPAP: 11.60

    OTE: 11.25

    Piraeus Bank: 1.70

    Titan: 22.35

    [29] Greek bond market closing report

    The yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds was 4.5 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, with the Greek bond yielding 6.02 pct and the German Bund yielding 1.52 pct. Turnover was a moderate 17 million euros, of which 13 million were sell orders and the remaining 4.0 million euros were buy orders.

    In interbank markets, interest rates were almost unchanged. The 12-month rate was 0.606 pct, the nine-month rate was 0.516 pct, the six-month rate was 0.432 pct, the three-month rate was 0.332 pct and the one-month rate was 0.253 pct.

    [30] ADEX closing report

    The June contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading at a premium of 0.06 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover remaining a low 15.484 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totalled 5,017 contracts worth 9.978 million euros, with 50,918 open positions in the market.

    Volume in futures contracts on equities totalled 12,064 contracts worth 5.506 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Eurobank's contracts (2,890), followed by Alpha Bank (1,914), Piraeus Bank (2,002), National Bank (597), OTE (1,499), PPC (928), OPAP (889), Mytilineos (284), GEK (192), MIG (178), Intralot (80) and Frigoglass (82).

    [31] Foreign Exchange rates - Thursday

    Reference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:

    U.S. dollar 1.404

    Pound sterling 0.836

    Danish kroner 7.578

    Swedish kroner 9.219

    Japanese yen 143.58

    Swiss franc 1.238

    Norwegian kroner 8.395

    Canadian dollar 1.547

    Australian dollar 1.512

    General News

    [32] 2014 concerts and music festivals in Athens and Thessaloniki

    Big names in music industry head to Athens and Thessaloniki for this summer's concerts. ANA-MPA provides dates and information of the biggest concerts and festivals for summer 2014.

    - Gogol Bordello, May 8. A Gypsy punk band known for theatrical stage shows comes for two concerts in Athens and Thessaloniki. The band incorporates accordion and violin mixed with punk and dub.

    - Pink Martini, May 17, Gazi, Athens. The well-known musical group whose music combines genres such as classical, latin, jazz and classic pop.

    - Moonspell, May 24. The Portuguese heavy metal band comes to Greece for one concert at Stage Volume 1, Monastiraki.

    - Thievery Corporation, June 17. Live in Athens and Thessaloniki for two concerts on the occasion of the release of their new album "Depth of my Soul".

    - En Lefko Festival, June 20, 21, Technopolis, Gazi. The festival includes big names: Simple Minds, Karuan & Band, Mike Simonetti (Italians Do It Better), Bottin, Egg Hell, Boy George, Gramatik, Nick Waterhouse, Aeroplane and Alex Gopher.

    - Bob Dylan, June 23. After four years, Bob Dylan returns to Greece to give two unique concerts in Athens (Terra Vibe) and Thessaloniki.

    - Ejekt Festival, June 25, Athens. The Ejekt Festival completes 10 years of continuous presence in 2014. Big names of the musical industry such as White Lies, Editors and Paul Kalkbrenner will participate.

    - Rockwave Festival, July 10, 11, 12, 13. The Festival will take place at Terra Vibe. Eric Burdon, Calexico, Joey Burns, John Convertino and Woodkid are among the names to participate.

    - James, July 15, Theatro Vrahon, Vyronas. The James will present their new album "La Petite Mort" as well as big hits from their entire discography.

    - Placebo, August 8. The Placebo will visit Greece for a single concert at the Stadium of Peace and Friendship as part of his world tour for their latest album "Loud Like Love".

    - Lady Gaga, September 19, OAKA. The American eccentric singer Lady Gaga will visit Athens as part of the world tour Lady Gaga's artRAVE.

    [33] Onassis Cultural Centre's 'Fast Forward Festival' brings digital theatre to Athens

    Cutting-edge theatre and dance in the digital era will be brought to Athens via the Onassis Cultural Centre's 'Fast Forward Festival' (FFF), with six performances that combine live performances with electronic media held between April 27 and May 11.

    The venues will range from the Centre's 'Hellenic Cosmos' building to the actual streets of Athens, kicking off with an interactive work of "documentary theatre" by the avant garde group Rimini Protokoll called "Situation Rooms", where the audience activates the results of a survey conducted by Rimini Protokoll on the lives of those affected by battles on various continents via ipad. This is spread out in 20 rooms at the 'Hellenic Cosmos' building and will run from April 27 until May 3.

