US Media on Greece
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PRESS & COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
October 2002; Vol. 8 No. 10
(also available in PDF File)
At Interim Summit in Brussels
PLACE OF CYPRUS IN EXPANDED EU IS REAFFIRMED
The leaders of the fifteen European Union nations met in Brussels, October 25-26, and endorsed the recommendations of the European Commission that Cyprus and nine other countries become EU members in 2004. The leaders agreed that all ten countries fulfill the political criteria for accession and will be able to meet the economic criteria and assume the obligations of membership from the beginning of 2004.
On EU-Turkey relations the consensus was that although Turkey has made progress towards fulfilling the political and economic criteria, this progress must continue so that the EU can set a date for the start of accession negotiations.
On Cyprus, as Prime Minister Costas Simitis later reported, "there were no difficulties," as the EU leaders reaffirmed the frequently repeated assurances of top EU officials that, while they prefer the membership of a "reunited Cyprus," the island republic will be admitted to the EU in 2004 regardless of the outcome of the reunification efforts.
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told reporters that the summit participants reaffirmed the Helsinki summit's call for continuing efforts by the leaders of the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities to work towards a solution by the end of the year. This would make it possible for a united Cyprus to sign the accession treaty in Athens next April—when Greece will be holding the EU presidency.
The recent meetings in New York between Cyprus President Clerides and the Turkish-Cypriot leader Denktash have failed to establish agreement on some of the key issues in dispute–in view of the insistence of Mr. Denktash on the creation of two separate states, contrary to numerous UN resolutions calling for a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
Efforts to reach agreement between Greek and Turkish-Cypriots are currently stalled by the indisposition of Mr. Denktash after undergoing surgery in New York, and the uncertain state of the political scene in Turkey, pending the general elections there on November 3.
Other Summit Decisions
At the summit, Greece urged the future candidacy of Bulgaria and Romania, affirming its intention at the December Copenhagen summit meeting to record the commitment of both countries to meet the criteria for accession by 2007.
Other business at the Brussels meeting included discussion of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. Greece joined Spain, Finland and Austria in opposing French-German proposals for a freeze on EU farm spending after 2006. Greece favors a European Commission proposal that farm spending for the new members should be increased gradually up to the year 2013.
There was also discussion of the European Rapid Reaction Force, with the fifteen leaders approving a plan which Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, was to negotiate with NATO so as to reach agreement before the November NATO summit in Prague. Expressing Greece's satisfaction with the proposed plan, Foreign Minister Papandreou noted that the agreement ensures the autonomy of the EU and NATO as well as the national sovereignty of states and in the words of Mr. Solana, is a "good compromise" which it is hoped that Turkey will accept as a way to solve the problem caused by its refusal hitherto to agree to access for the Euroforce to NATO facilities situated in Turkey.
In his comment on the development, which he called "a very positive step," Prime Minister Simitis said he was confident the plan would allow both members and non-members of the EU to join in the peace-making operation of the EU in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the end of the year. Foreign Minister Papandreou also announced, as a confidence-building measure, that Greece and Turkey have agreed to cancel until further notice the annual military exercises which both countries have held in Cyprus.
GREECE-US ANTI-TERRORIST COLLABORATION
On a visit to Washington, October 21-23, Greek Minister of Public Order Michalis Chrysohoidis met with high-ranking officials of the US Administration to discuss the continuing collaboration of Greece and the US in confronting the terrorist threat, security of the Athens Olympics and the security situation in southeastern Europe.
In meetings with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, CIA Director George Tenet, Deputy National Security Advisor on Counter-Terrorism John Gordon, State Department Coordinator on Counter-Terrorism Francis Taylor and Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), Mr. Chrysohoidis detailed the success so far achieved with the dismantling of the “November 17” terrorist group, with 18 key members behind bars awaiting trial, and the further measures planned in the war against terror. In addition to preparations for the safe conduct of the Athens Olympic Games in 2004, the discussions centered on Greece’s role in the international effort to suppress terrorism and organized crime in the Balkans and its efforts to consolidate stability in the region.
