US Media on Greece
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A NEWS REVIEW FROM THE EMBASSY OF GREECE IN WASHINGTON DC
PRESS & INFORMATION OFFICE
April 2002; Vol. 8 No. 4
“The Situation Has Changed Tremendously”
Latest IOC Inspection Finds Progress in 2004 Olympic Preparations
Exactly two years since former International Olympic Committee President Samaranch expressed serious concerns over slow progress in preparing for the 2004 Athens Olympics, an inspection, April 3-5, by the IOC coordinating committee led by Vice-President Denis Oswald—the eighth since that time—resulted in the first emphatically positive verdict. “I am very happy to report,” Mr. Oswald said at the conclusion of his inspection visit, “that the situation has changed tremendously.” While pointing out that time-limits for the completion of projects are “tight,” Mr. Oswald said “we are confident that things will be delivered on time.” He made a point of complimenting Prime Minister Costas Simitis for making the organizational changes which brought the desired results.
Mr. Oswald noted the progress made in the construction of key venues and transport projects; in securing additional accommodations for the Olympic Family; and in completing plans for security with a central coordinating body. “We will be under pressure until the end,” he said, “but we feel much more confident than we were a few months ago . . . now it is time for Athens to shine.” After a meeting with Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos, Mr. Oswald said: “If the Olympic facilities are ready on time and can be used by the best athletes in the world, then I am sure the Athens Games will be truly magical.”
“Not a Day to be Lost”
At a joint press conference with Mr. Oswald at the conclusion of the inspection, Athens 2004 Organizing Committee (ATHOC) President Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said that the IOC coordinating committee had been given a “full and factually complete” account of the progress made since the previous inspection. Six Olympic facilities under construction were ahead of schedule. “However,” she added, “there is not a single day to lose,” with only two years remaining before the opening ceremonies and pre-Olympic trials beginning next August with the first sailing contests.
Ms. Angelopoulos made special reference to what she called “an innovative environmental program” involving the re-plantation of 600 olive trees which have been sent to a special nursery where they will be cared for until their final plantation at the Olympic Riding Center at Marcopoulo when that facility is completed. The same system is being used for other Olympic sites and, Ms. Angelopoulos said, “will be an important heritage in future efforts for environmental protection.”
Ms. Angelopoulos reported that, in addition to the progress on construction projects, she was able to report success in advancing transportation plans, including the Metro extension, road-building, the tramway and the suburban systems. She and Mr. Oswald were in agreement that preparations have now moved to practical operations. Efforts, she said, are now concentrated on the 17 days of the Games, aiming to ensure the means and essential technical infrastructure for their success.
In the sector of hospitality, Athens 2004 has secured 16,901 rooms for the Olympic Family—an addition of 1,576 rooms since the last inspection. Also, plans are now complete for setting up an agency which will be in charge of the rental of privately-owned accommodations.
A special adviser has now been appointed to oversee operational planning of security measures. And, in cooperation with the Public Order Ministry on all security matters, additional advisers are to be appointed to oversee the material and technical security requirements.
Good progress has also been made in the recruitment of volunteers for the Games. Thousands from Greece and abroad have indicated their interest, and more than 10,000 official applications have been received only in the past few weeks. A system for the allocation of tickets for the Olympic events has also been decided. Finally, Ms. Angelopoulos reported as “a specially pleasing development” the unveiling of the two Athens 2004 mascots, Phoebus and Athena, brother and sister descended from the ancient Greek dolls which represented the values of brotherhood, friendship, sportsmanship, and equality, demonstrating that the human being is and will always remain the heart of the Olympic Games.
“The Most Positive Inspection Visit”
Ms. Angelopoulos accompanied Mr. Oswald and Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos to a meeting on April 5 with Prime Minister Simitis, after which Mr. Venizelos reported: “Mr. Oswald told the Prime Minister, in the clearest way possible that this visit was the most positive of all the inspections to date, that the results are entirely positive. He expressed in many ways his satisfaction at the developments, the progress, the coordination and the results of the working methods we are employing.”