    Starting on May 2 and running until May 11, Dutch director's Dries Verhoeven "No Man's Land" gives a new meaning to the term street theatre via a peripatetic performance that takes its audience on a journey through the lives of 20 economic migrants and political refugees, who will act as their guides in a roughly 40-minute walk through Athens, starting at Monastiraki Station.

    Jerusalem (2013) by the important Flemish theatre company, Berlin, is both a performance-film and a visual installation. The work, shown in Athens on May 2-3, which its creators define as a "portrait of a city", is based on a singular combining of videos shot in Jerusalem?from the Wailing Wall to the Palestinian camps?and interviews with its inhabitants: Jews, Muslims and Christians.

    On May 2 and May 4 there will be screenings of the filmed 'nanodance' performance "Kiss and Cry" by Belgian choreographer Michelle Anne de Mey and film-maker Jaco Van Dormael.

    On May 4-5, Lebanese actor, director and artist Rabih Mroue will present a performance entitled 'Pixelated Revolution' based on events in Syria, using video footage of people recording their own deaths, while at 9:00 on both nights he will also present a performance based on the civil war in Lebanon entitled 'Riding on a Cloud'.

    Parallel to the FFF, there will be lectures and an international symposium on May 5-6 on "Media, Politics, Performance: the role of Intermedial Theatre in the Public Space".

    More information on each of the events is available on the Onassis Cultural Centre website www.sgt.gr

    [34] IN-EDIT International Music Documentary Festival starts in Thessaloniki

    One of the biggest music documentaries festivals in the world, "IN-EDIT: International Music Documentary Film Festival", opens on Wednesday with the Oscar-awarded "20 Feet from Stardom" documentary in Thessaloniki.

    IN-EDIT International Music Documentary Festival is organised in Greece for the first time since its inception in Barcelona in 2003; its goal is to bring together music documentaries producers and promote connections. It has so far been held in many cities around the world - including Berlin, Barcelona, Sao Paolo, Santiago, Bogota and Buenos Aires - while it has evolved into a global event.

    The festival will run at the northern city's Olympion theatre until April 27. Daily screenings begin at 2:00 p.m. and run to 11:00 p.m.

    [35] Local mayor visits tourists injured in firecracker accident during Easter celebrations

    The tourists, who were airlifted from Santorini to Venizelio Hospital in Iraklio on the southern Aegean island of Crete after being injured by a homemade firecracker thrown in a church yard during Easter celebrations last Saturday, were visited by the local mayor on Wednesday.

    He was briefed by attendant doctors on their condition and spoke with them, expressing regret for the accident.

    Three US citizens and a Greek national were airlifted to Venizelio Hospital soon after the incident, while another Greek and two Cypriots were slightly injured. Five individuals were arrested in connection with the case.

    [36] 16 Chinese couples to be group married on Crete are welcomed by Tourism minister, Chinese ambassador

    Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni on Wednesday welcomed 16 Chinese couples on board "Elyros" passenger ship at Piraeus who are sailing to Chania, on the Aegean island of Crete, to get group married.

    In her message to the couples - who are escorted by another 32 Chinese couples intending to get married, 56 relatives and a 20-strong group of journalists - Kefalogianni suggested that the message they should convey to China when they return home is, "Greece is a safe and hospitable country which can offer unforgettable, unique experiences. It is a place with inexhaustible stimuli, natural environment, cultural heritage, nice lifestyle, gastronomy and is the cradle of modern civilization."

    The couples and their group will visit Rethimno, Aghios Nikolas and Heraklion before visiting Santorini island as their last stop of their Aegean tour. The whole process will be recorded on video, with the footage to be used in an advertisement spot to be presented in the Shanghai tourism week in the framework of Greece's aim to gain access to the vast tourist market of China.

    The spot will be followed by an ad campaign from the Shanghai municipality, as well as meetings of tourism businessmen and the Greek General Consulate in Shanghai, in order to increase Chinese touristic flows into Greece. This effort has found support from sponsors such as the Shanghai municipality, the Greek passenger ship group ANEK Lines, Greek municipalities and regional authorities, chambers of commerce and hoteliers.

    Group marriages of Chinese couples in Greece have flourished through the "Rose Wedding" programme, whose first recorded group marriage took place in 2006 at Ia (Oia), Santorini.