Mr. Chrysohoidis, who was last in Washington two years ago to sign an agreement on cooperation between Greece and US law enforcement agencies on combating organized crime and terrorism, said that the warm climate which greeted him in Washington was “impressive and radically different” from the climate he encountered during his earlier visits.
He added that the US showed sincere interest in the success of the Athens Olympics. On the security of the Games, the discussions focused on ways in which the cooperation between the two countries could be made more systematic both bilaterally, with special antiterrorism training, and within the framework of the advisory group formed by seven countries (US, Israel, Australia, Britain, Spain, Germany and France) to assist with security.
The minister put the cost of Olympic security at $1 billion, to be spent for the training of 50,000 security personnel and a wide array of sophisticated equipment. The public order minister also briefed his interlocutors on Greece’s priorities during its forthcoming Presidency of the European Union (in the first half of 2003) on tackling illegal migration and its links with organized crime and financing of terrorism.
US Congress Commends Greece’s Anti-Terrorist Success
Praise for Greece’s contribution to the war against terrorism and its success in neutralizing the lethal “November 17” terror group was conveyed by the US House of Representatives in a resolution passed unanimously on October 18.
The resolution notes Greece’s participation in Operation Enduring Freedom and its military and humanitarian contribution to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. It refers to President Bush’s commendation of Greece’s “strong stand against terror;” and to its efforts to provide a “safe and secure environment for staging the 2004 Olympic Games.”
The resolution also recognizes Greece’s success “in apprehending key members of the ‘N17’ terrorist organization, commends cooperation between US and Greek law enforcement agencies, and urges continued efforts to dismantle completely the ‘N17’ terrorist organization as such efforts will also contribute to a safe and secure environment for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.”
Prospects for 2003 "Quite Positive"
GREEK ECONOMY CONTINUES TO MAKE GOOD PROGRESS
Despite the international economic slowdown, the Greek economy continues to make good progress, as reported by Economy and Finance Minister Nikolaos Christodoulakis to the joint annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington on September 29.
Real GDP in Greece, the minister noted, is expected to grow this year by some 3.8 percent, with "positive" prospects for 2003. Fiscal policies in recent years, he said, have stabilized public finances and, while inflation (3.5% in September, higher than the eurozone average) continues to be of concern, the general government budget has been brought into broad balance.
Mr. Christodoulakis emphasized the success of structural reforms which have cut back the role of the state in the Greek economy and now provide a "clear and transparent legal and regulatory framework" for the operation of market forces. Among these reforms he noted the complete liberalization of telecommunications and the legislation of increased competitive conditions in electricity generation, maritime transport, banking, the tourist industry and other sectors of the economy.
The proceeds to the state from these privatizations will account for more than 1.5 percent of GDP this year, when a major reform of the tax system has also been initiated along with measures to improve the funding of future pension liabilities. Other areas of progress noted by Mr. Christodoulakis: reorganization of the public sector and improvements in public health services, education, and labor practices.
"Structural reforms, fiscal discipline, and the high public investment in infrastructure and for the Olympic Games of 2004," the minister added, "are expected to contribute to a sustained high rate of economic growth in the coming years and a rapid convergence of the standard of living with the average of the European Union."
Mr. Christodoulakis alluded further to the good use to which Greece is putting EU funds, particularly in exploiting the benefits of information and communication technologies, to increase output and longer-term productivity. Greece, he added, is also assuming an increasingly important role in the reconstruction of the Balkans.
Turning to the broad purposes of the IMF, Mr. Christodoulakis noted the weaker than expected recovery of the global economy and other "downside risks" resulting from economic imbalances between and within major world economies, the collapse of equity prices, the erosion of confidence in corporate government, high oil prices, and the unsettled security situation in the Middle East.
