|Thursday, 22 August 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 14-05-08
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Thursday, 8 May 2014 Issue No: 4651
 PM presents proposals for 'New Greece' through a revised ConstitutionPrime Minister Antonis Samaras (photo) outlined his proposals for radical changes to Greece's Constitution at a special event held at the Athens Concert Hall on Wed-nesday, where he stressed that the foremost issue was "the future of a New Greece".
"Today we are making a leap, we are changing the country's political and state identity," he said, noting that Greece had lagged behind because it had followed a statist model that led to excessive borrowing and eventually the country's collapse.
While much had changed over the past two years, he added, Greece must still "emerge victorious" and needed a new constitution in order to achieve this.
"The country needs a new architecture. On September 3 the process will officially begin so that the next Parliament is revisionary. We will set the agenda, we will listen to everything and discuss it," he said.
Among the changes the premier proposed were a stronger regulatory role of the country's president, including the president's direct election by the people, and a smaller Parliament with fewer MPs. He called for greater guarantees that governments will complete their four-year term, with a stable electoral system that could only be changed by a three-fifths majority in Parliament, as well as more flexible governments combined with three permanent deputy ministers in foreign affairs, defence and the budget, each with a five-year term.
Other proposals included the abolition of the current plethora of ministry general secretaries, allowing only one per ministry, an end to current privileges for MPs and ministers with respect to the law - including abolition of the law on ministerial responsibility - and a revision of article 90 to ensure fully independent justice and stronger separation of the government from the legislature and justice.
Among others, Samaras proposed the introduction of measures barring MPs from becoming ministers, so that entering Parliament was no longer a stepping-stone for joining the government.
He also called for enhanced democracy in the political system and guarantees of transparency in relation to political party finances, updating laws governing the mass media, establishing a Constitutional Court and increasing accountability in public office, from that of premier down to mayors and trade unionists.
Regarding the environment, the prime minister said that articles 24 and 117 of the Constitution need to revised to protect this more fully, while he also called for changes to the controversial article 16 that bans private universities in Greece "so that knowledge and research do not remain an unproductive monopoly in the hands of a few".
Other changes suggested by Samaras included a revision of articles on holding referendums, so that these could be held by popular initiative, changes to rules for independent authorities, and "protecting the right of free movement and unobstructed access" by restricting demonstrations and protests.
"It is not we who are in a hurry, it is Greece that cannot wait," Samaras said, adding that the present government was for the first time putting the country in order and finishing with the deficits.
"For the first time we have a vision for a future without the weights of the past. Greece can overcome the borrowing crisis and make up for the decades of lost ground. We have already won the trust of international markets, we have stabilised the country through much toil and many sacrifices. The most important thing is that we have won our own self-confidence," he said.
Promising to talk about the national model for growth next week, Samaras closed his speech by stressing that the country was undergoing a "reformist storm" that went beyond promises to actions, while he also attacked main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) as the "forces of inertia, who want to preserve the ills of the Greek state, because without the crisis they have nothing."
 FinMin Stournaras presents Greece's growth strategy at OECD ministerial sessionPARIS (ANA-MPA/O. Tsipira)
Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, addressing the OECD's ministerial session in Paris on Wednesday, said that "Greece is returning to the markets gradually and carefully, it is emerging from the crisis and setting out its growth strategy."
Stournaras added that "through an extroversive growth strategy, which the OECD is providing us with the relevant assistance to set out, we are aiming to maximise the benefits from our cooperation with our partners."
He stressed that the two main causes of the crisis have been eliminated, which were the "twin deficits, meaning the deficit of the general goverment and the deficit of the current account balance." These deficits represented about 15 percent of GDP and had now "almost been annulled," he added.
Referring to the improvement in Greece's competitiveness, the minister said that after four years of "painful efforts", it has probably achieved "the most impressive turnaround in the OECD's history, in terms of fiscal deficit, current accounts deficit and competitiveness".
In terms of demand, he said that Greece's new strategy for growth was based on balanced budgets, lower consumption, both in the private and public sectors, bigger investments and exports. On the side of demand, Stournaras said that emphasis would be given to tradeable sectors, identifying tourism, agriculture, energy, logistics, shipping and transport as some of the main areas in which Greece has a comparative advantage.
 EU Ministers hold Informal Meeting on shipping issuesAn Informal Meeting of EU member states and European Economic Area (EEA) countries' Maritime ministers, chaired by Greek Minister of Shipping, Maritime Affairs & the Aegean Miltiadis Varvitsiotis will be held on Wednesday at Zappeion Megaron in Athens.
The main issue on the agenda is the "Mid-term Review of the EU's Maritime Transport Policy until 2018 and Outlook to 2020" and the adoption of the "Athens Declaration".
European Commission Vice President and European Commissioner for Transport Siim Kallas will participate in the meeting along with other high officials.
International Maritime Organisation secretary general Koji Sekimizu will also participate in the meeting as the Greek presidency's guest of honour.
 EU-IMO cooperation reinforced at EU maritime affairs ministers' meeting in Athens"Our target is to institute uniform and international rules on a global scale that will prioritize the protection of sea operations and of the sea environment for the facilitation of shipping," Shipping and Aegean Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis said after a meeting on Wednesday with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary General Koji Sekimizu, held in the framework of an informal meeting of EU maritime affairs ministers in Athens.
"Shipping on the level of rules, on an operations level, on a security level, on an environmental protection and educational level, means the International Maritime Organization," added Varvitsiotis, who explained that his talks with Sekimizu dealt with "how Europe and the IMO can cooperate better, so as to avoid the implementation of regional policies which would [negatively] affect the competitiveness of European shipping, which ranks first on a global level."