    "It is a great opportunity for our country to get advertised," stressed Kefalogianni, who also noted that "we want to get the message through, that Greece is an ideal destination."

    Also welcoming the Chinese couples on board "Elyros" was Chinese Ambassador to Greece Zou Xiaoli. He thanked Kefalogianni for her presence in the ceremony, "which is considered a great honour for the Chinese tourists." He noted that "Greece is a cradle of civilization and has a long history, beautiful islands and close bonds to China. China and Greece are like a family. We want even more tourists coming here, because that will make our bonds even stronger and more durable."

    The Chinese couples were also greeted by the ship's captain, Efstratios Kavros, as well as dignitaries from the Foreign Ministry and the Heraklion Port Authority.

    [37] The Greek Army celebrates its patron Saint George

    The Greek Army celebrated on Wednesday its patron Saint George in a special ceremony at the Infantry School at Chalkida, Evia, which was attended by the National Defence Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, the leadership of the Armed Forces, representatives of political parties, municipal dignitaries and others.

    In his speech, the minister once again stressed the need for national unity, so that Greece can successfully come to weather the difficulties being faced by society at this time. "History has proven that whenever we joined our strengths we overcame difficulties, we successfully confronted the challenges and we opened paths of hope for our homeland. The same has to be done now, as well", Avramopoulos said.

    The minister expressed his absolute satisfaction for the fact, that Greece "has one of the most trustworthy and effective defence systems in Europe and the world", adding that this defence system is primarily destined to both protect the independence and the integrity of the country and serve the international order of law.

    The Army Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Christos Manolas in his order of the day urged the people serving the Army to understand, among others, that "the economic crisis must not in any case affect the defensive and deterrent ability of the country".

    [38] Dutch journalists celebrate Easter on Mount Athos peninsula

    Dutch journalists followed Greek Orthodox Easter customs in the extended area of the Mount Athos monastic community in northern Greece and took historical walks around the peninsula following the routes of Aristotle, as part of a tour exploring alternative types of tourism.

    The events were organised by the Mount Athos Area Organisation, a private initiative of hoteliers and other businesses that promotes tourism in the easternmost leg of the Halkidiki peninsula.

    According to the Organisation, which organised the event, the visiting journalists' articles are expected to appear in more than 20 publications, in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Canada.

    [39] ThessISMUN conference opens in Thessaloniki

    More than 400 students from Greek and foreign universities will participate in the 13th Annual Thessaloniki International Student Model United Nations (ThessISMUN) that opens on Wednesday and will run until Sunday, April 27.

    Participants in the conference, hosted by the University of Macedonia, will simulate discussions in different bodies of UN and regional organisations and assume the roles of ambassadors.

    Students representing all major Greek universities, as well as, universities in Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, UK, Serbia and Cyprus will focus on issues such as the protection of human rights, education, health and migration.

    [40] Coastguard to be supplied with six new patrol vessels

    The Coastguard will be supplied with six POB-24G patrol vessels by "Montmontaza-Greben d.o.o." shipbuilding company following a contract signed by Shipping & Aegean Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and a representative of the company that won an international tender, it was announced on Wednesday.

    A relevant announcement noted that the purchase of the vessels, worth 13,387,998 euros, is co-financed by the EU External Borders Fund (75 pct) and national funds (25 pct).

    Weather forecast

    [41] Overcast on Thursday

    Clouds, rain and winds from variable directions are forecast for Thursday. Wind velocity will reach 6 on the Beaufort scale. Rain in the northern parts of the country with temperatures ranging from 11C-20C. Cloudy with possibility of rain in central parts and in the south, 10C-23C. Scattered clouds over the islands, 14C-25C. Possibility of rain in Athens, 11C-23C. Rain in Thessaloniki, 11C-19C.

    [42] The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailies

    AVGHI: (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel or SYRIZA.

    EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: The news we did not get.

    ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Greece in the freezer until 2018 and more.

    ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: Second chance for the social dividend.

    ETHNOS: Seven sweeping changes in public sector.

    IMERISSIA: Triple 'wager'.

    KATHIMERINI: Prime Minister Samaras: No loans as from 2015.

    LOGOS: Requests for the social dividend pouring in

    NAFTEMPORIKI: The industrial policy plan based on three pillars.

    RIZOSPASTIS: "Fiscal surplus", "debt relief" with EU's long lasting memoranda.

    TA NEA: Unemployed, students and small savers will be included in the employed taxation scale

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