© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
31 March, 2000
Ruling PASOK leader and Prime Minister Costas Simitis and main opposition New Democracy party leader Costas Karamanlis participated in a televised debate on Thursday night, ten days ahead of the April 9 general elections.
Responding separately to questions by three journalists, the two main contenders in the April 9 election stood their ground and expressed satisfaction that their differences remained of a political nature devoid of any personal animosity.
Simitis said his government's record in power and its program were the best guarantees for further upgrading the country's position in Europe. Karamanlis recognized that Greece's accession to the euro zone next year was one of a number of positive achievements which should be added to, emphasizing that this required a change of guard with fresh ideas and initiatives.
Simitis disputed Karamanlis' claim that Greece's falling economic competitiveness bode ill for covering the considerable distance from its EU partners, insisting that the country's falling inflation and higher than EU-average growth rates were unmistakable indicators of real convergence.
Regarding a possible negative impact of a falling stock market on the election result, Simitis said the success of an economy was not measured by short-term fluctuations in share prices, which were common in all bourses, but by its growth rates, potential, investment and exports, which also provided good prospects for stocks in the longer term.
He said New Democracy's program, if implemented, was certain to make the public deficit rise above the EU-set ceiling and be rejected. He also disputed the claim that Greece was the only EU country where unemployment and regional and income inequalities were on the rise and said the government's policy would lead to the creation of 300,000 new jobs.
Karamanlis questioned the credibility of the government to produce such improvements when unemployment during its tenure had increased by 200,000 and said an increase in the minimum old-age pensions to 150,000 drachmas monthly was urgent and feasible, meaning an extra cost of only 180 billion drachmas to the budget. The Prime Minister said the true figure was near 600 billion drachmas. He reiterated an assurance that the expected reform of the social security system would be done only after careful study and the achievement of consensus.
Karamanlis said he was in agreement with closer ties between Turkey and Europe but claimed that the government had sent the wrong message to Turkey by its stance at the EU summit in Helsinki where it had not ensured Ankara's future respect for international law and treaties, and noted that Turkish intransigence was increasing. Simitis disputed this, saying that Turkey was indeed required to adjust to the acquis communautaire and smooth out differences with its neighbors according to EU treaties, and was expected to make gestures of goodwill.
Finally, both men agreed that young Greeks needed education standards to be set high if they were to compete successfully with their European partners tomorrow.
Source: Athens News Agency