Varvitsiotis noted that the Greek Presidency of the EU and Greece itself will stand by the IMO, being among the countries which quickly put into effect IMO rules.
Sekimizu thanked Varvitsiotis for inviting him and giving him the chance to discuss shipping and maritime issues on a high level. He noted, that Greece is traditionally a shipping nation and the fact that it currently holds the presidency of the EU reinforces its government's commitment to observing safety rules in shipping transportation globally under IMO rules. Sekimizu concluded after the EU Maritime Ministers meeting, that the Shipping and Transporation ministers of the EU have a clear commitment to politically support IMO.
 EU Maritime Affairs ministers agree on a "Declaration of Athens" on shipping sector prioritiesThe informal meeting of EU maritime affairs ministers held in Athens on Wednesday in the framework of the Greek Presidency of the EU adopted a "Declaration of Athens," which states the EU and EEA priorities in the coming years, aiming for the support, growth and sustainability of commercial shipping.
Addressing his counterparts, the presiding Shipping and Aegean Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis emphasized the especially important work of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the significance of effectively implementing its international conventions on a global scale, as well as the need for compatibility between EU legislation and the international rules of IMO. Varvitsiotis also addressed the issue of illegal immigration from the sea, stressing the need for a common, uniform stance on the issue by all EU member states.
According to the minister, the EU's political priorities on shipping in the coming years, as expressed in the Declaration of Athens, are the following:
1. The important role of shipping in the European economy and prosperity.
2. The safeguarding of the long-term competitiveness of the European shipping and maritime industry.
3. The increase of employment in the shipping sector. "The total Sea Economy employment can surpass 7 million jobs by 2020" under specific conditions, according to Varvitsiotis.
4. Free access to markets.
5. Strengthening of the role small-distance shipping plays in the EU.
6. Effective European digital maritime services.
7. A leading role for the EU in the maritime technology and innovation sector.
8. Incorporation of the notion of "insularity" in designing European policies.
 Shipping minister meets IMO chief in framework of ministerialVarvitsiotis also met with International Maritime Organization (IMO) Secretary General Koji Sekimizu in the framework of Wednesday's ministerial meeting, stating that "Our target is to institute uniform and international rules on a global scale that will prioritize the protection of sea operations and of the sea environment for the facilitation of shipping". For the minister, "Shipping on the level of rules, on an operations level, on a security level, on an environmental protection and educational level, means the International Maritime Organization".
Varvitsiotis explained that his talks with Sekimizu dealt with "how Europe and the IMO can cooperate better, so as to avoid the implementation of regional policies which would [negatively] affect the competitiveness of European shipping, which ranks first on a global level.". He also noted that the Greek Presidency of the EU and Greece itself will stand by the IMO, being among the countries which quickly put into effect IMO rules.
Sekimizu thanked Varvitsiotis for inviting him and giving him the chance to discuss shipping and maritime issues on a high level. He stressed, that Greece is traditionally a shipping nation and the fact that it currently holds the presidency of the EU reinforces its government's commitment to observing safety rules in shipping transportation globally under IMO rules. Sekimizu concluded after the EU Maritime Ministers meeting, that the Shipping and Transporation ministers of the EU have a clear commitment to politically support IMO.
 European Commission approves Greek regional aid map for 2014-2020BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V. Demiris)
The European Commission on Wednesday approved the Greek map for granting regional development aid between 2014 and 2020.
The decision is based on the new regional aid guidelines adopted by the Commission in June 2013, which set out the conditions under which member-states can grant state aid to businesses for regional development purposes. The guidelines aim to foster growth and greater cohesion in the Single Market.
Commission Vice-President in charge of competition policy Joaqu?n Almunia said: "The Greek regional aid map supports the Commission's cohesion policy and contributes to the objective of better targeted and more effective regional state aid. Greece will now be able to organise a smooth transition from the current regional aid system towards its regional development strategy for 2014-2020 for all its regions.''
According to the Commission, a regional aid map defines the regions of a member-state eligible for national regional investment aid under EU state aid rules. It will be in force between 1 July 2014 and 31 December 2020. The map also sets the maximum levels of aid that can be granted to regional investment projects carried out by large enterprises in the assisted areas at between 10 percent and 25 percent of total investment costs, depending on the area concerned.
The new regional aid map for Greece will cover its entire territory and 100 percent of its population, because the country benefits from the European Stability Mechanism.
Regional aid is meant to benefit the most disadvantaged regions of Europe and under the new map seven areas (Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Central Macedonia, Thessaly, Epirus, Peloponnese and Northern Aegean) which have a GDP per capita below 75 percent of the EU average - covering 56.1 percent of the population of Greece - will be eligible for regional investment aid.
The Commission noted that in the previous period, four more areas had a GDP below 75 percent of the EU average. In order to ensure a smooth transition, the regions of Ionian Islands, Crete, Western Macedonia and Attica covering 43.9 percent of the population of Greece, will continue to be eligible for regional aid until 2020. As of 2018, the maximum aid intensities will be reduced, except for the areas of Kastoria and Florina that share land borders with a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and are therefore entitled to keep higher aid intensities.
The maximum aid intensities for regional investment aid in the Greek assisted regions have slightly decreased as compared to the previous aid map (by 5 to 15 percentage points, depending on the region).
 Dep. Development Minister to chair EU Foreign Affairs CouncilEU Economic Partnership Agreements with third countries, particularly of the developing world will be among the issues to be discussed at the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC-Trade).
