|Thursday, 19 April 2018|
Athens News Agency: News in English, 08-10-23
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 ND to abstain from Vatopedi inquiry debateRuling New Democracy (ND) will not take part in Friday's debate for a Parliamentary inquiry to investigate the involvement of government ministers in the Vatopedi land swap scandal, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos announced on Thursday. The minister made the announcement after a meeting of the Inner Cabinet and urged main opposition PASOK to withdraw its proposal.
"We call on PASOK not to insist on this proposal, which leads mathematically to a cover-up of the affair," he said, while strenuously denying that the ruling party was afraid of 'defections' during Friday's secret ballots.
According to Pavlopoulos, if the ruling party took part in the session, it would vote against PASOK's proposal for a preliminary examination committee, thus ruling out the possibility of creating such a committee in the future, if evidence against the specific persons was found during the inquiry to be carried out by the Parliamentary investigation committee that MPs voted in favour of on Wednesday.
PASOK's proposal levels accusations against three current and former ministers. These include Minister of State Theodoros Roussopoulos, whom PASOK wants investigated as the "moral instigator" of the land swap deals, and the two members of government that signed off on the edicts allowing the deals to go ahead, former deputy finance minister and current Deputy Foreign Minister Petros Doukas and former agriculture minister Evangelos Bassiakos.
The majority party's absence from the chamber would essentially rule out any chance of PASOK's proposal being passed, since the formation of a preliminary examination committee to investigate ministerial responsibility requires an absolute majority of 151+ votes in the 300-seat Parliament. If the proposal is not passed, meanwhile, no new proposal for a preliminary examination based on the same events can be submitted.
The main opposition has justified its decision to seek an inquiry targeting specific persons on the grounds that an investigation committee will take too long and there is a high chance that the offences being investigated will be automatically written off when the current Parliament breaks up in the summer of 2009.
The ruling party's decision to pull out of the debate is not entirely unexpected, coming after days of media speculation and rumours predicting such a move in the wake of vocal opposition by 'rebels' within its ranks that included calls for the removal of Minister of State Theodoros Roussopoulos, especially given its slim majority of 152 in Parliament.
Explaining the government's decision, Pavlopoulos pointed out that MPs on Wednesday voted unanimously in favour of an investigation committee to look into the affair, which was expected to reach its conclusion by mid-December.
"According to Parliament rules, the investigation committee has the powers of examining magistrates and a Misdemeanours court prosecutor. In other words, the same powers in terms of carrying out an inquiry with those of the Preliminary Examination Committee," he said.
Once the investigation committee had completed its work, with justice continuing its own investigation at the same time, it would then be possible to submit a proposal for a Preliminary Examination by Parliament targeting specific persons, based on substantiated evidence of real criminal liability if this had arisen during the probe, the minister added.
"At this time, as soon as we proposed an investigation committee, PASOK tabled a proposal for a Preliminary Examination that was vague and groundless, based on the surrounding atmosphere and seeking to criminalise political life and to politicise justice. PASOK's proposal strikes directly, as was shown during Wednesday's debate, at the institutions themselves," Pavlopoulos claimed.
He also underlined that the majority could never support the proposal under the circumstances and would lay itself open to accusations of covering up the affair by voting against it.
Papandreou reaction PASOK party President George Papandreou, reacting to the ruling party's decision while speaking in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, referred to "widespread public demand for change". He took the podium after ND announced its decision. "New Democracy cannot stand the truth, and chose to flee, thus injuring Parliament institutions, the dignity of its deputies and voters and the need for a law-abiding state," he stressed. Parliament decides against delay of PASOK proposal
Earlier on Thursday, Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas announced that the debate on PASOK's proposal would take place on Friday as planned and not be postponed, as requested by the smaller opposition parties. He made the announcement after a meeting of Parliament's presidency, which decided against postponing the debate.
Sioufas announced that the debate is set to begin at 10:00 in the morning and will end at around 18:00 in the evening with three secret ballots, in which the three ministers being charged will not be allowed to vote.
The question of postponing the vote was raised on Wednesday by Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), after prosecuting authorities sent the file of witness testimony and evidence concerning the case to Parliament, so that MPs would have time to study the file before voting.
Sioufas also announced that the investigation committee on Vatopedi that Parliament voted to form on Wednesday will include 12 members from ruling New Democracy, eight from main opposition PASOK, one from KKE, one from SYRIZA and one from LAOS.
Meanwhile, the investigation into the Vatopedi affair by Appeals prosecutor Efstathia Spyropoulou has been put on hold until the outcome of Friday's vote on a preliminary examination committee is known.
The prosecutor has so far completed a round of witness examinations and is waiting to see whether Parliament will take over the inquiry or reject the call for a Parliamentary investigation before she decides her next moves.
