|Thursday, 12 December 2019|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 14-12-19
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 19 December 2014 Issue No: 4840
 PM Samaras: 'Political uncertainty in Greece will be resolved'BRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/ M. Aroni)
Arriving for a summit of EU leaders taking place in Brussels on Thursday, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras expressed his conviction that Greece's politicians would finally resolve the current uncertainty and not place the country's achievements and sacrifices at risk.
I am not going to allow - and the political system in Greece is not going to allow - anyone to gamble with these sacrifices, to gamble with these accomplishments," he underlined.
The premier pointed out that Greece had the highest primary surplus in the Eurozone in the third quarter of 2014 and that the spectacular recovery of the Greek economy was due to the "unprecedented sacrifice of the Greek people".
"The political uncertainty in Greece will soon be resolved," he added.
 PM participates in EU summit in BrusselsPrime Minister Antonis Samaras on Thursday and Friday will visit Brussels to participate in the EU summit.
The agenda of the EU summit includes the EU Commission chief Jean Claude Juncker's 315 billion euro investment plan as well as developments in Ukraine and relations with Russia. Samaras will be in favour of speeding up procedures regarding Juncker's investment package so as to boost EU growth. Regarding Ukraine, the Greek government is also firmly in favour of actions that will defuse tension and normalize relations with Russia in the framework of the EU rules.
Although the Greek issue is not included in the agenda, it is more than certain that it will be discussed on the sidelines of the summit or in meetings between the prime minister and his counterparts or other officials.
Samaras is expected to reassure his partners that his intention is to maintain political stability in the country and that this is secured with the election of a President of the Republic. He will also express his optimism that Greek deputies are aware of the fact that the country cannot get involved in a political adventure. The Greek government expects the European partners' solidarity in the sense of supporting the country's political stability so that the troika's current review will be concluded, the agreement for the next day will be wrapped up and the report on the Greek debt sustainability can be put forward.
At 13.00, the prime minister will participate in a meeting of the European People's Party.
Samaras is accompanied by Government spokeswoman Sofia Voultepsi, Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis, Development Minister Costas Skrekas and his advisor Stavros Papastavrou.
 Venizelos says more 'mature' thoughts can prevail in the third round of the presidential electionThe parliament deputies and the opposition parties can think more "mature" thoughts in the third round of the presidential election, despite the "infertile" outcome of yesterday's vote, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos said on Thursday while addressing the Coordinating Secretariat of the National Organising Committee for the Democratic Progressive Bloc Conference. PASOK is the junior member of Greece's two-party coalition government.
He ruled out scenarios calling for a "special purpose" government and emphasised his proposal for the participation of political parties "of the democratic arc" in a national negotiating team that will hold talks with Greece's creditors.
The first round of the presidential election was "completely infertile," "infertile for the democratic institutions, for the political and economic stability and for the country's image abroad," Venizelos said, noting that according to the Constitution, the majority needed in parliament is 180 votes and "therefore, there is room for more mature and responsible thoughts by the parties of the opposition and not only individually by the MPs."
He also underlined that the presidential majority is a consensus majority and does not coincide with the government majority.
Venizelos repeated his proposal to the MPs and the parties of the opposition to think "more responsibly so that all the powers of the democratic arc will be able to handle together two cross-cutting issues that demand national consensus, namely, the election of the president of the Hellenic Republic and the negotiation with the Europeans and the IMF."
The negotiation includes the completion of the European programme, the start of a new phase with a precautionary credit line without memorandum and troika - but with European support if necessary - the conversion of the IMF programme into a precautionary programme and the settlement of the debt in the context achieved in 2012.
He also underlined that the new president of Greece will serve as a symbol of national unity in the negotiation.
Venizelos repeated his proposal for a national negotiating team, noting that "we need the support of all powers" and "everybody should lay their cards on the table". He ruled out scenarios calling for a special purpose government, underlining that "in a Democracy there are no special purpose governments; they always have a national purpose under the constitution."
 German Parliament decision 'recognition' of Greek economic progress, FinMin officials sayThe approval, in principal, by a large majority of the German Parliament of a plan to offer a precautionary credit line to Greece along with a two-month technical extension of the current adjustment programme was "a recognition of progress made by the Greek economy," finance ministry officials told ANA-MPA on Thursday.
The officials said that the approval "goes beyond a decision reached in the Eurogroup of December 8 and offers a road map for a successful and prudent exit from an adjustment programme and the beginning of new, more flexible relations with the country's European partners".
 German Chancellor Merkel: Greece's prospects are better than two years agoBERLIN (ANA-MPA/F.Karaviti)
Greece's prospects are better than two years ago, though much remains to be done, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday said in her address to the federal parliament.
Merkel noted that countries affected by the crisis have seen their competition rising and their deficits reducing, adding that all these could not have been achieved without the decisive action of each country and without the decisive, joint action at a European level.
 ND Political Committee sec': There are margins for consensusNew Democracy (ND) Political Committee secretary Andreas Papamimikos on Friday stated to private TV SKAI that "margins for consensus exist so that snap elections are avoided" and sent the message that the presidential elections are held in three stages and the first stage was completed on Wednesday.
"I truly believe that there are margins for consensus with the necessary moves from all sides. Realism should dominate. I want to believe that within a framework of prudence may exist -and exists- a field for consensus from all sides. Of course, based on a clear political basis, on a political platform," he noted.
Moreover, Papamimikos said he believes that in the near future a specific political plan needs to be found so that the candidate for President of Republic Stavros Dimas is elected. "These margins exist, but we must make clear that we (the government) will not be involved in rationale that will bring further turmoil to the country," he noted.
Papamimikos dismissed all scenarios for a government of special purpose underlining "We will not enter into a debate for a government of special purpose and other things that are being heard. Deputies raise several issues. When something specific and coordinated exists, then we can discuss it and agree on a certain political platform," he added.
 PASOK parliamentary spokesman calls on all sides to undertake initiativesAll sides should undertake initiatives, ruling coalition junior partner PASOK parliamentary spokesman Konstantinos Triantafillos said on Thursday, addressing the Parliament's plenum in the aftermath of Wednesday's first round of the presidential election.
He said that there are no political figures of "limited responsibility," calling on them to undertake initiatives "because today they have a greater responsibility than the MPs."
 ND, SYRIZA Parliamentary spokespersons spar over presidential electionThe parliamentary spokesman for the ruling coalition's leading party New Democracy, Constantinos Karagounis, on Thursday traded accusations with his SYRIZA counterpart Evaggelia Amanatidou over the results of the first round of the presidential election. Karagounis accused the main opposition of "gloating" at the prospect of early elections that voters did not want, without caring about the repercussions they would have on the country.
He also stressed that ND was not afraid of elections but the "what they would bring on the day after".
