The Greek Press Today
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11 September, 2006
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Sunday restated his government's pledge for wide-ranging reform, saying no other option existed.
"There are not many roads to success, although there may be differing opinions and tactics, but reform is a one-way street," Karamanlis told the premier's annual across-the-board news conference at Thessaloniki international trade fair.
"I don't believe in talk of the political cost, and it is has no relevance to me," he stated.
As Greece was lagging in productivity and efficiency, improvement would lead to a rise in wealth and output, benefiting the public's standard of living.
"The country has to move forward and it needs change and reform," the prime minister underlined.
He also ruled out early national elections. "In my (economic policy) speech yesterday you will have ascertained that we have a full agenda for this coming period of time, and I have no other thought (early polls) in my mind."
In addition, the economy would not be held hostage to concessions before local elections in October, which would lead to a vicious circle.
"I have no political or moral right to mortgage the country's future, and at a time when we lean towards tidying up the economy," Karamanlis noted.
"The government is keeping its pledges (from March 2004 elections) and will continue to do so. Adhering to pledges is one thing and election concessions are another. The country has paid dearly for this phenomenon, and we must show that we are mature enough to take a step forward," he added.
The premier said he was unhappy with a decision by political parties and political trade union tendencies to withdraw from talks with the government on educational reform, which he termed key to the future.
"These are trade union ploys of the old school....During talks, the government was criticized for not stating its position. But when we produced a draft, we were asked to begin talks from a zero basis," he complained. "Something has to change in education, as the chief means of producing wealth is the use of knowledge."
Asked to comment on the future of Olympic Airlines, Karamanlis reported that investor interest existed and the government still supported privatization of the embattled operator - but stumbling blocks remained.
"Despite an onerous legacy of wasteful spending and mismanagement, there is also an enormous complex of legal problems. Tough, lengthy negotiations are being conducted with the European Union on this issue," he noted.
The prime minister repeated that there was zero tolerance of state corruption, for which a head-on approach was employed.
At the same time, corruption could not be eliminated from one day to the next.
"The government is bolstering mechanisms that will reduce the opportunities for corruption. And breach of faith in services has been made into a crime from a misdemeanor," he noted.
Furthermore, a new system of tendering public works has been introduced and the powers increased of inspectors of public administration, who now had the right to check the means declaration of supervisors in town planning authorities and tax offices.
"At the same time, I'm not satisfied yet, but the drive is continuing. Only in 2005, 43 civil servants were dismissed from the disciplinary council, and 33 in the first half of 2006," the premier reported.
"The whole of society has to contribute to this effort, so that instances of corruption may decline," he added.
Asked if the USA was anxious about a plan to build a pipeline that would carry Russian oil to Greece through Bulgaria, Karamanlis replied: "I have no indication that any country has a differing view."
The prime minister said that the project was of historical significance, partly due to the function it would perform, and partly because it had been delayed for around 13 years.
High on the government's agenda was a campaign to crack down on tax evasion as part of moves to tidy up the economy, Karamanlis reported.
At the same time, the new drive would not incorporate blanket tax burdens or tax measures.
"A great attempt has been made at fiscal adaptation, which is clearly recognized by the European Commission. This drive is continuing...Our aim is to reduce public spending...This year for the first time, the deficit will fall below 3% of gross domestic spending," the premier said.
Turning to unemployment, Karamanlis reported that progress had been made but the jobless rate was still high at 9.7% in the first half of 2006.
"We will lower the rate, but in order to achieve that we must go ahead with our policy. Unemployment can only be tackled by growth, which generates jobs and attracts investment," he added.
Greece is awaiting with interest a report by the European Union on Turkey, due for release in October, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said, replying to a reporter's question on whether Greece would veto Turkey's bid to join the 25-member bloc if Ankara failed to open its ports to Cypriot ships.
"We support Turkey's move towards Europe, with one very clear rider. Some may disagree. But we have a very clear rider".
"A Turkey that will walk the way of Europe, or in other words that will adopt - even gradually - regulations, behavioral criteria for a European state, a European society, is a Turkey that will benefit all of its citizens, in our estimation, and certainly its neighbors," he noted.
As part of its bid for membership, Turkey had made a pact with the European Union, which contained its commitments.
"These obligations must be met. It cannot be otherwise...All I can tell you today is that we are awaiting with special interest October's report (by the EU Commission) in order to evaluate it," he added.
Source: Athens News Agency