Deputy Development and Competitiveness Minister Notis Mitarachi on Wednesday left for Brussels where on Thursday he will chair the meeting.
The meeting agenda also includes other important issues such as EU's negotiations with Canada and Japan on reaching trade agreements. The implementation of decisions taken during the 9th Ministerial Meeting of WTO in Indonesia and of an initiative propelled by a group of countries, including EU member-states, on the promotion of environmental (green) goods will also be discussed.
After being briefed by EU Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht, the 28 Ministers will discuss over lunch the agreement under negotiation for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
 Venizelos says Putin's Wednesday statement a step towards de-escalation in UkraineGovernment Vice-president and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos welcomed a public statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday as a step towards a de-escalation in Ukraine, adding that every contribution and every effort towards de-escalation is welcome because a civil war must be avoided in Ukraine.
"Unfortunately, what we see in Ukraine is a preamble to a possible civil war and it is absolutely necessary to observe the Geneva Accord and repeat the Geneva Meeting," Venizelos stated, after successive meetings with the foreign ministers of Bulgaria and Romania - Kristian Vigenin and Titus Corlatean, respectively - at the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.
All three ministers expressed their grave concern about the latest developments in Ukraine. Venizelos underlined that "there must be formed a framework to include all political, social, ethnic constituents and all areas and regions of Ukraine", noting that the Ukraine issue is on the agenda of the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting taking place next Monday. Venizelos also said that the future and safety of Ukrainians of Greek descent must be safeguarded.
Vigenin said he was shocked by developments in Odessa, while his Romanian counterpart agreed that Putin's Wednesday statement is a positive development, as it offers time for dialogue in order to overcome the crisis.
Venizelos and Vigenin discussed Greek-Bulgarian cooperation in the energy sector. They both agreed that the TAP pipeline constitutes a very important development, placing as their next energy priority the construction of an interconnecting pipeline between Greece and Bulgaria, as part of a greater plan for a "central corridor" to connect the Aegean and the Baltic seas. On July 1, 2014 Greece will take over the presidency of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), with Greece aiming to organize the third intergovernmental Greece-Bulgaria meeting in the coming Autumn.
In their meeting, Venizelos and Corlatean noted the excellent level of bilateral Greek-Romanian relations, confirming their common stance on the "EuroAtlantic" perspective of all Balkan countries, emphasizing their discussion on energy sector issues.
The three foreign ministers issued a common statement on Wednesday, in which among others they asserted their willingness to admit Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen Agreement, also expressing their concern on the issue of illegal immigration. They also agreed that interconnectedness forms the basis of cooperation in the energy sector, with the aim of an integrated regional energy market. All three nations - Greece, Bulgaria and Romania - expressed their desire for an integrated European policy for the sea.
 Gov't willing to support 'healthy' Greek pharmaceuticals industry, minister saysThe government is willing to support the Greek pharmaceuticals industry in order to improve its production, enhance its competitiveness and increase its exports, Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis said on Wednesday at the first conference of the Greek pharmaceuticals industry.
He emphasized that "we're not talking about state-dependent companies" and "protectionist policies which led us to the current situation". Georgiadis also said, that "we don't disagree on the target, which is the Greek pharamaceutical industry's growth[...] we are discussing about ways to achieve this".
According to the minister, all uninsured citizens are expected to have access to medical care by the end of June 2014. He noted that the government is looking into additional measures designed to increase the use of generic drugs in the Greek market, in the framework of keeping public healthcare spending below 2.0 billion euros.
Speaking at the same conference, the president of the Panhellenic Union of the Pharmaceutical Industry Dimitris Demos said he regards the sector as a potential "locomotive" for growth in Greece. "Greek drugs have conquered the international market, as proved by increased demand from countries abroad," Demos said, adding that Greek drugs have already helped some countries solve their problem of high public spending on health.
 Defence minister concludes visit to JordanDefence Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos has concluded a two-day visit to Jordan, the Greek defence ministry announced on Wednesday. In statements at the end of the visit, Avramopoulos expressed confidence that Greece and Jordan were willing to expand and enhance their cooperation in all sectors and described the two countries bilateral relations as "exceptionally good".
"With the policy that the Greek government has lately adopted, Greece has been recovering its position as a geopolitical factor of stability in the wider region, which is going through some hard times," Avramopoulos said.
He also praised Jordan for its role "in developments in the wider region, regarding Syria and the ongoing peace negotiation in the Middle East," and referred to the issue of some 600,000 refugees hosted in Jordanian camps as a result of the Syrian crisis.
During his visit, Avramopoulos met with Jordan's Prime Minister and Defence Minister Dr. Abdullah Ensour, Interior Minister Husein Hazza Al Majali and the president of the House of Representatives Atef Tarawneh, while he had a separate meeting with Prince Feisal Bin Al Hussein.
He also attended the inauguration of the 10th Special Operations Forces Exhibition SOFEX 2014 and a luncheon hosted by the King of Jordan Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein.
 Parliament strips immunity from two Golden Dawn and two independent MPsParliament on Wednesday decided by majority vote to lift the immunity from prosecution of Golden Dawn deputies Nikos Mihos and Giorgos Germenis and of independent MPs Chrysovalantis Alexopoulos and Stathis Boukouras, both originally elected on GD's ticket.
Out of the 220 deputies participating in the process, 183 MPs voted in favor of lifting Alexopoulos' immunity. In the cases of Mihos and Germenis, 197 deputies were in favor of stripping their immunity from prosecution, while in Boukouras' case the 'in favor' votes reached 182.
