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13 July, 2004
HAMBURG 13/7/2004 (ANA - A. Brilaki)
In an interview published by the German weekly 'Der Spiegel' on Monday that covered everything from the Olympics to the Greek economy and Greece's unhoped-for triumph in the EURO 2004 soccer championship, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said the Greek team's success at Lisbon had come at just the right time and given just the right answer to persistent critics of Greece's preparations for the Athens Olympics, particularly among the foreign press.
"The Euro soccer championship came at the most opportune moment and proved that we can pull off a surprise. We are ready for the great celebration when the Games return to their homeland. The Olympic Games are the greatest sports event and at the same time a challenge. Just before the opening ceremony the sense of responsibility, the task of meeting all those expectations, can take one's breath away when you think that everything must end well. The best answer will be given by the Games themselves," Karamanlis underlined.
The Euro soccer triumph had helped strengthen Greece's self-confidence and showed what Greeks can achieve when they work together, he added.
" Soccer is about team work and our team proved that its success was the result of team work. We didn't have any big names, we didn't have any big stars. The message sent out in the metaphorical sense is that a team with simply decent players can achieve the utmost when it has a very good coach," Karamanlis said.
According to the Greek premier, while primarily just a soccer match and a big surprise, the Greek team's victory was also a national success.
"Never up to this day have I seen so many people in the streets of Athens, with the possible exception of the restoration of democracy after the fall of the dictatorship 30 years ago. Our country found itself soaring in an instant," he said, describing the feelings engendered by Greece's triumph. Asked whether he enjoyed the Greek team's victory more than his victory in the elections, Karamanlis said his feelings of joy at the trust placed in him by the Greek people were mixed with a sense of great responsibility, while at the European championships he was simply a fan who had no responsibility for the final outcome.
Regarding the Olympic Games in August, the Greek premier said he was unable to understand the negative climate against Greece in the past few weeks.
"Of course mistakes were made during the preparations and there were delays in the completion of some Olympic installations. These things also happen elsewhere, even with the successful organization of the Euro 2004 in Portugal. We may have made mistakes but the international criticism was often pointless.
The only thing I can understand is the great concern about security. The world has changed between Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004," Karamanlis stressed.
He reiterated, however, that Greece had done everything humanly possible to avert the possibility of a terrorist strike during the Games, spending four times the amount spent by Sydney on security measures and cooperating with all countries that had expertise in this area. In spite of this, he noted, the criticism from the foreign press sometimes bordered on the hysterical.
Regarding the economic repercussions of the Games and their total cost, the premier said it was too soon for any precise answer to be given, while conceding that the initial plans and budgets had been greatly exceeded.
"But this is not helpful at this time. What matters is to organize successful Games," he added, noting that this might well lead to a repetition of the massive surge in tourism seen after the Olympics in Barcelona, which was transformed from simply a nice area to a highly sought-after tourist destination in Europe.
Asked about Greece's high public deficit, which exceeded limits set by the EU, Karamanlis said this was a serious problem but not one related to the Olympics.
"We have to change the structures of the economy, increase productivity, become more competitive and restrict the inflexible, unproductive and often corrupt state. A report by the European Central Bank says that Greece has lost the unbelievable sum of 10 billion euros as a result of bureaucracy and corruption. This is the problem that we have to tackle," the premier said.
Regarding Turkey, Karamanlis said that Ankara's rapprochement with Europe had to be rewarded and that, for this reason, he expressly supported Turkey's European prospects.
Noting that many of the democratic reforms initiated by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were much bolder than those of previous Turkish governments, he stressed that these had to continue and that the EU must at some point decide whether the accession criteria had been fulfilled, even if Turkey could not become a full member overnight.
"The message is, however, clear. The Union has indicated that it wants to accept Turkey within its ranks. And this is right, because a European Turkey is in the interests of all, both the Turkish people and their neighbors," he added.
With respect to European enlargement, Karamanlis said it was unrealistic to expect a Union with 25 or 30 members to proceed at the same pace and that there would have to be 'reinforced cooperation' between certain members of the EU, such as the 12 members of the Eurozone or the 13 countries within the Schengen Pact. Regarding transatlantic relations, Karamanlis stressed that the United States needed the EU and vice-versa and that the correct balance had to be found.
"In my opinion, we need a strong Europe," he concluded.
Source: Athens News Agency