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Athens News Agency: News in English, 09-06-03
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Karamanlis: Responsibility and reformsThe government's agenda is the path of responsibility, reforms, and everything that needs to be done, and which is already being done, to limit the impact of the immense global financial crisis and prepare the country to meet the challenges arising after the crisis under much better terms, Prime Minister and ruling New Democracy (ND) party leader Costas Karamanlis stressed in an exclusive interview with ANA-MPA, adding that most of the reforms have already been set in motion and what is needed, is continuity, consistency and greater intensity, so that they will move ahead at a faster pace.
The prime minister spoke at length on his government's reforms plan, Sunday's European Parliament elections, and also on foreign policy issues with the focus on Turkey and its EU aspirations, and on FYROM.
Asked to what degree the outcome of Sunday's European Parliament elections would influence the further course of the government's work and whether it would determine the agenda for the 'day after', the premier noted that the Euroelections "are a very serious thing, first of all because the European Parliament has much greater importance today than in the past" as "serious decisions are taken there and, particularly for a country that wants to be in the front line of Europe, its presence in the Europarliament is also of very great importance".
"Naturally, the Euroelections also have a political content, useful conclusions arise, but beyond that the agenda of the 'day before' and the 'day after' are a given fact. And this agenda is the path of responsibility, the path of reforms, all that which we must do , and are already doing, to limit the repercussions of the major international crisis and to prepare the country to face the 'day after' the crisis under much better terms," he explained.
Asked what he considered are the priorities immediately after the Euroelections, given the international economic conjuncture and the European Commission's observations regarding the Greek economy, the prime minister replied that Greece, to now, has been more mildly affected by the "real crisis", in other words the impact on the real economy.
"This is the truth. Of course we have negative effects and naturally the forecasts for all of Europe, just as for the entire world, are adverse" but "comparatively, however, with other countries, we do not have such big difficulties," he noted.
"In Greece, in our country just as in every country, there are particularities. The significant problem is the immense public debt accrued over the past decades, which requires that we are always cautious in our fiscal matters. And also some dysfunctions in our markets. In other words, there is a need for structural changes," the premier said.
"This means, therefore, that we must have our attention turned to pushing the reforms ahead, not only because Europe tells us so, but because we need to understand ourselves what we must do. At this time, however, when the crisis is showing up the weaknesses of every country, we are obliged to be honest, to look those weaknesses in the eye and to immediately advance the reforms".
Asked to outline the reforms planned until the end of the year, Karamanlis first of all noted that "most of them have already been set in motion, and simply continuity, consistency and, if you wish, greater intensity are needed so that they will move ahead more speedily".
For example, he said, a few days ago the government announced the merger of 255 agencies of the wider public sector. "This is an important step in the effort, in the constant effort, to tidy up the wider public sector. We all know that it is the big 'patient' in our economy."
Another example was the restructure and streamlining plan already underway for the Hellenic Rail Organisation (OSE) which, the premier noted, currently cost the national economy more than two million euros per day.
Thirdly, he continued, is the need to advance the governmentās plans, with great caution, for curbing the expenditures in the health sector. "A cutback of expenditures not at the expense of the services provided. But the fact that now there is a central committee that clears the supplies, the fact that all the hospitals are now obliged to submit an annual budget, a balance sheet, the fact that we now have a clear plan for limiting the expenditure for medicines, indicate that we must persist and continue on this path that we have embarked on."
Fourthly, the premier noted the substantial social security reform carried out last year. "The fact that the 133 social security funds were restricted (through mergers) to 13 (larger funds) was a very big step, but more is needed. Let me give you a few simple examples: Separating the health branch from the pension branch, rationalisation of the 'heavy and hazardous' professions, which is overwhelmingly larger in our country than in the other European countries. And on the other hand to promote the 'opening' of the closed markets and professions. Naturally, through dialogue with the interested sides, but with a clear target: a more open economy that will be more competitive and more productive."
"What does all this mean? It means that we can turn the crisis, the major challenge of the crisis, into a national opportunity, provided of course that we have the political courage to take the decisions that are necessary, decisions which sometimes may also create dissatisfaction. They may cause a temporary or short-term political cost, but they are nevertheless necessary for Greece's course," Karamanlis said.