These factors, the minister said, affect the developing countries in particular, making it important for the industrialized nations to open their markets, yielding gains far greater than the cost of even the most ambitious debt-relief schemes. Effective policies, Mr. Christodoulakis continued, must also be pursued to combat money-laundering and the financing of terrorism, so as to protect the stability of the global financial system. “Let us share the vision for a world free of poverty. Let us make globalization not a terrain for new inequalities, but an all inclusive process that works for the benefit of all,” he concluded.
Prime Minister Simitis on Rapid Economic Growth
The generally optimistic review of the Greek economy presented to the IMF was consistent with that of Prime Minister Costas Simitis when, in September, he spoke at the inauguration of the TThessaloniki International Fair. Noting that the Greek economy, despite being affected by the prevailing international downturn, had grown last year twice as fast as that of the EU average, Mr. Simitis also pointed out that wages in Greece had increased from 68 to 80 percent of the EU average in the past ten years.
"We moved a long way from the era of low growth rates and investments, of a weak currency, high inflation and deficits, of stifling state presence and rigid markets. Our economy now functions with the euro currency. It has high growth rates, low inflation, high public and private investments, and is running a budget surplus."
The broadly optimistic assessment of the Greek economy is reflected in the draft budget for 2003 presented by the government early in October to the competent committee of the Parliament. It envisages a 5.3 percent increase in revenues and spending and, at 0.5 percent compared with 0.4 percent this year, a higher general government surplus, with a lower level of public debt, down from 103.2 percent of GDP this year to 99.3 percent in 2003.
The forecast increase in budget revenues reflects the expectations of accelerated economic growth and the effect of measures to reduce tax evasion.
The draft plan forecasts a 4.1 percent growth of the economy in 2003 (up from 3.8 percent this year) on the basis of current expectations of global economic developments. (This forecast may be slightly reduced after taking account of international developments and the publication of IMF and OECD forecasts.) Unemployment is expected to fall from the current 10 percent level to 9 percent of the workforce, and the government anticipates that its target of creating 300,000 new jobs by the end of its four-year term may be exceeded. The budget takes account of the government's social security and tax reforms and the resources needed for preparations for the 2004 Athens Olympics. It also provides for a 13 percent increase in the public investment program and the financing of reforms in the education and health care systems. The budget, which will be presented in its final form to Parliament in November, assumes an easing of inflation from 3.3 percent in 2002 to 2.5 percent next year.
From the International Press
The Economist “Survey” of Greece, (October 12) titled “Prometheus Unbound” reviewed the “feverish energy and wild contradictions of modern Greece at the start of its third century of existence. The handsome neo-classical mansions of Athens now house Greece’s new class of investment bankers, stock analysts and bond traders . . . The horizon is still dominated by the Parthenon, newly endowed with splendid night lights and soon to be linked with the other antiquities of Athens in a four-kilometer-long archeological park, as part of the city’s preparations to display its old and new charms during the 2004 Olympics.”
The survey goes on to note that “all Greece’s internal strains, between left and right, town and country, native and immigrant, have been eased by a rapid economic growth, recently running at about 4 percent a year.”
“For a country that stagnated throughout the 1980’s and spent the 1990’s fretting about the effects of war on its northern border, Greece is enjoying much greater economic success than seemed likely even five years ago. This is both a cause and a reflection of its enhanced status in the EU . . . It is now settling into a new role as a locomotive for the Balkans: the only country in SE Europe that belongs to most of the world’s smarter clubs, and an advocate for the region in the wider world.”
Greece’s smashing of the “November 17” terror group is welcomed as “a sign of a changing political culture.” After some previous “sneaking sympathy–a hangover from the 1967-74 dictatorship of pro-American military officers–now the great majority of the population see N17 as a group of common criminals.” And, the survey concludes: “Whoever forms the next government will be leading a country better placed than ever before to cope with the challenges of an integrated Europe and a potentially turbulent region.”