Golden Dawn deputies' transfer to Parliament in full respect of criminal code provisions, Parliament president says
Golden Dawn deputy Giorgos Germenis and former Golden Dawn and now independent MP Stathis Boukouras, currently held on remand, on Wednesday will be given the opportunity to address Parliament and take part in the roll-call vote that will decide whether they will be stripped of their immunity from prosecution. he President of the Parliament Evangelos Meimarakis has asked the transfer to be conducted with full respect to the criminal code provisions as well as the rights of the detained.
For this reason, the Parliament has not released details on how and when the two detained deputies will enter the House to participate in the debate which is scheduled to start at noon.
 Admin. reform ministry unveils presidential decree abolishing 150 signaturesAdministrative Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday issued a presidential decree that further reduces bureaucracy by abolishing some 150 signatures previously required by for the issue of government decisions and orders.
The decree restricts areas of joint responsibility previously shared by more than one ministry under the law when issuing individual or regulatory administrative acts, such as joint ministerial decisions or presidential decrees. This is expected to speed up the government's administrative work since such decisions will no longer require two or more ministerial signatures in order to be enacted.
He noted that this was another small but decisive step in reducing bureaucracy that currently inconvenienced citizens and businesses.
 First payments of social divident on May 9, government sources sayThe first payments to the social dividend benificiaries will take place on May 9, said government sources on Wednesday.
The requests' submission continues and their evaluation continues normally, the same sources said noting that in any case there will be no cuts in the allocation of the total amount of the social dividend.
According to Finance ministry's plan, in case the applications are less than the allocated amount, the money left will be given to new beneficiaries based on 2013 tax statements.
Moreover, the Financy Ministry examines the possibility to increase the annual income level to 6,500 from 6,000 euros one of the criteria in order for someone to be entitled to the benefit.
 SYRIZA leader criticises Samaras-Venizelos from Kalamata; gov't replyMain opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) leader Alexis Tsipras, addressing a rally in the city of Kalamata in the Peloponnese on Wednesday evening, criticised Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and accused him of "mutilating democracy," while Government Vice President and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos was "parading his terror".
Referring to statements by Venizelos that an election defeat of Elia will lead to the government's collapse and there shall be a problem of stability, Tsipras said it was a "wretched extortion".
Tsipras further wondered who Venizelos wants to extort and stressed "the citizens who, if they do not vote for him, will be deprived of the privilege of Samaras ruining them with his support? Or those powerful local and international factors who support the government to impose their regime?".
Expressing optimism over the results of the elections, Tsipras addressed a message to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, her envoy in Greece Joachim Fuchtel, the prime minister and the troika, saying that "the days of your omnipotence are numbered. Your omnipotence in Greece is coming to an end."
 Government spokesman replies to Tsipras' Kalamata addressGovernment spokesman Simos Kedikoglou, replying to Tsipras' address in the city of Kalamata, made the following statement: "When you want to turn your country back to the worst of yesterday, at the time when it is about to exit the crisis, when you are displeased by the exemplary prosecution of the Nazis, when you threaten whoever does not agree with you, then you are not merely an extremely divisive opportunist. You are also politically dangerous. And you emit decay and decline".
 SYRIZA leader: An austerity programme always leads to a dead endROME (ANA-MPA/Th. Andreadis-Syngelakis)
Main opposition SYRIZA party leader Alexis Tsipras in an interview to the Italian state television Rai Tre referred to the ongoing pre-election campaigns in Greece and in Italy.
Tsipras spoke of the "dilemma of the elections: we either change the correlations to overturn the austerity policies, the policies that have destroyed our lives and restore the democracy or we continue on this slippery endless path. If the forces that led to this impasse win the Euroelections, they will continue with even harder austerity programmes," he said.
Tsipras, who is also candidate of the European Left for president of the European Commission, stressed that "an austerity programme always leads to a dead end" and asked for "a possibility for a new negotiation between the countries with fiscal problems and the European Union and the troika."
"We all know that the troika lacks democratic legitimacy," he concluded.
 SYRIZA threatens to file charges over PASOK's unpaid debtsMain opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) on Wednesday warned that it intends to resort to justice if Parliament rejects an amendment for preventing debts run up by the New Democracy (ND) and PASOK parties, back in the days when they enjoyed the support of nearly 80 pct of the electorate, from being written off.
SYRIZA also accused PASOK leader and government vice-president Evangelos Venizelos of "a sordid stance of political opportunism" for criticising SYRIZA's proposed amendment.
The main opposition party stressed that Venizelos was perfectly happy to receive funding for the elections as 'Elia' - even though this money was meant for PASOK - but did not want to pay PASOK's debts.
"This is a sordid stance of political opportunism of the kind that we are used to seeing from the government vice-president. We consign him to the judgement of the Greek people," a SYRIZA announcement said.
 DIM.AR presents proposals for political system, criticises VenizelosOpposition Democratic Left (DIM.AR) leader Fotis Kouvelis on Wednesday presented five proposals for immediate changes to the political system, in a press conference with former minister Antonis Manitakis and DIM.AR's Parliamentary spokesman Nikos Tsoukalis.
Commenting on current political developments, he criticised statements made by PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos as the junior member of Greece's coalition government regarding the significance of the voter share received by the PASOK-backed political formation Elia in the upcoming local and European elections.
Kouvelis noted that democracy cannot operate under the threat of blackmail and dilemmas and that politics cannot be identified with social instability.