Asked to comment on the opposition reactions to the reforms, the premier said: "It is a fact that all the reform efforts -- let me remind you of two of the top reforms, the educational reform and the social security reform -- were met by the opposition parties, and chiefly the main opposition party (PASOK) with a fierce reaction, with unproductive and barren criticism, and with a monotonous 'no to everything'. This is a disadvantage for the country. And I wish to be clear on that, because there are countries, for example, where the social security reform -- which perhaps was even more advanced than ours -- was agreed with the political and social partners."
"Also, as you know, a few months ago, when the international crisis was at its apex, I asked of the leaders of the other parties, not to agree, but to at least reach an understanding on some basic guidelines, on what I would call the fundamental and self-evident aspects. I again met with refusal, mainly from the main opposition. At any rate, this does not mean that we must not push forward. On the bottom line, it is the government that has the responsibility. I have been elected twice as prime minister by the Greek citizens. It is my duty to do that which must be done. That is what we are doing, and that is what we will continue to do," the prime minister said.
To a question on the problems faced by the Greeks of the 'Diaspora' (Greeks abroad), Karamanlis first noted that he and everyone in Greece have a special place in their hearts for their compatriots living and working outside the country. "They are a valuable part of Hellenism that contributes much in all aspects. Both because they are good ambassadors of our country abroad -- and not only of our country and culture and our image -- and because they contribute much, especially to the efforts on our national issues."
"I must say that, every day we can do more for these people. Much has been done. We are in close contact with the upgraded World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), much has been done to improve teaching of our language, in cultural affairs, so as to enhance the ties between the homeland and the Greeks abroad. I regret that a very large reform -- and also a very big step that would have rendered our bonds with our compatriots abroad even closer -- did not become a reality, due to the barren refusal of the opposition, and especially the main opposition party, to agreeing that we all pass the bill giving an absentee vote to the Greeks abroad," he added.
"I say this because the nation is co-comprised of the Greeks abroad as well, and beyond that, I believe that the strongest bridge, even closer ties and communication between the motherland and its children abroad, would have been their direct participation in our country's political and social affairs. The bill, which the Greeks abroad organisations were in agreement with, was tabled in Parliament, but unfortunately only ND voted in favor of it, and given that the Constitution requires a 2/3 (two-thirds) majority, it was not passed. I hope that in the not so distant future we will be able to make this a reality, because our compatriots abroad deserve it," the premier said.
Turning to foreign affairs, the prime minister was asked to elaborate on Greece's steadfast position concerning Turkey's aspirations for European Union membership that full accession presupposes Ankara's full compliance with the European principles and values, and whether this included a solution to the Cyprus issue founded on the European acquis and withdrawal of the Turkish occupation forces from Cyprus, which is an EU member state.
"Our strategy on this issue is quite clear and simple, and I also believe that it is very concrete. Full compliance, full accession. What is meant by this? I believe that we all agree that a European Turkey, a Turkey that has adopted attitudes and behaviors founded on the European criteria, principles and values, will be a better Turkey, first of all for its own citizens, but also for its environs and for all of Europe and, of course, its neighbors. This strategy means that Turkey has, and should have, a European potential, provided however that it, just as every other candidate country, wholly fulfills all the criteria," Karamanlis explained.
"This is our position, and I believe it is a very strong position. What does this mean? That gradually, Turkey is required to fully respect the European acquis. And this includes the issues you mentioned because, naturally, one cannot possibly speak of a European future when one country (candidate Turkey) does not recognise a country that is already an EU member state, and indeed a country whose consensus is needed so as (for Turkey) to continue on to the next steps in the European course," the premier said.
"Beyond that, however, it also means many more things. It means that a 'casus belli' cannot exist, it means that there must be absolute respect for the rights and freedoms of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but also the Orthodox Church. It also means that the principles of good neighborhood must be fully consolidated. And what is surmised by all this? That this strategy has a beginning, a middle and an end. We maintain this reasoning. It is up to Turkey to prove, in action, that it wants and can become a European country tomorrow, in the future," Karamanlis continued.
Turning to FYROM, the prime minister was asked whether his government would seek a more substantive European intervention for a solution to the problem, given that despite statements by the new president of the neighboring country, Skopje continued to maintain the same stance it has held in the past.
"But Europe, and also the Euro-Atlantic Alliance (NATO), of course, already have a clear-cut position, crystal clear decisions, unanimous decisions, on this matter, and I must note that I consider this an important national success, if one considers where we were regarding this issue three, five, ten years ago. The decision today is that the criterion and condition for FYROM's accession course to both these major institutions -- the European family and the Alliance -- to progress, good neighborhood relations must be secured and the outstanding name issue must be resolved with a mutually acceptable name," the premier explained.
