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10 September, 2001
A strong economy and a strong society equal a strong Greece. That was the equation, in the form of contract with the people and all production forces, presented by Prime Minister Costas Simitis in his annual economic policy speech at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair on Saturday.
It was not a speech with figures or detailed references. It was not even a speech with economic "news", which had been announced in the past few days. It was a speech with a deliberately strategic nature, with a clear aim ahead of a PASOK ruling party congress next month: To present a vision to modernize Greece, in a cohesive and political way, as a realistic one-way road to today's globalized economy and at the same time as a true evolution of a socialist vision for a fair society.
The strategy presented by Prime Minister Costas Simitis for the current and future course of the country, is based n four axes: economic stability with low inflation and high fiscal surpluses, growth combined with social cohesion, boosting business activity and strengthening the country's productivity.
Having in mind criticism, by left wings in and out of his PASOK party, over a relaxation of economic policy, Mr. Simitis stressed that "our principles are not negotiable and that any deviation from them would mean a return to stagnation, uncertainty, low or even negative growth rates in the real economy and the country's marginalization".
It was a clear message that derailing the "train" of modernization with a social face would have great consequences.
The Prime Minister seeked to send a message that the government's current policy was not fragmented, or tired, as frequently accused by the opposition, but that it had a beginning, middle and an end.
"Our principles, but also the stability and efficiency with which we implement our economic policy, show the depth of our program, the cohesiveness of our position, the modern political, economic and social proposals that we bring into action," Simitis said.
The premier referred to a "new social state" and a "new growth leap". He said that the government was promoting "an economy adjusting to market rules and to the demands of the consumer-citizen, but at the same time defining behavior rules in the market, combatting the unlawful concentration of wealth, restraining greed and distributing all growth-related benefits to its citizens".
Simitis noted that Greece would adopt the euro currency in four months, opening a new chapter in the country's history, while entering the eurozone with the third highest growth rate in the European Union.
"Growth rates are higher than the EU average for the sixth consecutive year, helping to close the gap in the living standards between Greeks and the average European."
Presenting his economic policy for 2002, Simitis said that "only those countries that have stabilized their economies and completed their structural reforms are moving steadily to a growth path".
"Economic stability must be long-term and our adherence to macro-economic stability is granted," he said.
Simitis said that the government would define its tax reform proposals next year aiming to more equally distribute tax bur-dens, strengthening business competitiveness and simplifying the tax system.
"Inflation remains a national concern and our medium-term target is to follow the average EU rate to avoid affecting the competitiveness of our country's products and services". He noted that structural reforms promoted by the government were aiming to boost competitiveness in the market and to contain inflation.
"We cannot have social policy only with redistributing the national product. We have first to increase our national product, otherwise we deal only verbally with poverty."
"Our progressive government believes in a two-way relationship, the synergy between economic growth and social cohesion through a virtuous cycle of mutual assistance," he said.
"We have to persist in seeking structural reforms to ensure the continuation of high growth rates even after the end of community funds' inflows in Greece," Simitis said.
Real wages in Greece rose an average 2.3 percent annually in the period 1994-2000, up from a 0.5 percent average increase in the EU over the same period. "Social policies would be further promoted in the future, with spending on social protection expected to rise by 40 percent in the period 2001-2004, compared with an accumulated 11 percent increase in inflation."
Simitis urged businesses to increase their social responsibility towards their workers and the environment by publishing social activity reports along with their financial reports.
Referring to the social security system, Simitis said "we have to solve this problem now through an effective dialogue with all parties, seeking wider consensus."
The country needed the creation of a favorable business climate to promote new company set-ups, mainly small- and medium-sized, and to attract domestic and foreign investments.
"Unemployment is an important problem and our wish is to see it fall further," Simitis stressed. Unemployment will be effectively combated not with the creation of jobs by the state but with the creation of quality job positions in the private sector, he said.
The premier's vision to enhance productivity in the country envisaged raising the product per working hour ratio and the need by Greek enterprises to promote quality-restructuring schemes and to seek innovative ideas.
Simitis also said it would need more efforts in education, health and vocational training to promote new jobs, mainly in the digital economy.
Opposition party reactions to premier's Saturday main TIF address:
All opposition parties represented in the Greek Parliament criticized the speech of Prime Minister Costas Simitis at the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair (TIF), delivered on Saturday night.
Main opposition New Democracy (ND) spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos, in a press release said that "politics means results, not words. Everything else is excuses of the sinful, for the repeated announcements of projects that were never done".
The Communist Party of Greece's (KKE) press release claimed that the premier disbursed the money of the people to the "capitalist employers", while it allowed "selective burden cuts" for the people, which he will take away through the full commercialization of healthcare, education and increased inflation.
The Coalition of the Left and Progress (Synaspismos) representative Dimitris Papadimoulis said that "Mr. Simitis, self-lauded in a monotonous way, beautified the reality of a Greece, which remains by far at the tail end of the European Union and of a policy that increases the inequalities at the expense of the week".
The Liberals Party, in its press release, stated that the principles and policies Simitis outlined have not been achieved despite efforts of the past eight years, adding that the premier did not speak clearly of his aims.
Source: Athens News Agency