 KKE secretary general Koutsoumbas lashes out on New Democracy and SYRIZANew Democracy (ND) and the government have offered false expectations to the people, while SYRIZA has been creating illusions and false hopes and has converged with ND's main policy, communist KKE party secretary general Dimitris Koutsoumbas told Ant1 TV on Wednesday.
Asked why KKE participates in the elections while it is opposed to the European Union, Koutsoumbas said the contribution of the party's MEPs to disclosing EU's guidelines and strategy implemented in Greece and other member-states in the form of laws was very important.
Asked how the overturning that KKE calls will be done, Koutsoumbas said that a wide popular alliance needs to be set up adding that on one hand there is a class that has the power and on the other hand is the labour class, the poor farmers, the self-employed, the unemployed, women and the youth.
He underlined that this is where "society is divided" and rejected the divisions of the past, such as the "pro" or "anti" memorandum labourer, the "right" or the "left" labourer and stressed that the people that have been hit hard by the monopolies can be united.
 Deputy FM holds meeting with Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly presidentDeputy Foreign Minister Kyriakos Gerontopoulos held a meeting with Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) President Anne Brasseur at the foreign ministry on Wednesday.
Gerontopoulos stressed during the meeting the important role played by the Council of Europe on human rights, defence and promotion of democratic institutions and minority protection issues.
The deputy minister also referred to the Greek government's efforts to overcome the economic crisis and to the positive results that have already begun to appear.
On her part, Brasseur underlined the active and substantive participation of the Greek Parliamentary representatives at the Council of Europe.
 Deputy FM meets visiting delegation of Georgian MPsDeputy Foreign Minister Kyriakos Gerontopoulos on Wednesday met with MPs from the Greece-Georgia Parliamentary Friendship Group who are currently visiting Greece.
During the meeting, they discussed bilateral relations, ways to boost cooperation in various areas and the Greek community in Georgia.
The visiting MPs briefed Gerontopoulos on Georgia's positions regarding international issues and developments in their region, while the deputy minister assured them of Greece's support for Georgia's efforts to boost ties with the European Union.
 Council of Europe rapporteur seeking in-depth investigation into migrant drownings off SamosDutch Socialist MP Tineke Strik, who is also a rapporteur of the Council of Europe, has demanded an in-depth investigation by Greek authorities into the causes of a recent tragic incident off the coast of Samos, where 22 undocumented migrants lost their lives.
Strik, who said she was shocked at the tragedy, noted that several human rights organizations have accused Greece of pushing back migrants found in Greek waters.
She also cited data from Amnesty International that 188 adults and children have drowned since August 2012 in the Mediterranean. Strik stressed that these kind of repeated tragedies can only be terminated through coordinated European action, which would include a safe passage for asylum seekers and migrants.
 Greece, Australia to sign agreement on granting tourist-work visas for those aged 18-30MELBOURNE (ANA-MPA/ S. Hatzimanolis)
Greece and Australia are to sign a bilateral agreement next Wednesday on granting tourist visas to individuals aged 18-30 years old, as well as the right to work for up to one year. The agreement is to be signed by Greek Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni, who is due to arrive in Melbourne next Monday, and Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison.
After visiting Melbourne and having a series of contacts with travel agents and the local Greek community, Kefalogianni will visit Canberra for the signature of the bilateral agreement and then Sydney on May 15-16.
 Banks should encourage consolidation across the economy, BoG chief tells FTBanks must encourage consolidation across the economy to the benefit of the economy, Greece's central bank (BoG) governor George Provopoulos told the Financial Times.
"Following such a deep crisis we need strong consolidation [of the economy]," Provopoulos said. "The process has already started but it needs to be accelerated."
"I have urged the banks to aim for consolidation and in other sectors [of the economy] so that they become more efficient and more competitive. This would be highly beneficial for the economy: it would pave the way for sustainable growth and, most importantly, for increased employment," he said.
Provopoulos cited the successful consolidation of the banking industry itself as a benchmark for the rest of the economy. From 18 commercial banks in 2009, Greece now has only four systemic banks, one small private bank and a handful of regional co-operative banks.
There has been a dramatic consolidation of the [banking] sector. Viable banks were fully recapitalised, while 12 non-viable banks, which were unable to raise the necessary private capital, were resolved," he said. "All of this happened in the midst of a crisis without a single depositor suffering a loss."
Mr Provopoulos noted that "the markets' reception of our stress test results in March was extremely positive, with both Moody's and Fitch releasing statements that their assessments were similar to ours."
"The reception has set off a chain reaction with three of the systemic banks re-entering the markets with highly successful capital increases. The fourth systemic bank has also launched a capital increase which I expect to be successful," the central banker said.
Last month's rights issues by three systemic banks - Piraeus, Alpha, and Eurobank - for a total of 5.9 billion euros were heavily subscribed. The fourth, National Bank of Greece, is set to complete a 2.5 billion euros capital increase this week.
"Yet banks will continue to deleverage this year despite forecasts the economy will grow by around 0.6 percent", Provopoulos said adding that "clearly a return to sustainable growth will need to be supported by adequate credit expansion. However, during the early stages of the recovery the supply of credit will be limited and banks will need to direct credit to the most efficient companies and sectors of the economy," he said.
 Damanaki stresses role of fish farms as means to protect wild fish stocksBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ M. Spinthourakis)
European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki on Wednesday highlighted the potential of fish farms as a way to protect wild fish populations and prevent overfishing, while addressing an event organised at the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels.
At the event, which was part of the European Commission's "Inseparable" campaign for promoting sustainable fish consumption, Damanaki underlined that demand for fish was constantly increasing as the global population rose and that without fish farms, it simply could not be met without placing wild fish stocks at risk.