If Parliament decides not to investigate, she will then be free to summon suspects that are not political figures to answer to charges of defrauding the public sector. If Parliament votes in favour of an inquiry, however, the prosecutor will then await the reasoning of its decision and whether Parliament will take over the inquiry in full or whether she can continue her investigation into the involvement of non-MPs in the case, in which case the suspects will be charged with breach of faith.
 Subsidies for young farmersSubsidies provided for young farmers -up to the age of 40- will be doubled for their initial facility and all the relevant procedures for the accession of those interested to the corresponding programme will be simplified.
Agricultural Development and Food Minister Alexandros Kontos signed the relevant ministerial decision which establishes the new procedures. Funds amounting to 305 million euros have been earmarked from the "Alexandros Baltatzis" operational programme and 10,000 young farmers will be able to join the relevant programme with this amount.
The arrangements decided for young farmers by the minister, in cooperation with the representatives of the young farmers, include subsidies for the initial facility to increase to 20-40,000 euros, whose payment will be carried out in three instalments, while the applications of those interested will be submitted throughout the entire year and approval will be granted within a period of four months.
 Education minister on EU ruling, use of Community fundsNational Education Minister Evripidis Stylianidis on Thursday stressed that a European Court ruling regarding franchise colleges was "no surprise" and promised measures to settle the issue after the new year.
Speaking at an event organised by the ministry's agency for the Operational Programme for Education and Initial Vocational Training, he also announced that Greek university libraries and laboratories will receive the first injection of funds from the European Community Support Framework (CSF).
He said the education ministry currently had the highest absorption rate of all government ministries, with more than 90 percent of 3rd CSF funding absorbed at present, which was expected to reach 100 percent by the end of the year.
It had also successfully negotiated a 29 percent increase of spending on education from the 4th CSF package, with 3.37 billion euros earmarked for education in 2007-2013.
He stressed that the funding programme for university universities and laboratories was of vital importance for those working in the sector, as well as for students and teachers, because they were tools for carrying out original research and promoting truly high quality knowledge.
The minister also commented on a European Court ruling on Thursday that found Greece in violation of Community legislation by not recognising degrees issued by private educational institutions operating as franchises of EU universities abroad.
Stylianidis stressed that the ruling was not a surprise to the government but something expected, adding that the past commitments he had made on this issue still applied.
"We will study the ruling, there will be the necessary consultation, and then we will issue a presidential decree that brings the Greek system in line with that of Europe while ensuring the quality of education," he said, adding that a legislative measure dealing with this issue should be expected after the start of the new year.
 Roussopoulos resignsMinister of State and government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos on Thursday resigned from the government with a letter sent to the prime minister. His resignation was accepted by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who decided to appoint Evangelos Antonaros to replace him as government spokesman, according to an announcement issued by the premier's press office.
This said that the minister sent a letter of resignation to the prime minister on Thursday afternoon, while the contents of the letter itself were released in an earlier announcement issued by the Ministry of State.
In this, Roussopoulos claimed he was led to his decision by considerations concerning the interests of "our great democratic party that is being attacked by sordid machinations".
He added that as an MP, without the additional burdens imposed by the position of government spokesman, "I will be able to defend myself from this devious and wholly unfounded attack recently launched against my person".
Accepting Roussopoulos' resignation, Karamanlis thanked him for the "close and productive cooperation" between them and his contribution over the past eight years, adding that he understood the reasons that led to Roussopoulos' decision and that these revealed self-respect and political moral fibre.
According to the premier's press office, Karamanlis also decided to place Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos in charge of supervising the general secretariats for information and communication that were previously part of Roussopoulos' portfolio.
 Papariga on KKE positionsThe Communist Party of Greece's (KKE) positions on socialism were outlined by KKE leader Aleka Papariga in view of the Parliament-represented party's 18th congress.
Papariga stated during a press conference in Athens on Thursday that the party congress will focus on "subjective and domestic factors that led to the capitalist rise in the former Soviet Union", stressing that the party continues to support the position that socialism is a necessity.
Among the "subjective factors" cited by Papariga was what she referred to as the "idealisation of socialism", stressing that "the mistakes made were left unnoticed, while the dialogue between communist parties was not facilitated."
"Deviation begins when solutions are not given on time or are the wrong solutions and mistakes become idealised, turned into ideologies," she stated.
On the likelihood of cooperation with the Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA), Papariga said her party cannot collaborate with those who applauded the overturn of socialism.
 Gov't tables bank support planThe Finance ministry on Thursday tabled a draft bill in Parliament aimed at strengthening the domestic economy, particularly the banking sector, from the impact of the on-going international crisis.
Under the draft bill, the Greek state will participate in the equity capital of commercial banks through the purchase of preferred stock, up to five billion euros, while it would also offer guarantees for banks to raise liquidity from international capital markets, worth 23 billion euros.
Caption: A file photo dated 24, January 2002, shows the euro sculpture at the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt Main, Germany. ANA-MPA/ EPA/OLIVER BERG
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