Mr. Venizelos urged that there must be no slackening of the effort, but, he said, “that does not diminish the importance of our achievements to date.” He was sure that the next IOC inspection by the entire coordinating committee, due in October or November of this year, will be equally positive.
On one of the challenges causing some concern—the availability of sufficient overnight accommodations—Mr. Venizelos said that Mr. Oswald had been given a complete account of hotels under contract, expansion or construction which will reduce the 2800-room deficit by half. With additional contracts and completion of new hotels, Mr. Venizelos said, the housing of the Olympic Family is now secure. (In a later announcement on April 17, Development Minister Akis Tsohatzopoulos reported that an additional 2,200 beds have now been secured in hotels on the coast near the capital after hotel owners agreed to raise their quota from 80 to 90 percent of capacity. This, from a shortage of 2,800, provides a surplus of 1,400 rooms).
Joint Greek-Turkish Middle East Peace Mission
The recent warming of relations between Greece and Turkey, fostered by a close cooperative relationship between their foreign ministers, George Papandreou and Ismail Cem, reached a new level in a joint effort to promote a peaceful solution to the critical Israel-Palestinian conflict. Athens and Ankara have stressed the symbolism of the joint Greek-Turkish initiative as an example of traditional foes choosing a “different path.”
With the agreement of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers arrived on April 25 for meetings with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat at his besieged headquarters in Ramallah and with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem. Mr. Arafat expressed appreciation for their initiative.
At a joint press conference later, Mr. Papandreou condemned the killing of innocent civilians. “We want a secure Israel, and that requires a secure and viable Palestinian state.”
Mr. Cem said that both he and Mr. Papandreou had urged on Mr. Arafat that there can be no justification for terrorism, which all parties—including the Palestinians—must categorically condemn. This, as well as freedom of movement for Arafat, was implicit in the relevant U.N. resolutions.
The two foreign ministers said they had exchanged ideas on the situation on the ground in Ramallah and on the alarming situation in Bethlehem where scores of armed Palestinians were trapped in the Church of the Nativity.
After talking with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the two foreign ministers arranged for the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, to travel to Tel Aviv for discussions with them. After a working lunch with his visiting colleagues, Foreign Minister Peres said that their joint presence in the area was “a message of peace,” and a promise of hope.
Addressing Mr. Peres, the Greek foreign minister said that the joint initiative had been inspired by both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and by the efforts of Mr. Peres himself when he was prime minister. “The least we can do,” Mr. Papandreou said, “is to return some of this inspiration.” He added that the joint effort of Greece and Turkey will continue for as long as it has hopes of assisting a solution of the conflict.
The Turkish foreign minister spoke of the proposal for an international conference to give new impetus to the Middle East peace effort, referring also to the possibility of sending to the region a contingent of international observers who could also monitor instances of terrorism.
Greece’s readiness to lend its good offices to assist a Middle East peace was also stated by Prime Minister Simitis, who referred in this context to the recent visit by Mr. Papandreou to Cairo for discussion of the Middle East crisis with Egyptian and Arab leaders. Mr. Simitis said that his government is in continuous contact with the international community—the UN, the US, Israel, the EU, the Arab League and Arab states—to promote a peaceful solution. While calling on Israel to honor the Security Council’s call for troop withdrawals, assurance of the life and security of the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people and the lifting of the blockade, Mr. Simitis said: “At the same time, the Greek government and I personally condemn the terrorist acts against innocent Israeli civilians in the most categorical way.”
EU: Greek Economy “Growing Significantly”
The EU Commission reported on April 24 that the Greek economy is growing at a significant rate, with an improvement also in the employment sector. Growth is forecast to reach 3.7 percent this year–0.2 percent higher than forecast six months ago and more than double the average growth rate in the EU as a whole. Compared also with a predicted average EU growth rate of 2.9 percent in 2003, the rate in Greece is expected to accelerate to 4.2 percent.
This rapid growth, the report finds, will be driven by investments, especially in the construction sector as a result of the work on infrastructure projects for the 2004 Olympic Games. Private investment will also be encouraged by low interest rates, while public investment will increase with the use of EU structural funds.