She also underlined that fresh fish locally farmed in the EU met the highest consumer protection standards and was also very tasty.
An announcement issued by the Commission on Wednesday noted the Commission's commitment to support fish farming was a part of the reform of the EU's common fisheries policy.
The Seafood Expo Global is the largest trade fair for seafood in the world, with more than 1,600 exhibitors from 70 countries taking part.
 OAED announces four subsidised work/training programmes for joblessThe head of Greece's Manpower Employment Organisation (OAED) Theodoros Abatzoglou on Wednesday announced four new programmes for subsidised employment and training of those on the unemployment register. The four programmes will have a total budget of 100 million euros and will assist 35,000 unemployed.
Abatzoglou made the announcement during a press conference on the 4th Labour Forum organised by OAED next Saturday, the Hellenic Cosmos Culture Centre at 254 Pireos Street in Athens' Tavros district. This is a new initiative designed to familiarise the unemployed with prospective employers, providing individual support to job seekers through personal interviews and advice on how to optimise their CVs and the professional profiles.
The Forum will start at 9:00 and run until 18:00 on Saturday, with 40 large firms participating. Applications to participate can be made via the OAED website http://www.oaed.gr
 Overdue tax debt rose to 65.4 bln euros in Q1New overdue tax debt totaled 3.562 billion euros in the first three months of 2014, to 65.4 billion euros, despite the fact that tax agencies collected 889 million euros from a renegotiation of overdue tax debt with taxpayers.
The Public Revenue Secretary-General, in a report released on Wednesday, said that tax inspections totaled 95 in the January-March period, significantly down from an official target for 250 inspections in that period, while the tax and fines collection rate was 26.73 pct in the three-month period, down from a budget target of 65 pct.
Tax authorities are scheduled to complete 307 controls on wealthy taxpayers in the first half of the year and a total of 720 contracts throughout the year.
 F.G. Europe plans dual listing in LSEMaintaining exports at high levels and a continuous expansion of activities in foreign markets are two of the main goals set by F.G. Europe SA for 2014. In a presentation of its business plan in the Union of Institutional Investors, the management of F.G. Europe noted that exports accounted for 66.7 pct of all air conditioning systems sales and 63.3 pct of all company sales in 2013, while they noted the launch of subsidiary companies in Turkey and Italy. The company seeks to maintain its leading position in the domestic air conditioning systems market, further promoting its MIDEA brand in the domestic market and OEM products under the ESKIMO brand name. F.G. Europe also plans a dual listing in the London Stock Exchange and to separate its energy sector activities. A restructuring of the group, the supply and installation of a new ERP system and completion of licensing procedure for a big wind-power project in Evia are among the top priorities for 2014.
 State overdue debt to private sector up to 4.740 bln euros in MarchThe Greek state' s overdue debt to the private sector rose to 4.740 billion euros in March, from 4.637 billion euros in February, official figures showed on Wednesday. According to a report on the course of general government's data in March, social insurance organisations accounted for the biggest part of overdue debt, worth 2.925 billion euros, of which 1.886 billion euros was from EOPYY. State hospitals owed 885 million euros, while other general government agencies owed 227 million euros to the private sector. Local authorities' overdue debt was 461 million euros, while government ministries' debt was 242 million euros. Pending tax returns totaled 459 million euros.
 National Bank's share offering oversubscribed, sources sayNational Bank's 2.5 billion euros equity offering has already been oversubscribed after the bank opened a book building process as a part of a share capital increase plan, sources told ANA-MPA on Wednesday.
The book building process closes on Thursday and the bank will announce the offer price of the new shares on Friday. National Bank has scheduled an extraordinary general shareholders' meeting on Saturday to approve the offer price of the shares and the completion of a share capital increase scheme.
 Intralot's CEO wins Manager of the Year awardConstantinos Antonopoulos, chief executive of Intralot Group, won the Manager of the Year 2013 award of the Hellenic Management Association (EEDE). Receiving the award, Antonopoulos said the Manager of the Year award was an initiative aimed to promote and award healthy business activity in the country. "My professional career is characterized by extraversion and it is closely related with the course of a great company, Intralot, which with hard team effort managed to conquer the top in the gaming industry worldwide. The main ingredient of this success is Intralot's people and it the company's workers who are also awarded. The vision, hard work and passion for achieving high goals were the main ingredients of our successful course," Antonopoulos said. Development and Competitiveness Minister Costis Hatzidakis handed the award at a special event.
Constantinos Labrinopoulos, president of Hellenic Management Association, addressing the event said the Association will continue to move forward with its strategy goals and pledge it will not deviate at all from them.
 Aspropyrgos refinery signs agreement with ESFAAn agreement that will link Aspropyrgos refinery with the National Natural Gas System (ESFA) was signed on Wednesday.
The project's budget will reach 800,000 euros and is expected to be concluded in September 2014.
A similar agreement has also been signed for the natural gas supply of Elefsina refinery. The work is underway and is expected to be completed in 2014.
 Greek hotel industry to grow in 2014-surveyThe Greek hotel industry is expected to continue growing this year as the number of foreign visitors in the country is projected to surpass 18.5 million and tourism revenues to reach 13 billion euros, a survey by Infobank Hellastat said on Wednesday.
The survey said that tourist arrivals in the country's airports grew 23 pct in the first three months of 2014, compared with the corresponding period last year.