"Our position is clear on this, clear and steadfast. Besides, everyone knows this now, and that is how we reached the two, in my opinion correct, decisions in Bucharest (NATO summit) and later in the European Union. A mutually acceptable name, a composite name with a geographical determinant that will make clear the distinction from the Greek Macedonia and will be in effect universally, towards all. We desire good relations with that country. We want to support its choices for (membership in) Europe and the Alliance, but that is the prerequisite, and it is an inviolable condition," Karamanlis continued.
Asked, finally, what was at stake in Sunday's Euroelections, Karamanlis noted that "I spoke about the content of the Euroelections at the beginning of our interview, and I would add that what is at stake for the country today is whether we will choose to support and actively advance the path, the choice, of responsibility, which may entail tough decisions at times, but which is the only road if we want our country to maintain its 'weapons', its strong points, and to permanently cure its weak sides...in other words the path of reforms, or whether we will listen to the street sirens, the voices of irresponsibility and populism".
"I believe that the choice is clear. For the government and for myself, personally, there is no quandary, nor has there ever been one, on what we must do. This is what we are doing, and what we will continue to do the 'day after'," the premier stressed, adding: "I am certain that the Greek citizens realise this very well and, regardless of any other parameters and particularities the Europarliament elections may have, they know that this is a path that we must all traverse together."
 ASE opening : DeclineEquity prices were declining at the opening of trade on Wednesday on the Athens Stock Exchange (ASE), with the basic share price index down 0.45 percent, standing at 2,416.54 points at 10:45 a.m., and turnover at 13.2 million euros.
Individual sector indices were moving mostly downward, with the biggest losses in Banks, down 1.13 percent; Media down, 1.09 percent; and Oil and Gas, down 0.99 percent.
The biggest gains were in Health, up 2.13 percent; Food & Beverage, up 1.56 percent; and Technology, up 0.94 percent.
The FTSE/ASE 20 index for blue chip and heavily traded stocks was down 0.45 percent, the FTSE/ASE MID 40 index was up 0.29 percent, and the FTSE/ASE-80 small cap index was up 0.58 percent.
Of the stocks moved, 67 were up, 32 were down, and 18 were unchanged.
 Athens Newspaper HeadlinesThe Wednesday edition of Athens dailies at a glance
The Siemens case after the incarceration pending trial of the wife and a daughter of former Siemens Hellas financial manager Christos Karavelas, who has fled the country, Sunday's European Parliament elections and the recent balance in international stock markets, dominated the headlines on Wednesday in Athens' newspapers.
ADESMEFTOS TYPOS: "Optimism prevails in ruling New Democracy for the outcome of the Euroelections".
APOGEVMATINI: "16,433 hirings in public sector".
AVGHI: "Synaspismos leader Alexis Tsipras in his main campaign rally in Athens on Tuesday called for a third pole".
AVRIANI: "Main opposition PASOK party spokesman and europarliament candidate George Papaconstantinou is lying. On 18/6/2002 he signed the contract for the direct assignment to SIEMENS of telecom supplies for 114 million euros."
CHORA: "Karavelas' list with persons involved in Siemens case - Ready to be released?»
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: "14 million euros from bribes exported to Uruguay and Panama - Karavelas had set up a series of off-shore companies".
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: "Mrs Minister resign! - Article on FM Dora Bakoyannis' political responsibilities on Karavelas' escape".
ESTIA: "How the Europarliament members are elected with simple proportional electoral system".
ETHNOS: "Outcry over the arrest of Karavelas' (adult) daughters".
KATHIMERINI: "Karavelas' wife and (22-year-old) daughter have been incarcerated pending trial".
LOGOS: "Siemens causes turbulences - Karavelas' family appears before the examining magistrate".
NIKI: "Dora acquits Dora on the delay - Foreign Ministry's report says that the Minister's office is not responsible".
RIZOSPASTIS: "Everyone show up for the Communist Party's main campaign rally in Athens on Wednesday ".
TA NEA: "Dora's (FM Bakoyannis), government's gaffes in the limelight - They had been informed about Karavelas".
TO VIMA: "Clash in Foreign Ministry between FM Dora Bakoyannis and diplomats after the revelation of the telegram from Montevideo (that Karavelas had transferred large sums of money there)".
VRADYNI: "Parents' sins.....Karavelas fled and his children were arrested".
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