Warning of inflationary risks, the Commission forecast a rate of 3.6 percent this year, falling to 3.2 percent in 2003. This year’s inflation rate in the EU is expected to be 2.1 percent.
Noting that Greece has eliminated fiscal deficits since last year, the Commission forecasts a surplus of 0.3 percent of GDP this year, rising to 0.5 percent next year. Public debt, the report predicts, will fall to 97.9 percent of GDP this year and to 95.2 percent in 2003.
While still above EU average levels, unemployment in Greece is expected to continue its decline to 9.9 percent of the workforce this year and 9.3 percent next year.
• The government announced its long-range energy plans on April 11, which Prime Minister Simitis said were aimed “to promote sustained development, with the emphasis on sufficiency and security.” The planned expansion of the gas and electricity networks will require in investment of almost 3 billion euros by 2010. The energy plan also foresees the completion of the electricity grid between Greece and Italy, upgrading the link between Greece and Bulgaria, and linking Greece's grid with central Europe through Croatia and Bosnia. Mr. Simitis also noted the recent agreement between Greece and Turkey for connection of their gas and electricity networks, and for construction of a natural gas line between the two countries, increasing supplies from Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran. He referred also to the agreement signed for cooperation with Bulgaria and Russia in the construction of a pipeline bringing oil from the Black Sea port of Burgas to Greece's northeastern port of Alexandroupolis.
• Published jointly by the Bank of Greece and the Brookings Institution, a book of Greece’s Economic Performance and Prospects was presented in Washington on April 19 by the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Greece, Nicholas Garganas, and Brookings Senior Fellow Ralph Bryant. The book reviews the performance of the Greek economy over the past quarter-century and looks ahead to the challenges which Greece faces after its entry into the European Monetary Union in 2001.
Greece: EU Economic Forecasts; Spring 2002
2000 2001 2002 2003
GDP Growth 4.1 % 4.1 % 3.7 % 4.2 %
Unemployment Rate 10.9 % 10.2 % 9.9 % 9.3 %
Consumer Price Index 2.9 % . 3.7 % 3.6 % 3.2 %
General Government Balance
(% of GDP) - 0.8 % 0.1 % 0.3 % 0.5 %
General Government Debt
(% of GDP) 102.8 % 99.7 % 97.9 % 95.2 %
Greek-US Strategic Partnership
President George W. Bush stressed that Greece and the US are strategic partners, when he spoke at a White House ceremony marking Greek National Day on March 25.
At the ceremony, attended among others by the visiting Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Ioannis Magriotis, and Greek Ambassador Alexander Philon, Mr. Bush noted that Greece was one of only a handful of countries that fought alongside the U.S. in every major war of the 20th century. “Americans,” the president said, “will always remember Greek heroism and Greek sacrifice for the sake of freedom.” He welcomed the strategic partnership between Greece and the U.S. which, he said, is ready to encourage the continued warming of Greek-Turkish relations and the final settlement of the Cyprus problem.
On Greece’s participation in the global fight against terrorism, Mr. Bush thanked Greece for providing access to the military base in Souda Bay, Crete and a naval frigate for patrolling the Arabian Sea. “Today,” he concluded, “we honor Greek independence and the Greek spirit, a spirit of liberty and courage, a spirit that values family, education, public service and faith; a spirit that has helped make America what it is today.”
Defense Minister Papantoniou In Washington
A two-day visit to Washington, April 8-9, by Greece’s Defense Minister Yannos Papantoniou, when he had meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and members of Congress, was the occasion for wide-ranging discussions of international and bilateral issues. They included the Middle East crisis, developments in the Balkans, Cyprus, European defense, and Greece’s contribution to the suppression of international terrorism.
Discussing the stabilization and development of the Balkan region, Mr. Papantoniou underlined the continuing need for the active presence of the U.S. in the region. On the issue of Cyprus, the minister urged Greece’s view that the coming accession of Cyprus to the EU provides a “historic opportunity” for a political solution resulting in a united republic of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Cyprus, Mr. Papantoniou said, will join the EU whether or not a political solution is reached first. Washington, he hoped, would use its influence with Ankara to convey that message.