Infobank Hellastat said that the hotel industry benefited last year from a wave of cancellations in neighboring rival countries that were hit by political and social turmoil (Egypt and Turkey). The number of incoming tourism grew 15.5 pct last year to 17.9 million, while tourism revenues rose 14.9 pct to 12 billion euros. Russian tourists almost doubled in 2013 to 1.3 million visitors, raising their market share to 7.5 pct. German tourists accounted for 12.7 pct of arrivals (2.27 million or 7.5 pct up from 2012), followed by UK tourists with a 10.3 pct market share (1.85 million, -3.9 pct)
Most Greek hotels lowered their prices last year ranking the country as second cheaper country in the Mediterranean, behind Egypt. The survey was based on the financial results of the 600 largest hotel enterprises in 2012. Turnover fell 5.4 pct to 2.22 billion euros, while incoming tourism fell 5.5 pct in that year.
 Greece's ACS courier service to research air delivery using unmanned dronesThe Greek branch of the courier service ACS AEE, part of the Quest group, on Wednesday announced the launch of a research programme into an air-travel delivery system for small parcels and objects using unmanned drones, to be dubbed ACS Skypack. If proved feasible, the new service will be able to quickly deliver sensitive and urgent items, such as medication, to inaccessible areas, such as mountains or small islands.
 Greek market watchdog to inspect on short-selling activity in ASEGreece's Capital Market Commission on Wednesday announced it will launch an in-depth inspection of transactions in Eurobank shares shortly before the listing of the bank's new shares - resulting from a share capital increase plan.
A total of 197 million shares of Eurobank changed hands on the Athens Stock Exchange on Tuesday, worth 73 million euros. Market sources said several investors - who participated in the bank's share capital increase scheme - sold shares through short-selling orders. The market watchdog warned and reassured investors that in the framework of its duties and responsibilities it will thoroughly investigate these transactions and impose heavy fines if any irregularities are discovered.
 Greek stocks end 1.33 pct higherGreek stocks recovered in the Athens Stock Exchange on Wednesday, after two days of losses, supported by strong buying interest for blue chip stocks such as MIG, PPC, Motor Oil and Hellenic Exchanges. The composite index of the market rose 1.33 pct to end at 1,231.25 points, near the day's highs of 1,233.23 points. Turnover was a strong 131.86 million euros.
The Large Cap index rose 1.10 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 1.65 pct higher. MIG (7.19 pct), Terna Energy (5.78 pct), PPC (5.58 pct), Motor Oil (5.40 pct) and Hellenic Exchanges (4.77 pct) scored the biggest percentage gains of the day, while National Bank (3.20 pct), Eurobank Properties (1.69 pct) and Titan (1.49 pct) suffered the heaviest losses.
The Financial Services (5.49 pct), Utilities (5.15 pct) and Raw Materials (3.13 pct) sectors scored the biggest gains, while Media (6.25 pct), Real Estate (1.62 pct) and Banks (0.48 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 80 to 46 with another 27 issues unchanged. Parnassos (18.52 pct), Sato (15.79 pct) and Compucon (15.79 pct) were top gainers while Ilyda (22.67 pct), NEL (20 pct) and Hellenic Fish Farms (20 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Financial Services: +5.49%
Industrial Products: +0.48%
Real Estate: -1.62%
Personal & Household: +0.45%
Food & Beverages: +1.48%
Raw Materials: +3.13%
Travel & Leisure: +2.27%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Eurobank, Piraeus Bank, Alpha Bank and OTE.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.68
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.35
Coca Cola HBC: 17.75
Hellenic Petroleum: 6.19
National Bank of Greece: 2.72
Eurobank Properties : 8.16
Piraeus Bank: 1.75
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds was unchanged at 4.69 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Wednesday, with the Greek bond yielding 6.16 pct and the German Bund yielding 1.47 pct. Turnover was a heavy 86 million euros, of which 44 million were buy orders and the remaining 42 million euros were sell orders.
In interbank markets, interest rates moved slightly higher. The 12-month rate rose to 0.614 pct form 0.613 pct, the nine-month rate rose to 0.525 pct from 0.524 pct, the six-month rate was 0.437 pct, the three-month rate rose to 0.338 pct from 0.337 pct and the one-month rate rose to 0.262 pct from to 0.257 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe June contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading around its fair value in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Wednesday, with turnover shrinking to 14.936 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 4,920 contracts worth 9.689 million euros, with 51,618 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 18,063 contracts worth 5.247 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Eurobank's contracts (9,967), followed by Alpha Bank (522), Piraeus Bank (394), National Bank (1,809), MIG (1,207), OTE (916), PPC (1,707), OPAP (400), Hellenic Exchanges (139), Mytilineos (187), Hellenic Petroleum (167), Motor Oil (137), GEK (97), Intralot (126) and Terna Energy (20).
 Foreign Exchange rates - ThursdayReference rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.392
Pound sterling 0.820
Danish kroner 7.464
Swedish kroner 9.049
Japanese yen 141.68
Swiss franc 1.218
Norwegian kroner 8.223
Canadian dollar 1.516
Australian dollar 1.490
 Greece awarded 408 Blue Flags for beaches on its coastlineGreece has been awarded "Blue Flags" for 408 beaches this year, as announced on Wednesday by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, which runs the international 'blue flag' programme in the country. With 3.372 beaches receiving the award internationally, Greece thus ranked second among 51 countries.
The Blue Flags are awarded on a basis of a number of criteria, including cleanliness of the coast and the sea, organisation, information, safety and protection of the coastal environment.
 Report: 94 pct of Greece's swimming waters of excellent qualityApproximately 94 percent of Greece's swimming waters were classified as "excellent" in terms of quality, while practically all (99.8 percent) were suitable for swimming, according to the National Report on the evaluation of the quality of the country's bathing areas for 2013.