Amanatidou said that the results of the first round of voting to elect a president on Wednesday night had been a "resounding defeat" for the government, adding that its "time was up" leaving elections as the only solution. "Soon the Greek people will be the protagonists and create the conditions for much-desired growth in our country. In a month and a half, a SYRIZA government will try, possibly from scratch because we don't know what we'll find, to revive the country," she said.
Replying, Karagounis accused SYRIZA of "disregarding the state of the country and the crucial crossroads that lies ahead of us," pointing out that the technical extension of Greece's adjustment programme expires on February 28.
"Then we will decide if this country will disengage from the memorandums or follow a different path of uncertainty, enter into an adventure. The least that can happen to the country, according to international media, is a return to a harsh memorandum. That is the essence. That is why we say the country doesn't need elections," he said.
 The result of the first voting for a Greek President was a Waterloo for the government, SYRIZA's Lafazanis saysThe result of the first voting for the President of the Republic was "a cold shower for the government bloc," SYRIZA parliamentary spokesman Panagiotis Lafazanis told ANA-MPA in an interview.
"It was a Waterloo for the government and its candidate President Stavros Dimas. The result of the first voting prescribes the final result as well. It is now impossible for Mr. Dimas to be elected President of the Republic," he estimated.
He underlined that these days a lot of deliberations are taking place "behind the scenes" and several communication tactics are being planned so that elections can be avoided. He added, however, that the number of 160 deputies in the first round renders all these scenarios impossible. "They don't stand a chance. The country is rapidly moving towards elections," he said.
Lafazanis believes that "yesterday's result is not irrelevant to the broader political and social climate; most of all, it is not irrelevant to the Greek people's wishes. Right now, the overwhelming majority of the Greek people, regardless of the opinion polls' findings, want a big progressive overturning. This change, this progressive overturning is now represented by SYRIZA. Our position and commitment is the cancellation of the memoranda and the implementation laws; and we will fully meet this commitment."
The full audio interview is available for subscribers at the ANA-MPA website.
 DIM.AR spokesman: 'elections are a normal process that should not be feared'Elections are a normal process that should not be feared or "demonised", Democratic Left (DIM.AR) party spokesman Christos Machairas said in statements to the radio station 'Vima' on Thursday.
"There are no dead ends in a democracy. There is either consensus, as the Constitution demands for the presidential election and which is lacking for political reasons, or the solution is elections...this is the last refuge of democracy in response to deadlocks," he said.
He also stressed DIM.AR's "non-negotiable" political autonomy, saying that the party would decide on its election tactics after the end of the third round of voting to elect a president, ruling out the possibility that DIM.AR might be dissolved or absorbed by any other party.
Machairas said DIM.AR was opposed to proposals for a 'national unity' government: "The country does not need a way to maintain the policies being implemented. The country needs political change. It needs a new, progressive government," he said.
Asked about the possibility that DIM.AR might participate in a coalition government, the spokesman said the party had unanimously decided that the country needs a "progressive governance and clearly defined [the forces] that it considers can contribute to such a progressive governance. These are the forces of the radical Left - in other words SYRIZA - the forces of political ecology and the forces of democratic socialism."
"In this circle, in any way that DIM.AR can contribute, it will do whatever it can so that such a solution and direction is achieved through policy convergences and not 'summit' agreements and bargaining," he added.
Commenting on a statement by New Democracy's honorary president and former premier Constantine Mitsotakis, DIM.AR's spokesman pointed to a risk "that we will trap political dialogue in an extreme and fear-mongering climate, where anything that is attempted will be under the 'Damocles' sword' of a Grexit or I don't know what terrible and fearful developments. We must, therefore, distinguish between what comes under the definition of fear-mongering and what constitutes a real danger."
In statements after meeting Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos on Thursday, Mitsotakis had stressed the need for consensus between the parties in order to avoid early elections, which he said might jeopardise the country's future in the Euro area.
 Four independent deputies comment on their stance in the next rounds of the presidential electionConsensus is the "cornerstone" so that independent deputies Vassilis Kapernaros, Costas Giovanopoulos and Vassilis Economou can vote for a President of the Republic, the three MPs told ANT1 TV, while Panagiotis Melas said that in the next rounds he would vote for a President.
Kapernaros noted that the reason why he was negative to the election of a Greek President was the "practice of the two parties" and underlined the need for cooperation between them. "If there is no consensus proposal for the government and the main opposition, I will vote 'No' in the next two rounds," he said.
"My absence from the Parliament aimed at showing New Democracy and SYRIZA that there must be consensus," Giovanopoulos told the same TV station. He also noted he has decided what he would vote for, but declined to make his intentions known.
Economou also underlined the need for a consensus solution and called on the prime minister to "take initiatives." He also asked that the issues of the constitutional revision and the measures being discussed in the negotiations be made known, as "it is every deputy and citizen's right to be informed of the course of the negotiations." Economou said that in case all those things are realized, he would cast a positive vote for a Greek President, even if "someone else needs to run as candidate."
Melas, on his part, said that he would vote in favour of the election of the President in the next two rounds. "In the next rounds, I will move towards a positive direction," he said and noted "there will be others that will act in the same way." He did not name any specific deputies, but said the MPs that will follow his suit will come from the independent deputies, as those who are members of parliamentary groups "act under pressure."
 Unity is the only solution to save the country, independent MP Giovanopoulos saysWe ought to meet the critical request of Greek citizens to find a solution even at the last minute, independent deputy Costas Giovanopoulos on Thursday said in a statement to explain his absence from the first round of presidential elections.
"My abstention from the first round of the presidential elections was a conscious call to common sense. It is addressed to party leaderships and each deputy separately to put an end to division," Giovanopoulos said in the statement posted on Facebook, adding that the only solution for the salvation of the country is unity.
 SYRIZA spokesman Skourletis stresses the need to go to elections for reasons of national interestThe name of the candidate President of the Republic is of little importance, main opposition SYRIZA spokesman Panos Skourletis on Thursday told SKAI TV, adding that what matters is to go to elections for reasons of national interest.
Skourletis dismissed talk about a special purpose government. "We are not concerned with a special purpose government, with special purpose governments, with the sole purpose of continuing the memorandum policy ... We are not concerned with these proposals," he said.
"For the first time since 2010 we will have a credible discussion with our partners as a government with a fresh popular mandate," he said and acknowledged that there were difficulties.
 ND MP Kaklamanis firmly opposed to national elections nowThe proposal by the eight MPs that suggests election of the new Greek president, promotion of constitutional revision by the present parliament and agreement on a timetable for general elections sometime in 2015 can be put on the table again, ruling coalition New Democracy (ND) MP Nikitas Kaklamanis said on Thursday.
In an interview on Real private radio, Kaklamanis said that he firmly believes that the country does not need elections now, adding that he was among those who have said publicly that the proposal of the eight MPs should be discussed and not be rejected.
