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24 April, 2000
Prime Minister Costas Simitis on Saturday told parliament that his Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) would keep the pledges it made before winning national elections on April 9.
"The commitments we made before the Greek public will be fully adhered to," said Simitis, delivering his government's policy statement before the new parliament to emerge from the polls.
The government's main priorities were taking Greece into the euro zone by January 1, 2001; supporting employment, education and wages; and improving health services, the Prime Minister said.
The policy statement will be put to a parliamentary vote on Monday in the form of a vote of confidence in the government.
The government's foreign policy principles would remain the same, aiming to maximize the benefits for Greece as an equal player on a global level, in Europe and in the region.
At the same time, a policy of "increased deterrent capability against any designs from abroad" would be maintained, Simitis said.
The government would continue to protect the country's sovereign rights, and support democracy and respect for international law.
It would also back respect for the national borders and sovereign rights of other countries, he added.
Turning to relations with Turkey, Simitis said: "The main strategic goal is to make full use of the Helsinki decisions on the basis of our standing principles and positions."
On Cyprus, the prime minister repeated that the island republic's entry into the European Union should be promoted; and the Cyprus problem solved on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions within the framework of a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation.
The government would continue to reinforce the country's defense capability, which remained a major priority. Its plan to reduce military service to 12 months would be phased in over three years, Simitis said.
On the Olympics, which Athens is to host in 2004, the Prime Minister said: "The Olympic Games from today will be our top priority."
Organizing and holding the event was a challenge that the government would successfully meet, he added.
In a deviation from his written speech, Simitis also left open the possibility of a change in electoral law.
Speaking about public administration, he said: "Matters such as party political finances and electoral law will be the subject of scrutiny and dialogue."
Among specific pledges the Prime Minister named were the following:
* Eighty percent of European Union funds from the Third Community Support Framework, whose total for Greece is 15.7 trillion drachmas, would be allocated to the regions over the next seven years to boost growth
* Beginning this year, the budget would foot the social insurance bill for the country's 270,000 workers on minimum wages
* During the new government's four-year term the social budget would total 45 trillion drachmas
* From January 1, 2001 the lowest state pension combined with income support would rise to 152,000 drachmas per month
* More than 10,000 staff would be hired for hospitals in coming months
* By the end of the year, new hospitals or hospital wings would come into operation in Rhodes, Crete, Kalamata, Serres, Alexandroupoli, Sparta, Tripoli and Corinth
* Earmarked were 9.5 trillion drachmas to support agricultural income, production, infrastructure, competitiveness and growth
* The police force would hire 5,000 personnel to step up the fight against crime, and borders would be more heavily patrolled
* Tax brackets would be adjusted every two years in line with inflation
* Incorporation of computer technology into household expenses eligible for a tax reduction
* Tax incentives for corporate mergers
* Abolition of a banking tax on transactions from January 1, 2001
* The creation of 300,000 new jobs in 2000-2004; another 300,000 paid training courses for the unemployed; and a further 300,000 training and retraining courses for employees
* One trillion drachmas would be spent on teaching employees to use new technology
* From January 1, 2001 the tax exemption for each child in a family of three or more offspring would rise by 20,000 drachmas
Karamanlis charges that government's policy statements were vague:
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Costas Karamanlis, speaking in parliament on Sunday night, said the government's policy statement was unclear and did not aim at a planned course of action in any sector.
On the matter of consensus, Karamanlis said it should have an institutional character and repeated his proposal for the setting up of a foreign policy council.
Karamanlis said the Prime Minister had in part copied the ND's positions and stressed the need for the adoption of a comprehensive economic plan for the country.
He proposed ways for transparency in political life, an end to the use of the institution of parliamentary immunity and the direct election of the President of the Republic by the people.
Referring to privatization's, Karamanlis charged the government for "vague announcements". In relation to the Athens Stock Exchange, he said that the government "for an entire year was watching developments without interfering, while playing games and accusing ND and waiting for small investors to be ruined."
"We are ready to back substantive policies for economic convergence, and complete transparency, and will insist even more because we already have the acceptance of our positions by the overwhelming majority of the Greek people. Proceed now to the setting up of institutions, which are needed immediately. Words are not enough, action is required," Karamanlis said.
Papariga accuses major parties of strengthening political system:
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary Aleka Papariga, speaking in parliament on Sunday night during the debate on the government's policy statement, accused both the ruling PASOK party and the main opposition New Democracy (ND) party of strengthening the existing political system.
"Not only do they not threaten the political system but also sustain and strengthen it," she said.
Papariga accused the government for an "anti-farm, anti-educational reform policies" and for a policy dissolving the national health system.
She also announced "action and a class struggle against the interests of big capital and monopolistic groups."
Papantoniou says Greece has entered path of strong development:
National Economy and Finance Minister Yiannos Papantoniou on Sunday night lashed out at main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Costas Karamanlis, saying that it was amazing that the ND leader accused the government of not having a policy program.
Speaking in parliament during the parliamentary debate on the government's policy statement, Papantoniou said that if the government did not have a program, "how then did we enter the Economic Monetary Union and inflation dropped?"
Papantoniou said that the Greek economy had already entered a path of strong development, low inflation, a balance in fiscal policy and was one step before EMU. He also predicted that the economic growth rate would touch five per cent.
He said that the reports of the European Commission and the European Central Bank regarding Greece accession to the euro zone will be made public on May 3 and that the final decision will be taken at the European Union summit on June 19 "and will constitute a historic moment for our country."
Source: Athens News Agency