Alternate Environment Minister Nikos Tagaras said "the sea and our shores are a comparative competitive advantage for the country," adding that "their quality is now being confirmed scientifically in light of the summer season."
The minister also said that "it is a continuous obligation of all of us, both state and citizens, to safeguard our invaluable sea treasure".
The evaluation took into consideration the microbiological parameters of 2,162 representative sample locations and implemented statistical processing anticipated by legislation on the results of the past four years (2010-2013).
 Herod Atticus Odeon ranked second in Canadian list of world's leading theatresOTTAWA (ANA-MPA/I. Frangouli)
The Herod Atticus Odeon beneath the Acropolis is the second-best place in the world to watch live performances, according to a list appearing in a special supplement in Canada's "Globe and Mail" newspaper.
Dealing more specifically with the use of privileges from credit cards under the headline "Top venues for live theatre," the list presents the best venues in the world for live theatre, dance and music.
As regards the Herod Atticus, there is a reference to its history, while it is termed the best example of an authentic Greek amphitheatre and is described as "the perfect location where modern music meets with the ancient atmosphere." It is the ideal of all artists, the report says.
Topping the list is England's Minack Theatre, Porthcurno and it is followed by the Herod Atticus Odeon in Athens, the Sydney Opera House, Milan's La Scala, New York's Carnegie Hall, Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre and other famous venues around the world.
 Six candidates in waste management tender in CorfuSix investment groups have expressed interest in an international tender to build an integrated solid waste management unit in Corfu, in the framework of a public/private sector joint program.
The six candidates are:
3. Waste Cyclo
4. Archirodon Group-Intrakat-Watt-Envitec
6. Mediterranean-J&P Avax
The winner of tender will undertake the survey, financing, construction, maintenance and operation of the waste management unit in the island of Corfu.
 Patras police bust international tobacco-smuggling ringsPatras Security police on Wednesday announced the bust and dismantling of two international criminal networks trading in contraband tobacco and cigarettes, which had links with Russia and Bulgaria. A total of eight men and four women were arrested during a police operation in Attica lasting several days, eight of whom were Greeks and the remainder foreign nationals. Another 20 suspects are being sought.
Based on a police investigation, a total of 32 individuals of various nationalities are suspected of participating in the two criminal organisations uncovered. They include 14 Greeks and 18 foreign nationals of Egyptian, Albanian, Georgian, Iraqi, Russian, Pakistani and Syrian origin.
According to a source within the police, the members of the two criminal groups had sold 800,000 packets of contraband cigarettes in various areas of Greece since September 2013, with lost taxes and tariffs to the state estimated at about 2.48 million euros.
The contraband tobacco products were smuggled into Greece from Russia and Bulgaria and hidden in warehouses in Attica's Acharnes district. From there they were transferred to smaller warehouses, shops and homes on daily basis. During 12 raids conducted in Acharnes over the last three days, police found 32,212 packets of contraband cigarettes and packets of loose tobacco, 32,000 euros in cash, a fire arm and clip, cell phones, lap tops and other evidence of the group's activities.
Among the suspects placed under arrest, police believe there are four leading members of the two criminal gangs.
 Human bones found in car submerged in Lavrio portScattered human bones and scraps of clothing were found on Tuesday inside a car at the sea bottom of Lavrio port.
Coast Guard was informed about the car and a diver located it at a 18-meter depth.
The car was pulled out of the sea and the human remains will be sent to the Athens morgue for post-mortem examination.
 Girl air-lifted from Astypalaia after injury in fallA Greek Air Force Super Puma helicopter on Wednesday air-lifted a eight-year-old girl that suffered a spine injury after a fall from Astypalaia on the island of Rhodes to a hospital in Athens.
The helicopter landed on the island at 3:00 on Wednesday morning to pick up the girl, who was then transported to hospital in an EKAB ambulance. The air-lift was carried out at EKAB's request.
 Fire breaks out in Keratea, AtticaA fire was reported on Wednesday at an inaccessible spot in Ano Daskalio, a region in Attica's Keratea area. The fire was burning low-growing vegetation near a settlement, though this was not in any danger according to the fire brigade. A team of 25 firemen and 11 vehicles were sent to put out the blaze.
 Overcast on ThursdayMostly fair weather and northerly winds are forecast for Thursday. Wind velocity will reach 6 on the Beaufort scale. Clouds in the northern parts of the country with temperatures ranging from 10C-23C. Scattered clouds in the central parts and in the south with temperatures ranging from 10C-25C. Mostly fair over the islands, 14C-22C. Fair in Athens, 12C-23C; clouds in Thessaloniki, 12C-22C.
 The Wednesday edition of Athens' dailiesAVGHI: SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras calls the local administration elections a referendum.
DIMOKRATIA: (Government Vice President and PASOK leader Evangelos) Venizelos' end.
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: Gift to the merchants of education.
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: OECD contradicts government and EU's optimistic estimations for the Greek economy.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: More favourable criteria for the social dividend.
ESTIA: Mr. Venizelos' big mistake.
ETHNOS: The success guide for university entry exams.
IMERISSIA: Foreign investors return.
KATHIMERINI: Divergence of views over the possibility of instability.
LOGOS: Co-governance in state of panic.
NAFTEMPORIKI: Fitch to upgrade euro periphery.
RIZOSPASTIS: Growth and austerity hand to hand on the course of EU and monopolies.
TA NEA: Between ballot and...jail.
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