The next full-scale inspection by the IOC of preparations in
Athens for the 2004 Olympics, due in early November, will
find significant progress in keeping pace with the pressing
timetable to which the Athens Organizing Committee and the
Greek government are committed. Confidence in the state of
preparations was expressed by IOC president Jacques Rogge in
an interview with the Los Angeles Times on October 4. “There
will be activities until the last day,” he said, “but we are definitely
pleased by the speed of the preparations today.”
The Athens Games, Mr.Rogge said, will be different from previous
Olympics. Compared with the last Olympics in Sydney, with
its wide-open space and huge accommodation capacity, the Athens
location presents some difficulties. But, Mr.Rogge said, “the ambience
will be different. It will be unique in the country that invented
the Games, and the Greeks are extremely proud of that. It’s part of
their culture and identity, and we will bathe in the atmosphere.”
With only some 650 days to go before the Olympic flag is raised
in Athens, recent related developments include:
_ The Greek Ministry of Education has announced a $4 million
program for Olympics-related projects in schools, which
include activities in sports, the arts, the Olympic Truce movement,
and initiatives against social exclusion and racial discrimination.
_ The Athens News Agency has launched a special sports service
for Olympics-related news directed not only to the media
but also to sports federations, athletes, sponsors and others interested
in specialized information on Olympic competitions,
rules, records, biographies and other topics ranging from
Greek mythology to Olympic history.
_ Visiting President Jacques Chirac at the Presidential Palace in
Paris on October 15, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, president
of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee, received the
French president’s assurance that he will personally welcome
the Olympic Flame when it arrives in Paris, and that he will attend
the opening ceremony for the Games in Athens. President
Chirac, who has long been interested in promoting sports for
the handicapped, was specially interested to hear the plans for
the Paralympic Games to accompany the 2004 Olympics.
_ The Olympic Truce movement’s plans for 2003 were presented
at a meeting in Lausanne on October 7, chaired by IOC
president Jacques Rogge, when former UN Secretary-General
Boutros Boutros Ghali was among those who signed the Olympic
Truce petition. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou
said that his government would introduce a draft resolution
next September to the UN Security Council calling for implementation
of a truce during the 2004 Athens Olympics.
_ In reply to concerns raised by the Greek chapter of
Greenpeace, that the Athens Olympics are in danger of becoming
“the Games of lost opportunities for the environment,” the
organizers noted that a multitude of projects are underway to
improve the environment of Athens. These projects have been
approved by the environmental committee of the IOC.
BRIEFLY . . .
Both the ruling PASOK and the main opposition New Democracy party appeared satisfied with the results of the local elections held on two successive Sundays, October 13 and 20, to elect 57 prefects and more than a thousand mayors. In the high-profile races, the PASOK candidate won the large supra-prefecture of Athens-Piraeus and the New Democracy candidates were elected mayors in the three largest cities, Athens, Thessaloniki and Piraeus. Nationwide, New Democracy-backed candidates won more prefectures and city halls than those supported by PASOK.
A MORI public opinion poll reported on October 15 that, by a margin of more than two to one, the British people would vote in favor of returning the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum to Greece. Of the 2009 people interviewed, 54 percent said that they were aware of the issue. Of those, 40 percent said they favored the return of the marbles; 16 percent were opposed, and the rest had no opinion. Thanking the British Committee for the Restitution of the Parthenon Marbles, which commissioned the survey, Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos said the issue was not one of discord between the two countries. Strong support in Britain for the return of the marbles, he said, is “very honorable.”
President Kostis Stephanopoulos joined many other heads of state on October 16 at the opening of the new Alexandria Library, built where the famous ancient library stood in the city founded in 332 BC by Alexander the Great. Greece has made both financial and cultural contributions to the UNESCO-financed project and Greek artists and musicians figured prominently in the inaugural celebration. A bronze statue of Alexander the Great will be the centerpiece of a redesigned Alexander Square in the Greek quarter of the city.
An exhibit “The Emergence of Modern Greek Painting, 1830-1930,” featuring 39 works from the collection of the Bank of Greece and other private collections in Greece is on show at the Federal Reserve building in Washington, DC through December 3.
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece
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