"The constitutional revision could take place no sooner than late April or early May and, therefore, the two likely dates for national elections would be in June or September," he said, noting that this proposal can be put on the table again for serious discussion. "All of us who think that the country does not need (national) elections have an obligation to act," he said
 PASOK MP Sifounakis calls ND and PASOK to undertake initiative for cohesionPASOK MP Nikos Sifounakis on Thursday said that the parties of the co-governance (New Democracy and PASOK) should immediately exhaust every possibility for cohesion or else their stance shows that they seek snap elections.
He also warned that if the two parties do not move to that direction then the deputies should act according to their conscience in the second round of the presidential elections that will be held on 23 December.
"If the leaders of ND and PASOK do not undertake such an initiative, then the deputies have the right to believe that the so-called destruction danger does not exist and the country is deliberately led to snap elections when the majority of the people do not want them. Under these circumstances, the deputies are obliged to act accordingly and to follow their conscience and the Constitution in the next votings," he said and left open all possibilities regarding his stance in the next vote.
 'I see elections, as Samaras' plan B,' independent MP Tatsopoulos saysIndependent deputy Petros Tatsopoulos, on Thursday in statements to Vima FM, predicted that elections would take place in conditions of extreme polarization.
"I can see that (in opinion polls) the gap between New Democracy and SYRIZA is shrinking; perhaps this was (Prime Minister Antonis) Samaras' plan B," he said.
He added that a second round of national elections is possible only in case SYRIZA "does not isolate the populists and wants to continue its demagogy. I believe conditions will be so 'toxic' at that point that it will not get a (parliamentary) majority."
Referring to recent press reports that "deputies are being bribed," he said among others:"Yesterday, the Greek Parliament proved that it does not get bribed. Is the parliament stupid? Most likely. But it is not venal!"
 ANEL leader Kammenos meets with former PM Constantine MitsotakisNew Democracy emeritus president and former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis on Thursday met with Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Panos Kammenos and urged for a "consensus solution" which would allow "all the political forces of the country to have a national policy so as to be able to negotiate with the lenders."
As Kammenos said after the meeting, Mitsotakis did not ask him "to support (candidate President of the Republic) Stavros Dimas. He is deeply concerned with the economy and wants a solution to be found. Mitsotakis believes that a solution should be found before the elections, without including the issue of the election of the President."
On his part, Kammenos acknowledged the need for national consensus "but after the elections" which he described as a "one-way option."
"After the elections, the powers, which will emerge from the popular mandate, need to have a national position, which will denounce the memoranda and terminate this catastrophic policy for the economy," he said.
According to Kammenos, a solution like the one Mitsotakis proposed cannot be found before the elections, "especially when there are two political leaders - Antonis Samaras and Evangelos Venizelos - who have made cleared they have refused to hold a dialogue and have put their signatures undertaking personal commitments."
He added that "without those two, after the elections and with a policy as included in our programme, the Independent Greeks will participate in such a solution."
He also rejected the solution of a predetermined election date, as this would mean the "signing of memoranda", and criticized the government saying it had already agreed "the signing of two separate memoranda with the IMF and the ECB."
Moreover, he called on Samaras to dissolve the parliament and call elections within 18 days, under the provisions of the Constitution in highly critical cases of national significance.
Mitsotakis after the meeting said he met with Kammenos as part of the efforts to elect a Greek President and clearly expressed the view that early elections, as a result of the Parliament's inability to elect a President, would take the country to an "adventure" and would finally result in the country exiting the Eurozone.
 President Papoulias to meet with honorary ND president MitsotakisPresident of the Republic Karolos Papoulias will meet with honorary New Democracy party leader Constantine Mitsotakis at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, following a request by the latter to discuss his concern over political developments.
 ND MP Bakoyannis denies suggesting 'special purpose' governmentRuling coalition senior partner New Democracy (ND) MP Dora Bakoyannis on Thursday denied that she has ever spoken about a special purpose government, clarifying that she only said that "a national election date could be set sometime in the fall after the tourism season."
Speaking on Vima private radio, as regards her proposal for the adoption of political initiatives by the prime minister, she added that "regardless of what the opposition says...the damage done will not be big if Greece has a safety net. What they say today is doing the damage."
The former minister also said that the meeting between former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis and Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Panos Kammenos was held in the context of efforts made to reach a framework that will allow everybody to support Stavros Dimas' candidacy for president of Greece.
"We will do everything we can, but if we are met with absolute negativity the responsibility will be shared out. The political initiatives will come from the prime minister and (government vice-president) Venizelos. Everybody speaks highly of Dimas. The issue is national elections and not the individual candidate. They use the right given to them by the Constitution and put first the demand for elections instead of the consensus procedure suggested by the Constitution for the election of the president of the Hellenic Republic. The problem is instability, which is the worst thing that can happen to the economy, and not whether the Samaras government will fall. Uncertainty is disastrous for the economy," she said.
 Infrastructure Minister Chrysohoidis says 'we are heading toward elections and disaster'Infrastructure, Transport & Networks Minister Mihalis Chrysohoidis warned on Thursday that "we are heading toward elections, we are leading the country to disaster."
Speaking on Parapolitika private radio, he underlined that the country will suffer one of the biggest national disasters in its history if the political system does not reach an understanding.
He supported the proposal by ruling coalition junior partner PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos for a consensus election of the president of the republic and said that he had made the same suggestion back in September, adding that "it is a matter of responsibility."
Chrysohoidis also hinted that the preparation made for the presidential election by government officials was not serious.
 Extension of Greece's bailout programme published in Government GazetteThe legislative act for the extension of Greece's current bailout programme until February 28, 2015 was published in the Government Gazette on Wednesday.
The extension foresees that funds from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) will be available to Greece and to the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF).
This is the second amendment made in the main bailout deal signed between the Republic of Greece, EFSF, HFSF and the Bank of Greece. The first one was made in December 12, 2012.
 Parliament ratifies new NSRF funding draft bill for 2014-2020The draft bill on the management, operation and implementation of the NSRF funding to Greece in the new programming period 2014-2020 was passed in Parliament on Thursday in one session under very urgent procedures.
The two partners in the ruling coalition, ND and PASOK, voted in favour of the draft bill, while certain of its articles were voted by opposition MPs as well.
In the debate ahead of the vote, the government underlined that the goal of the draft bill is to ensure transparency and the simplification of the procedures for the absorption of EU funds, estimated to reach 27 billion euros in the next seven years.
On their part, the opposition parties characterised the goals as unrealistic and focused their criticism on the strict timetables and the limitations that cancel out the development programme of the new NSRF.
Deputy Development Minister Odysseas Konstantinopoulos, commenting on the stance adopted by the main opposition party that voted down the draft bill, accused SYRIZA that in essence it does not want the 27 billion euros that will come to the country.
