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16 March, 2002
The European Union's informal summit opened here on Friday with an account of the EU's economic and social policy over the past two years, namely after the Lisbon summit.
The target set at the Lisbon summit had been for unified Europe to develop into one of the most competitive economies in the world within the coming decade.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis said in a statement that in essence the ''15'' committed themselves to give a new impetus to the implementation of policies and strategies to achieve the Lisbon target, although acknowledging delays in many sectors for promoting necessary structural changes in the European economy.
He said the ''15'' have not yet discerned certain policies on which priority should be placed, resulting in negative consequences regarding their effectiveness.
Simitis said a classification of priorities was required, the first being particular importance to be placed on enterprise and the role small and medium-size enterprises can play in strengthening employment and tackling unemployment.
He added that as far as Greece was concerned SMEs were the backbone of the European economy and should be backed with benefits in such sectors as providing capital and loans to enable them to assume business risks in their access to research and technology as well.
Secondly, Simitis said greater social justice and cohesion should be secured in the EU by achieving the target of full employment. He added that the gradual rapprochement between pension systems was necessary to provide competition preconditions for all.
Simitis went on to say that the promotion of the role played by social partners, the development of the informatics society and the issues of modern governance and viable growth with emphasis on environmental protection should be included in economic policy priorities.
He also noted that candidate countries should gradually become a part of this common European effort.
Simitis pointed out that a necessary precondition for achieving all these targets is the political will of member-states, which, however, is not always noticeable.
The challenge Europe is faced with, he added, is the increase in competitiveness, prosperity and social cohesion.
On the question of coordinating economic policies, Simitis made it clear that Greece supports the implementation of a flexible economic coordination framework which will contain elements of flexibility which, however, will not dispute the general directives which should apply to all.
Referring to the major issue of energy market deregulation, Simitis said Greece backs the process and expressed hope that a compromise solution will be found between the ''15''.
He said market deregulation will have positive repercussions for price decreases, adding that Greece desires the continuation of the deregulation process in the telecommunications market.
Regarding the natural gas market in particular, Simitis said Greece supports the deregulation process but with some time allowed for adjustment.
Source: Athens News Agency