On the issue of a European rapid reaction force, Mr. Papantoniou explained that Greece will not accept the text proposed jointly by Britain and Turkey, which would give Turkey—a non-member of the EU—the possibility to obstruct the independent action of the EU force.
As the former holder of the national economy portfolio, Mr. Papantoniou used his address to the first annual business conference of the Hellenic American Heritage Council to present Greece’s recent economic progress and the opportunities for US investments in Greece.
The event was also addressed by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman who referred to Greece as a “partner” in the war against terrorism; expressed Washington’s gratification at the recent rapprochement between Greece and Turkey; and called on the Turkish Cypriots to serve their own interests by cooperation in a solution in Cyprus.
The issue of the European rapid reaction force was also discussed between Prime Minister Simitis, NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and the EU’s high representative for common foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, in Athens, on April 19. Mr. Simitis re-asserted Greece’s objection to the so-called “Ankara Text,” but added that Athens was offering constructive proposals for the solution of the problem in conformity with principles that protect the interests of the European Union.
Acropolis Restoration Work Continues
Visitors to Athens for the Olympic Games in 2004 will see the results of the intensive work now under way to restore the most prestigious ancient Greek monuments on the Acropolis hill. These include the Parthenon itself, the Propylaea and the Temple of Athena Nike, all of which suffered damage from ill-conceived restoration efforts early last century.
Work on the Acropolis was inspected recently by Prime Minister Simitis who toured the site with the archeologists involved in the current restoration. Mr. Simitis was also briefed on the project to create new pedestrian walkways in the vicinity of the Acropolis. These will be integrated into an ambitious plan to create a network of walkways and green spaces joining the major archeological sites of Athens.
The building of a new Acropolis Museum, where space will be set aside for the hoped-for display of the Parthenon sculptures now in the British Museum, was referred to in a Congressional Resolution introduced by Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ). The Resolution, which was forwarded to the International Relations Committee, calls for the return of the Marbles to Greece before the Olympics in 2004. It adds that Greece will “provide care . . . equal or superior to the care provided by the British Museum.”
* The restitution to Greece of the Parthenon Marbles was among the subjects discussed by scholars at an international conference –“The Parthenon and its Sculptures in the 21st century”– held at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, April 26-28.
Briefly . . .
• Greece’s continuing concentration on assisting the stability and economic development of the Balkan region was reaffirmed at a meeting in Bucharest on April 19 between Prime Minister Simitis and Presidents Iliescu and Purvanov of Romania and Bulgaria. In addition to enhanced cooperative arrangements on trade, transport and energy, and on security issues such as weapons smuggling and drug trafficking, the three leaders affirmed their common position on the desired accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU, and on the enlargement of NATO to include the region of southeast Europe. This was also called for by the foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, who met in Athens on March 29.
• At their meeting in Spain on April 13, the finance and economy ministers of the EU appointed the Governor of the Bank of Greece, Lucas Papademos, as the new vice-president of the European Central Bank. The appointment was warmly applauded by Prime Minister Simitis, who called the election “a historic decision, as it commends the efforts and results of our economic choices, ones that have led the country towards new horizons with favorable prospects for monetary stability, economic development and competitiveness within the European and international environment.”
• Shortly after the resumption on April 11 of the exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey aimed at defining “points of convergence” leading to more substantive dialogue on bilateral issues, the leadership of the 15 EU states noted in Brussels their satisfaction at the recent improvement in Greek-Turkish relations and their expectation of a further improvement “based on a peaceful solution of their differences in the framework of international law.” The EU leaders were formulating their views in advance of the meeting in Luxembourg on April 16 of the EU-Turkey Association Council which called on Turkey to assist in a solution of the political problem of Cyprus, giving it a single voice in the EU after its accession. The same appeal was made by the Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou to Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem.
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece