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Athens News Agency: News in English, 07-09-08

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

From: The Athens News Agency at <>


  • [01] PM says country needs strong government to promote reforms

  • [01] PM says country needs strong government to promote reforms

    A new patriotism rising from the ruins left by the unprecedented natural disaster that hit several parts of the country has made us stronger and more determined, while it underlines the need to move faster and more efficiently, to change everything bad, to make the state faster, friendlier to citizens, more effective. To prepare for tomorrow with a vision, responsibility and confidence, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said on Saturday.

    In his traditional speech to producer classes, during the opening day of the Thessaloniki International Fair, presenting the government's policy guidelines for next year, the Greek Prime Minister noted that the country experienced an unprecedented natural disaster with many lives lost, but said the government emerged stronger from this ordeal to move faster with reforms and changes needed, to quickly repair damages and draft a plan for the reconstruction of fire-damaged regions.

    "In March 2004, Greek citizens honoured us with their confidence. They gave us a direct order to get the country out of dead ends it had entered. In the three-and-a-half years that have passed, we faced many difficulties, but the work we have done is significant. The results of our common efforts are tangible," Karamanlis said, adding that the government had set a double target: to achieve fiscal consolidation in the mildest possible way for citizens and to promote changes and reforms in economy, education, healthcare and the state.

    "We knew from the start that this road was not easy. But it is the road of responsibility and we follow it steadily. Reforms and changes are a demand of society. They are also our stable strategic goal," he noted.

    Karamanlis said a decision by the EU to end all excessive fiscal procedures against Greece confirmed the rightness of the government's policy and acknowledged the efficiency of its policy. "It is a great success for the economy, for the country, for all Greeks". The Prime Minister noted that the fiscal deficit fell below the 3.0 pct of GDP limit for the first time since Greece's entered the Economic and Monetary Union and underlined that Greece improved its investment environment, supported business activity and small- and medium-sized enterprises, creating more wealth.

    Karamanlis stressed that Greece also strengthened its presence in Europe and the world, by playing a leading role in the political, economic and cultural life in its neighbourhood. "Greece is a factor of peace, stability and partnership in the wider Southeastern Europe, conquering the place it deserves in the heart of Europe. With a clear strategy and exploiting its geopolitical position and comparative advantages, Greece develops into an energy hub, a commercial and financial center, a gateway for investments and products in dynamically growing neighbouring markets, an attractive tourist destination all year round".

    The Greek premier presented the results of the government's policy in the last three years and most importantly the fact that economic growth remained one of the highest in the Eurozone, "a self-feeding growth based on higher exports and investments". Karamanlis said the government brought the unemployment rate to 7.7 pct in May 2007 from 11.3 pct in 2004 by creating more than 200,000 new jobs, but noted that unemployment remained the biggest social problem in the country and stressed the need to continue reforms and changes. "We must move forward with a new dynamism, with more speed to achieve a fair, credible, effective social state".

    Karamanlis said, however, that despite the fact that the government earmarked significant funds to combat poverty in the country, results were not as expected because of antiquated structures in the system. This is another proof that we must proceed with radical reforms to allow the state to implement a real social policy. To evolve into a state offering a sense of security and confidence for tomorrow to all citizens. This is our goal, he said.

    Karamanlis noted that drafting of the 2008 budget, the first after exiting the EU's excessive deficit procedures, was of national interest as it signalled the entry into a new era. An era of a real social state.

    He underlined a package of draft bills recently tabled to parliament for the support of lower incomes.

    The Greek Prime Minister said the first and urgent priority of the government was the economic and social reconstruction, ensuring sustainable development and the rebirth of natural habitat in fire-hit regions of the country. The state will do everything, for as long it takes, to fully heal all wounds left by the fire.

    Karamanlis presented the policy guidelines for the new four-year period, saying they were based on five axes:

    -Changes in the state, the "big patient" of the country with symptoms such as huge structural gaps, lack of transparency and lack of meritocracy. It is true that were weaknesses, even some delays. But it is also true that such big gaps cannot be closed from one day to the other. Our reforms may not have created the state we wanted yet, but strengthened local governments, limited bureaucracy, boosted transparency. "We made the first steps. Much more have to be done in the next four years to create a more effective state and to establish a new relation between the citizen and the state. A relation of credibility and trust".

    Karamanlis said efforts must emphasize on limiting co-responsibility, promoting a more effective operation of public administration, upgrading the role of Civil Protection, further promoting transparency and enforcing the law.