 Parliament plenary debates on new NSRFDeputy Development minister Odysseas Constantinopoulos on Thursday during the debate of the bill on the new National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) in Parliament stressed the need to speed up and simplify the procedures of the new EU funding.
The deputy minister described the bill as a "growth driver", saying that some 27 billion euros are expected to flow into the country, which will boost the Greek economy and create new jobs.
SYRIZA's Dimitris Kodelos spoke of fast track procedures that cut the budget of the previous NSRF, with PASOK rapporteur Mihalis Kassis defending the bill and describing the new NSRF as "a significant source of revenues that would get the country out of the crisis."
Independent Greeks (ANEL) rapporteur Constantinos Damavolitis stressed the need for changes in expropriations, while Democratic Left (DIMAR) rapporteur Thomas Psyrras referred to the provisions on the responsibilities of managing authorities.
The bill is expected to be voted on later in the day.
 Development ministry bill will simplify customs procedures, minister says during tabling in ParliamentCustoms and customs-related procedures will be simplified under a bill submitted in Parliament on Thursday by the development ministry.
The bill will also extend the deadline for implementing investment plans qualifying under development laws 3299/2004 and 3908/2011, from December 31 to June 30, 2015.
Among other things, the bill will create a central trade databank for registration of all exporters and data entry of all customs-related documentation, it consolidates licenses for open market vendors and producers, and it introduces the option of applying for an origination certificate for products using a digital signature.
"The actions promoted will contribute practically to facilitating export trade. They simplify even further the pre-customs and customs procedures and will really contribute to supporting the Greek economy's production sectors," Deputy Development and Competitiveness Minister Notis Mitarachi said during the tabling of the bill.
 Ioannis Tragakis elected President of the Parliamentary Committee for the Revision of the ConstitutionIoannis Tragakis on Thursday was elected President of the Parliamentary Committee for the Revision of the Constitution, following a voting by the committee's members (SYRIZA, communist KKE party and Golden Dawn do not participate in it.)
PASOK MP Costas Triantafyllos was elected vice president and Independent Greeks deputy Marina Chrysoveloni was elected secretary.
 Russian President Putin on the potential of a natural gas pipeline project via GreeceMOSCOW (ANA-MPA/Th. Avgerinos)
Creating a natural gas hub on the Greece-Turkey border is possible, to allow the natural gas supply of the rest of Europe via Greece, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday in his annual end-of-year press conference, noting that such a plan depends mostly on the EU and not just on Russia.
"It is now up to the European Union to decide if they want to create the hub and ensure stable, secure and absolutely clear deliveries of energy resources that they need so badly from Russia, without transit risks," Putin said, referring to his recent decision to scrap the South Stream pipeline project that was designed to reach Central Europe via Bulgaria.
The Russian president said that "we can go via Greece, FYROM, Serbia and then Baumgartner in Austria" and noted that "if they are not interested, we shall not go there," although, he added, "There are no supplies, nor will there be any in near future, cheaper and more reliable than those from Russia."
 ITUC sends letter to IMF, expressing concern over policies implemented in GreeceInternational Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Sharan Burrow has sent a letter to International Monetary Fund (IMF) European Department Director Poul Thomsen, in which she relays the concerns of the ITUC and the Greek umbrella trade union organisation General Confederation of Employees of Greece (GSEE) over the impact of policies implemented in Greece.
According to a GSEE announcement on Thursday, the letter expresses intense concern over the "new harsh demands of the troika, stresses the failure of memorandum policies that led to an increase in poverty and inequality in Greece and asks for the immediate implementation of a new strategy that will support growth, the creation of productive positions of work and naturallly, social protection."
 Opinion poll shows SYRIZA lead over NDMain opposition SYRIZA leads ruling New Democracy (ND) with 3.6 percentage points, according to an opinion poll conducted by Marc for private TV Alpha.
According to the poll, SYRIZA leads with 28.5 percent followed by ND with 24.9 percent, Golden Dawn with 5.8 percent, the Communist Party (KKE) and To POTAMI with 5.6 percent, PASOK with 4.8 percent, Independent Greeks with 3 percent followed by LAOS with 1.5 percent and Democratic Left (DIMAR) with 1.4 percent. 5.5 percent of the respondents said the will vote for another party and 7.8 percent refused to answer.
The poll was conducted between 11 and 14 December 2014.
 EU Commissioner for Migration Avramopoulos' message on 'International Migrants Day'The Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday, on the occasion of 'International Migrants Day', stressed the significant role of legal migration in the European Union and the contribution of legal migrants to the economic, cultural and social development of Europe.
Avramopoulos referred to the big challenges of xenophobia and populism threatening the core values of our societies and stressed the need for immigration to become an integral part of a more comprehensive EU-wide approach for addressing labour market and socio-economic challenges in Europe.
Moreover, legal migration and integration policies go hand in hand with our efforts to protect those in need and address irregular migration.
"These efforts must safeguard the fundamental rights of migrants, not only in the countries of reception but also in the countries of transit and origin," he said.
 Primary residence is protected from auctions in first half of 2015, Deputy Development Minister Giakoumatos saysThe law fully protects from foreclosure the primary residence of the financially weak, Deputy Development Minister Gerassimos Giakoumatos underlined in Parliament on Thursday and did not rule out the likelihood that the ministry will sponsor a new regulation if necessary.
Giakoumatos underlined that the financially weak are not at risk of losing their homes to foreclosures, noting that there are three safety valves protecting them, namely, Katselis' Law, the justice ministry legislation on the banks' code of ethics and the law on the so-called bad loans.
"Not one home will be auctioned off in the first half of 2015," the deputy minister concluded.
 Greek, Cypriot ministers discuss bilateral cooperation in cultureDeputy Culture and Sports Minister Angela Gerekou on Thursday had a meeting in Athens with visiting Cypriot Minister for Education and Culture Costas Kadis, discussing ways to boost bilateral cooperation on cultural issues between Greece and Cyprus.
According to a culture ministry announcement, the two sides agreed to submit their proposals for drawing up a new cooperation programme in the sector, giving greater weight to the audiovisual sector.
Greece and Cyprus form a single cultural area and this, by itself, creates many opportunities to highlight their cultural heritage and encourage modern cultural creation," Gerekou said.
 ND deputies table rider allowing the transfer of former AMEL employees to Urban Rail TransportNineteen MPs of the ruling coalition's senior partner New Democracy (ND) tabled a rider in Parliament on Thursday requesting that employees of former Attiko Metro Operations Company (AMEL) whose labour contracts that expired in 2010 be transferred to Urban Rail Transport S.A. (STASY) to cover vacancies in permanent posts, based on their education and experience.
The rider is included in an environment ministry draft bill that will be voted on in Parliament on Saturday.
The same rider was rejected last week by Infrastructure, Transport & Networks Minister Michalis Chryssohoidis, despite the fact that it had the support of Deputy Transport Minister Michalis Papadopoulos.
 SYRIZA's Tsipras meets with representatives of the League for Human RightsThe leader of the main opposition Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) party Alexis Tsipras on Thursday discussed a report showing the consequences of austerity on human rights in Greece in a meeting with the president and representatives of the Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR) who published the survey.
Tsipras said the report, titled "Downgrading rights: the cost of austerity in Greece," confirms the importance of his party's programme which aims at supporting the most vulnerable members of society who were hit by the austerity policies.
During the meeting, it was noted that the protection of human rights in all their aspects (personal, political, social and economic) is an inherent dimension of the European acquis and this is why they cannot be cancelled or downgraded through an agreement between a member-state and European institutions, like the one signed between Greece and the troika.
Tsipras also said that stressing the importance of the EU and Europeanism are "empty words if they're not based on the defense of human rights."
 KKE leader sees national elections as 'most likely scenario'It appears that Greece will not avoid national elections unless things change radically in the next two rounds of election for Greek president, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Dimitris Koutsoumbas said on Thursday.
In an interview to state broadcast channel ET-3, Koutsoumbas said it looked unlikely Stavros Dimas, the candidate of governing coalition of New Democracy and PASOK, would collect enough votes to win the presidency even in the third round.
Speaking of a possible change in candidates, he said, "No possibility should be excluded... But given the facts we have so far, national elections seem the most probable outcome, unless things change radically in the other two electoral rounds, which I do not believe (will happen)."
(The first round for Greek president took place on December 17. There are two more rounds, on December 23 and 29. The first two voting rounds require 200 votes each, the third one 180. If majority is not reached, the country will go to national elections.)
 KKE welcomes release of Cubans from US jailsThe Communist Party of Greece (KKE) on Thursday welcomed the "release of Cuban patriots that until Tuesday had been in the US jails facing fabricated and unfounded charges" adding that "one of the Communist and working classes movement in our country and in other countries request has been met."
Moreover, KKE underlined that "we do not live with delusions or rest on our laurels. The face of imperialism has not become more human. Its tactic is the stick and the carrot....we continue our struggle against Cuba's embargo by the USA and against the position EU has adopted against Cuba. We express our solidarity to the Cuban people and to the Cuban Communist Party that will soon celebrate the 56th anniversary since the Cuban revolution against the imperialistic forces, interventions and all kinds of undermining plans."
 Communist Youth Party (KNE) congress opens, to run to SundayThe 11th congress of the Communist Party's youth organisation (KNE) opened its works on Thursday.
The congress will end on Sunday with a vote for a new central council.
Speaking at the event, outgoing secretary Thodoris Chionis said that the organisation is more self-confident and optimistic than ever and that in 2018 it will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its founding. The same year is the Communist Party's (KKE) centenary as well, he said, and called on both organisations to "set high goals that reflect the importance of the anniversaries" as well as encourage young people to join.
 Panathinaikos to remain at Alexandras Ave. site until 2021, per amendment in ParliamentAn amendment was tabled in Parliament on Thursday allowing Panathinaikos FC to remain in its stadium, on Alexandras Avenue in Athens, until 2021.
The amendment gives a ten-year extension to the stadium before it has to be torn down, extending the original five-year grace period that had begun in 2011, when the area's redesign was supposed to have begun.
In its explanatory note, the amendment writers said "no works have been implemented" from the original plan. It also said the extension will allow the "realistic completion of any improvements at the stadium on Alexandras Avenue in terms of facility operations and safety."
 Greek economic growth fastest in Eurozone, EY reportThe Greek economy seems to have returned to positive growth rates as the GDP rate shows that the economy is steadily growing this year, Ernst & Young said its Eurozone Forecast report.
The report said that Greece was the fastest-growing economy in the Eurozone in the third quarter, with a GDP growth of 0.7 pct, compared with the previous quarter, marking the first GDP increase after six years of recession.
Ernst & Young said it expected the recovery to be widespread with all basic sectors of the economy contributing to GDP growth this year. In particular, consumption seems to be growing further, after a 0.3 pct increase in the second quarter, while fixed-capital investments rose 1.4 pct in the second quarter. However, other sectors present a mixed picture, with industrial production falling by 5.1 pct in September, on an annual basis, leading to a slightly lower growth in the fourth quarter of 2014, while research growth was more positive. Ernst & Young stressed that the Greek economy was at a turning point as hopes rose that the country was at the beginning of a sustainable recovery and noted that the next hurdle will be of a political nature and was related with the outcome of a Parliament vote to elect a new president of the Republic. Failure to elect a new president would lead to early general elections, the report noted.
 Greek unemployment rate fell to 25.5 pct in Q3Greek unemployment rate fell to 25.5 pct in the third quarter of 2014, with the number of unemployed people totaling 1,229,370 at the end of September, Hellenic Statistical Authority said on Thursday.
The statistics service, in a monthly report, said that long-term unemployment rate soared to 75.4 pct of unemployed people, with 75.1 pct of unemployed people saying there were willing to work part-time jobs. At the same time, one in two young people, aged up to 24 years old, remained unemployed, while unemployment among women totaled 56.6 pct.
The unemployment rate was 25.5 pct of the workforce in the third quarter, from 26.6 pct in the second quarter and 27.2 pct in the corresponding period last year. The number of unemployed people totaled 1,229,370, down 4.0 pct from the previous quarter and down 6.9 pct from the same period last year. The number of employed people totaled 3,586,885 at the end of September, up 1.4 pct from the previous quarter and up 1.5 pct from the third quarter in 2013.
The unemployment rate among women fell to 29.2 pct from 31.3 pct last year, while among men it fell to 22.6 pct from 24 pct, respectively. The unemployment rate among young people aged 15-24 fell to 49.5 pct from 57.1 pct in 2013, in the 25-29 age group it fell to 39.7 pct from 43.5 pct, in the 30-44 age group it fell to 24.7 pct from 25.9 pct, in the 45-64 age group it eased to 18.5 pct from 18.9 pct and in the above 65 years group it rose to 9.3 pct from 8.2 pct.
Central Macedonia (27.8 pct from 30.2 pct in 2013) recorded the highest unemployment rate among the country's regions, followed by Western Greece (27.5 pct from 28.9 pct), Attica (27.1 pct from 28.8 pct), Western Macedonia (26.7 pct from 32.1 pct), Central Greece (26 pct from 28.4 pct), Epirus (25.9 pct from 27.5 pct), Thessaly (25.4 pct from 25.1 pct), Eastern Macedonia-Thrace (23 from 27.1 pct), the Peloponese (23 pct from 22.4 pct), Northern Aegean (21.6 pct from 20.8 pct), Crete (20.9 pct from 22.9 pct), Ionian Islands (16.1 pct from 12.8 pct) and South Aegean (15.2 pct from 17.3 pct).
The unemployment rate among foreign nations was 30.3 pct. A 18.7 pct of unemployed people were seeking full-time jobs, a 75.1 pct could settle for part-time jobs while 6.1 pct was not interested in finding a job.
A total of 171,989 people found jobs in the third quarter, after being unemployed 12 months earlier, while 125,507 entered unemployment lists after being employed 12 months earlier.
The percentage of wage earners in Greece was 64.4 pct, still below the EU average of 83.4 pct.
 Data on Greek unemployment rate show the labour market is improving, says ministryThe fall in Greece's unemployment rate in the third quarter of the year, as recorded by the country's statistics agency in data published on Thursday, shows that the situation in the labour market is improving, the labour ministry said.
"The results in the Labour Survey by ELSTAT for the third quarter confirm once more that the situation in the labour market is changing," the ministry said in a press release, after data showed unemployment dropped to 25.5 pct from 27.2 pct in the same period last year.
"The reduction in unemployment to 25.5 pct from 27.5 pct...doesn't surprise us. It constitutes the natural result of a laborious and methodical effort for the return to growth and the implementation of structural reforms that will free the competitive dynamics of the economy."
The ministry also said it expects the jobless rate to start falling at a faster pace in the coming months, provided reforms continue.
 Greek ministries plan to simplify licensing procedures for manufacturing enterprisesThe simplification of procedures in the licensing of manufacturing enterprises in the food sector, regarding the conditions for hygiene, is the next target of the Development ministry in cooperation with the ministries of Health and Rural Development.
National legislation, through the years, has become stricter than the regulations of the European Union resulting in a complex system for food safety and hygiene. For this reason, the relevant ministries will cut down on bureaucratic procedures and it is estimated that announcements on the issue will be soon made, Secretary General of Consumer Affairs George Stergiou said during the first national quality conference organised by HellasCert.
In his speech, Stergiou said that lower state intervention in the market will render businesses more responsible as they will be certified and comply with standards. "Otherwise the effort will be undermined by the companies themselves," he added.
 Deadline for implementation of investment plans under 3908/2011 law extended to end-2016The Development ministry on Thursday extended the deadline for the implementation of investment plans under the 3908/2011 development law in an amendment tabled in Parliament.
More specifically, the deadline is extended to December 31, 2016.
The same amendment provides among others for the facilitation of export trade and the upgrade the General Commercial Registry.
"The promoted regulations are part of a series of legislative measures undertaken by the Development ministry to actively support businesses in their efforts to implement their investment plans. We are making one more step to enhance the development process and the essential support of the investment activity of small and medium-sized enterprises. Meanwhile, the promoted provisions will actively help facilitate the export trade ... and will actively help support the productive sectors of Greek economy," Development Minister Notis Mitarachi noted.
 Project to replace main water pipeline in Tripolis gets go-aheadThe mayor of Tripolis Dimitris Pavlis on Thursday signed a contract for the replacement of an existing pipeline carrying water from the springs of Piana into town.
The project, funded with 4 million euros by the European Union, is expected to start in a few days and be completed before the end of 2015.
It will replace a 10-kilometre-long perforated iron water pipeline with a new one, thus reducing water loss and increasing the daily capacity by about 7,000 cubic metres. The pipeline will be used for both drinking and irrigation.
"With quit decisions and a deep knowledge of the issues we achieve significant results that benefit people," regional governor Petros Tatoulis said, adding that the project will improve the quality and quantity of water.
Tatoulis also said he believed the project would be completed by October 2015.
 Majority of Greek enterprises use IT servicesAn 89.86 pct majority of Greek enterprises with a workforce of more than 10 people are using a computer for their business operations, a survey by Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) showed on Thursday. The survey, conducted on a sample of 23,098 enterprises, said that Greek enterprises were using personal computers, laptops, PDA units and smartphones to conduct their operations, while 61.85 pct (14,287) had their own website and 8.54 pct of enterprises bought computer cloud services.
A further 9.23 pct of enterprises said their orders came through a website or EDI messages and their e-turnover totaled 3.5 billion euros, or 1.59 pct of total turnover, up from 1.21 pct in 2013. The survey also showed that 3,154 enterprises (13.66 pct of total) made their purchases through a website this year, down from 18.14 pct in 2013.
 Piraeus Bank signs agreement with KKRPiraeus Bank on Thursday announced it has reached an agreement with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) for the set up of an investment company for the transfer through securitization of the Greek bank's assets, worth 1.2 billion euros.
The new companies will be under the management or/and the control of KKR Credit while Piraeus Bank will take over the servicing of the portfolio, which comprises updated and non-performing loans and shares.
Under the agreement, the funds under KKR Credit management will offer additional funding worth up to 300 million euros. The transaction is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2015.
KKR is among the top investment firms worldwide, with assets under management worth 96.1 billion US dollars.
Anthimos Thomopoulos, chief executive at Piraeus Bank, said about the transaction that "the agreement with KKR gives the direction of a new, dynamic approach in loans and participation management. Being the largest Greek bank we examine a wide range of tools to maximize capital recovery from these positions. KKR has an excellent history and the necessary expertise in support companies to boost their value through investing long-term capital and restructuring. Its intention to invest additional capital compared with the transferred portfolio is a vote of confidence to the Greek economy's long-term prospects".
 Farmers to receive single farm payment on Dec.22The remaining amount of the 1.0 billion euro single farm payment is expected to be paid to farmers on December 22, Alternate Rural Development and Food Minister Paris Koukoulopoulos on Thursday said in an interview with ANA-MPA.
The first installment of the single farm payment, which amounted to 886.5 million euros, was submitted to beneficiaries on November 12.
Koukoulopoulos noted that more than 3.0 billion euros have been given to farmers over the last four months.
 National commerce confederation says Sunday opening should be switched to Dec. 28The Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (HCCE) on Thursday sent an urgent letter to Parliament's Standing Committee for Production and Trade, in which it asks that one of the two dates of Sunday opening before Christmas should be switched with the last Sunday of the year, or December 28.
In response to an amendment tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, which adds the optional opening of shops on the last Sunday of the year, HCCE asks that current legislation allowing seven days of Sunday opening in the year remain unchanged and that the dates of Sunday opening be switched instead.
HCCE also points to its past proposals to the development ministry that again called for replacing laws allowing Sunday opening on the two Sundays before Christmas with laws allowing shops to open on the last two Sundays of the year, after private-sector employees have been paid their Christmas bonus salaries. The confederation's request had not been met in 2013 on the grounds that there was insufficient time to change the legislation.
HCCE also attached a survey on the turnover of shops that opened on December 14, the first of the two Sundays before Christmas this year, with 64 pct saying their revenues were lower than their week-day average.
"The shops will, as everything indicates, open on the last Sunday of the year, December 28, we hope with the replacement of the first of the two Sundays before Christmas," HCCE added.
 Greece to adopt German system for pricing medical procedures, health ministry saysThe Greek health ministry on Thursday announced that it will adopt the German system for pricing medical procedures, after relevant agreements were signed by Health Minister Makis Voridis during a recent visit to Germany.
These give Greece permission to use the Diagnosis Related Groups (DRG) pricing system used by Germany's Institute for the Hospital Remuneration System (InEK), whose cost is fully covered by European structural funds.
The announcement noted that the system was offered by InEK to a large number of countries and that the agreements signed were particularly important for the development of a Greek system of hospital remuneration using a tried and tested pricing system for medical procedures.
The ministry signed agreements covering all the necessary conditions for implementing the specific structural reform with the German Institute of Medical Documentation and Information(DIMDI), which maintains diagnostic (ICD-10-GM) and procedural (OPS) coding, InEK, the German Organisation for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Voridis said the introduction of the DRG pricing system in Greece via the founding the Hospital Remuneration System Company (ESAN) will allow a reliable and prompt record of hospital costs based on the German model, and a fair and equal distribution of financial resources to cover patient needs. He stressed that the adoption of DRG in a time of economic difficulty was a fundamental reform for healthcare in Greece.
 OPAP to pay 64.3-mln-euro pre-dividend to shareholdersOPAP on Thursday announced a board decision to pay a pre-dividend of 64,330,652 euros, or 0.2017 euros per share (pre-withholding tax) to its shareholders. Payment will begin on January 1, 2015.
 Intracom Holdings sells 49 pct stake in Intracom Telecom to Dubai investorsIntracom Holdings on Thursday announced the completion of the transfer of a 49 pct equity stake in Intracom Telecom to a group of investors from Dubai for 47 million euros, of which 35 million is in cash and the remaining 12 million euros in debt.
 Greek stocks end 1.47 pct higherGreek stocks ended significantly higher in the Athens Stock Exchange, reversing an early sharp fall as the market was volatile after the disappointing first vote in Parliament to elect a new Greek president.
The composite index of the market rose 1.47 pct to end at 874.69 points, after falling as much as 3.43 pct during the session. Buying activity focused on selected blue chips such as METKA, National Bank and Ellaktor. Turnover was a moderate 95.93 million euros. The Large Cap index rose 1.18 pct and the Mid Cap index ended 0.60 pct higher.
Jumbo (7.42 pct), METKA (5.39 pct), National Bank (4.64 pct) and Grivalia Properties (4.47 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Aegean Airlines (2.19 pct), Viohalco (2.75 pct) and Piraeus Port (1.30 pct) suffered heavy losses.
Among market sectors, Personal & Household (6.52 pct), Chemicals (4.23 pct) and Oil (3.68 pct) scored big gains, while Insurance (1.43 pct), Telecoms (1.08 pct) and Food (0.70 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, advancers led decliners by 58 to 42 with another 20 issues unchanged. Mohlos (20.57 pct), Lavipharm (15.38 pct) and AS Company (12.73 pct) were top gainers, while Nikas (20 pct), PC Systems (19.51 pct) and Ekter (9.91 pct) were top losers.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Financial Services: +0.89%
Industrial Products: +2.36%
Real Estate: +3.04%
Personal & Household: +6.52%
Food & Beverages: -0.70%
Raw Material: +1.18%
Mass Media: Unchanged
Travel & Leisure: -0.53%
The stocks with the highest turnover were National Bank, OTE, Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.51
Public Power Corp (PPC): 6.12
Coca Cola HBC: 15.31
Hellenic Petroleum (ELPE): 4.15
National Bank of Greece: 1.58
Piraeus Bank: 0.93
Grivalia Properties: 7.95
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds shrank significantly to 8.40 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, from 8.56 pct the previous day, with the Greek bond yielding 8.40 pct and the German Bund yielding 0.62 pct. Turnover was an improved 48 million euros, of which 37 million were buy orders and the remaining 11 million euros were sell orders.
In interbank markets, interest rates moved lower. The 12-month rate fell to 0.328 pct from 0.33 pct, the nine-month rate fell to 0.254 pct from 0.256 pct, the six-month rate eased to 0.176 pct from 0.178 pct. the three-month rate fell to 0.079 pct from 0.081 pct and the one-month rate eased to 0.025 pct from 0.026 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe December contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading around its fair value and the January contract was trading at a discount of 1.55 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday.
Volume on the Big Cap index totalled 28,583 contracts with 50,005 open positions in the market. Volume in futures contracts on equities totalled 80,309 contracts with investment interest focusing on Alpha Bank's contracts (21,758), followed by Piraeus Bank (13,690), National Bank (13,375), Eurobank (11,235), MIG (5,500), OTE (2,961), PPC (2,576), Mytilineos (1,740), GEK (1,696), Ellaktor (1,170), Hellenic Exchanges (875), Hellenic Petroleum (614), OPAP (531), Titan (379), Sidenor (345), METKA (293), Piraeus Port (253), Terna Energy (235) and Jumbo (210).
 Foreign exchange rates - ThursdayReference rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.2285
Pound sterling 0.7865
Danish kroner 7.4393
Swedish kroner 9.4361
Japanese yen 145.96
Swiss franc 1.2052
Norwegian kroner 9.0645
Canadian dollar 1.4248
Australian dollar 1.5005
 International human rights watchdog FIDH says austerity has curtailed human rights in GreeceAusterity measures adopted in Greece have had a negative impact on human rights in the country, according to a report released on Thursday by the international human rights watchdog FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) and its Greek member association Hellenic League for Human Rights (HLHR).
According to an FIDH announcement, the report is based on findings from a mission of investigation carried out by its organisations in January 2014 and "depicts a country where economic hardship and austerity combined have threatened human rights and democratic standards across different sectors, from social and economic rights, to civil and political ones."
FIDH said that the report, entitled "Downgrading Rights: the cost of austerity in Greece," also exposes the risks inherent to policies that have ignored the adverse impact they were bound to have on society and the responsibility borne by national and international institutions, including the European Union, for such violations.
"The report reaches conclusions that are valid far beyond the Greek case, and indeed apply to all countries that have been undergoing economic assistance in response to a severe economic recession," FIDH added.
"The measures taken by Greece to meet its lenders' demands proves a readiness, at the national as much as at the international level, to sacrifice nearly everything to economic recovery" declared FIDH President Karim Lahidji, in Athens for the release of the report. "While we accept that exceptional circumstances can require exceptional responses, the way policies were adopted and implemented in this context clearly failed to respect international standards", he added.
Since the start of the economic crisis in 2009, the measures adopted to save the country from financial collapse have also led to human rights being disputed and violated, while democracy has become "poorer" according to the authors of the report.
Among others, FIDH claims that civil and political rights have been undermined, with "increasingly violent responses and brutal repression," of social unrest against an austerity agenda imposed "in blatant disregard for all regular channels for decision-making".
It also noted the government's "increasingly authoritarian stance toward public criticism, making the social and professional environment increasingly oppressive for independent media and other dissenting voices."
"By outlining the challenges that the country is facing and assessing them against international human rights standards, the report intends to show that what started as an economic and financial crisis has turned into an unprecedented assault on human rights and democratic standards in all countries sharing a similar fate. It calls on all the actors involved to address these challenges and overhaul an approach that threatens the very foundations on which the EU and its member states are built," FIDH said.
Among others, it claims the EU has breached its obligation to protect human rights deriving from its own founding treaties and the EU Charter for Fundamental Human Rights.
The full report is available at the website: https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/grece646a2014.pdf
 Culture ministry to propose adding Zagori villages to UNESCO World Heritage listThe Greek culture ministry on Thursday announced that it intends to officially sponsor the traditional villages of Epirus' Zagori district in northwestern Greece as a Greek 'cultural landscape' to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The 'Zagorochoria - North Pindos National Park' area have been on the UNESCO Tentative List for the last two years, which is one of the conditions for inclusion in the list of World Heritage Sites.
"It is with great joy that the culture and sports ministry announces its decision to finalise its proposal for the inclusion of Zagori in the UNESCO World Heritage Monuments List," said Culture and Sports Minister Costas Tassoulas at a conference held at the culture ministry on Thursday, attended by ministry general secretary Lina Mendoni and Zagori Mayor Vassilis Spyrou.
The traditional stone built villages of the remote and mountainous Zagori area are among the best preserved traditional settlements in Greece and situated in an area of exceptional natural beauty, including features such as the Vikos Gorge and Voidomatis River.
In order for an cultural landscape to be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list, it must have proven exceptional global value and its authenticity and integrity must be protected. There must be a comparative study comparing the site with others, both included and not included in the UNESCO list, a definitive boundary and protection zone, a written management plan and guarantees for its effective implementation. It also calls for a record of factors likely to affect the cultural good, either positively or negatively, and measures to protect the monument in emergency situations.
 Memorandum of cooperation signed by tourism ministry and the municipality of MarathonasThe ministry of tourism and the municipality of Marathonas on Thursday signed a memorandum of cooperation to promote the region's cultural heritage and boost tourist arrivals.
Tourism Minister Olga Kefalogianni underlined that Marathonas enjoys global recognition and initiatives for the attraction of tourists will be implemented in this context. She also noted that Athens can attract more City Break tourists by promoting the Battle of Marathon and the authentic Marathon race.
Marathonas Mayor Ilias Psinakis also referred to the region's global recognition, noting that this fact should be exploited by setting up a Marathon Film Office to attract film productions.
 Local government officials briefed on funding options at Athens meetingGreek municipalities (KEDE) and the Loan and Consignment Fund (TPD) organised a one-day meeting at a central Athens hotel on Thursday on "New funding opportunities and options for local government," which included briefings by ministers and a European Investment Bank (EIB) representative.
Briefings included information on funding for local government through the EIB and European Commission funding ("new NSRF 2014-2020") which will be disbursed directly to projects through programmes managed by EIB, the new NSRF and TPD.
Addressing the meeting, Alternate Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said that the Greek government will set new and lower interest rates for existing loans of the municipalities, adding that a new draft bill was under preparation that would also include the option of refinancing old loans with better interest rates.
TPD president Alekos Kritikos said that the Fund had already signed an agreement with EIB in 2013 to collaborate on local government projects, while another was signed with a local-growth agency (PETA) for a 200 million euros additional funding of investments for 2014-2015. The Fund, he added, has decided to lower interest rates for new loans and refinance older ones through use of EIB funds.
Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Yiannis Maniatis said that 200-220 million euros of the new NSRF funding would be earmarked for energy efficiency in the public sector and municipalities, and augmented by leveraging TPD, bank and private funds. TPD and banks would match the ministry's funds in triplicate, he said.
EIB Deputy Technical Advisor Fernando Camano-Garcia briefed the attendants on the European bank's funding tools, saying that large cities could be funded directly. The bank had begun a collaboration with the cities of Athens and Iraklio (on the island of Crete) already, while it was considering one with Thessaloniki.
For smaller cities, he said, EIB had created two credit lines through the TPD totalling 100 million euros, allowing the Loan and Consignment Fund to disburse funding directly for projects related to road safety, educational infrastructure and environmental upgrading works, energy efficiency and tourism infrastructure.
Municipalities' projects could be funded 50% by EIB and the rest through TPD or other credit agencies or through the European Commission. The Loan and Consignment Fund's credit line is an innovative programme that totals 50 million euros for smaller municipalities, he said.
The EIB official noted that the bank had approved another programme on December 16 worth 1 billion euros for projects co-funded by the European Commission. It is a multi-faceted programme, he said, that aims to help the Greek economy's revival and viable growth, and is being implemented in the framework of the 2014-2020 programme. It is the first time that this cumulative funding can reach up to 100%, to deal with ongoing problems and conditions in Greece today.
 Free peach juice distribution to families with many children by Northern Greek producersImathia and Kozani producers, with the support of the rural development ministry, will distribute more than 200,000 litres of free peach juice to thousands of families with four or more children in Athens, as part of the temporary support measures for EU peach producers.
Under the decisions taken, a portion of the unsold peaches and nectarines could be withdrawn and distributed for free to charitable, non-profit organisations. Some 3,667 tonnes of peaches and nectarines were withdrawn, 2,358 tonnes of which were processed in order to be distributed as juice, while the rest were given away as fresh produce. In fact, the producers themselves reckon that the withdrawal of these quantities prevented the market from collapsing.
"This day is particularly important as it shows our country's capability to make use of the European framework; it shows what a society can do when it has good and strong institutions," Alternate Rural Development Minister Paris Koukoulopoulos on Thursday said, while visiting premises of the Athens association of families with four-plus children, where the distribution was taking place. He also said the ministry continues efforts to support peach producers and try to make use of all possibilities provided by the European framework.
Imathia cooperatives head Christos Giannakakis said the withdrawal of 3,667 tonnes of fresh peaches and nectarines prevented the collapse of the market. He added the impact of the Russian embargo on all sectors related to the production and trade of peaches and nectarines, as well as from the fall in prices, is estimated at around 50-60 million euros.
 Mostly fair on FridayMostly fair weather and northerly winds are forecast for Friday. Wind velocity will reach 5 on the Beaufort scale. Mostly fair in the northern parts of the country with temperatures ranging from 05-13C. Scattered clouds in the western parts with temperatures between 08C-17C. Mostly fair in the eastern parts with temperatures between 06C-16C. Possibility of rain over the islands, 12C-18C. Scattered clouds in Athens, 08C-16C. Mostly fair in Thessaloniki, 05C-13C.
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