    -The second axis of our policy is to strengthen the social state by creating a National Fund for Social Cohesion to support families with greater needs, offering higher benefits to families with three children from January 2008, higher payrolls for the police force and the military, higher pensions and unemployment benefits. Karamanlis said from 2009 the government will introduce a mininum national pension. The government will also seek to reform the National Health System with the hiring of more doctors and personnel.

    "We move towards solving the pension problem, by ensuring additional funds for the system through cutting overspending, unification of pension funds, a more effective management of assets, combatting contribution-evasion, restructuring healthcare systems, offering incentives for longer stay in jobs, restructuring an institution for heavy job positions. We invest on our economic growth to ensure adequate funds without raising retirement ages or cutting pension payments.

    -The third axis of our policy is to make the Greek economy more competitive, more attractive and more outgoing, Karamanlis said. The government program envisages more measures to support business activity and the growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises, creating new growth and social infrastructures, promoting a third round of tax reform with a more simple real estate tax policy. The Greek Premier announced that the government will abolish all inheritance taxes to be replaced by an 1.0 percent duty on the value of the property, abolishing all taxes and duties for the buying of first homes. "We invest on human capital, training and support the creation of more jobs," he said.

    Karamanlis said the government was opening the "Roads of Development": the Eastern Road in the Peloponese, the Regional Road in the Peloponese, the E65 in Central Greece, the Ionian Road, and the Maliakos-Kleidi road axis, completing the Egnatia Road, expanding the Athens metro, upgrading airports and ports, creating dams. It is an unprecedented program of projects, the biggest in our history with a budget of more than 17 billion euros.

    Karamanlis said the government was dynamically promoting an energy policy with emphasis given to renewable energy sources, expanding natural gas distribution networks, supporting energy infrastructure, attracting large investments, promoting international agreements.

    The tourism industry is at the centre of our growth strategy, emphasizing on the enrichment and quality upgrade of the tourist product.

    The government has secured 24 billion euros for regional growth and for the country's farmers by 2013, Karamanlis said, adding that more actions were promoted to support farming population.

    -The fourth axis of our policy priorities is protecting the environment. "We are now ready to implement national plans for the industry, tourism and renewable energy sources. The country will have, for the first time ever, an integrated plan for the use of land". Karamanlis said drafting of a National Land Registry was progressing rapidly, while Greece harmonised is legislation to community directives on the environment, implementing a national plan of distributing emissions and recycling programs across the country.

    "I strongly emphasize: There is no growth without environmental protection. This is our duty to the country. It is a way of life," the Greek premier said.

    -The fifth axis of our policy priorities is promoting a knowledge society. "Our strategic goal is a full revision of the education system and of course the revision of article 16 of the Constitution," he said.

    We are commited in offering new dynamism to a Digital Strategy in the country. The results of our policies in the last three years are spectacular with significant progress in internet access, a sharp fall in access costs and a rapidly increase use of broadband services.

    Beyond these five axes, the next parliament will seek a revision of the country's Constitution. This revision will guarantee: more transparency, enhancing Justice's independece, deregulating education forces with adopting a new article 16.

    "The revision is a demand of the society. It is our duty to the new generation," Karamanlis said.

    The Prime Minister underlined that Macedonia and Thrace are ready for the country's next step as they obtain new dynamism, a new prospect. They are the gate linking North with South, East with West. They are the centre for Greece as an international energy hub. A financial, commercial and cargo center. A business and financial hub.

    In the three-and-a-half years that passed, Greece ensured a healthy fiscal environment and established a new growth model. The country created new opportunities as shown by a large inflow of foreign capital, a rapid increase in new enterprises and reducing unemployment.

    At the same time, the country has reached international energy agreements, putting Greece in the global energy map, upgrading its geopolitical role, attracting large investments and creating new jobs.

    "Our report is clear and sincere. Significant steps forward have been made, but much more need to be done. During these years weaknesses were recorded. We know them. But many things were put on the right track. The challenge lies ahead is to continue this course. That's why Greece needs a strong government to promote the necessary reforms. The country needs unity and responsibility. This is our choice. To ensure a stable political climate. To unite efforts in achieving common goals," Karamanlis said.

    Caption: Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis (centre) and his wife Natasha (right) toured the pavilions at the Thessaloniki International Fair shortly after its official opening on Saturday, 8 September 2007. Seen on the left is Thessaloniki Prefect Panagiotis Psomiadis. ANA-MPA/PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS OFFICE/GOUILIELMOS ANTONIOU

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