The Greek Press Today
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19 September, 2005
Main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou on Saturday evening called for the creation of a new “social system” that emphasizes the role and “contribution of the citizen in society”, speaking in Thessaloniki on the last weekend of the 70th Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).
His address to business leaders, professional sectors’ representatives, labor officials and party cadres came exactly a week after Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis spoke from the same podium to inaugurate this year’s trade exhibition.
Touching upon the most controversial topic of the month, namely, the fate of ailing state-owned national carrier Olympic Airways (OA), Papandreou cited three goals: that the company’s unhindered and safe operation continue; that the Greek government take recourse to the European Court against last week’s Commission ruling; and finally, that the government present a plan in coordination with the EU aimed at continuing and finalizing procedures for OA’s privatization.
Moreover, Papandreou said his party does not want a state monopoly in the domestic airline industry to be succeeded by a private monopoly, “but for competition to work”. He pointed out that any new business scheme based on a sold-off OA should be viable and be based primarily on private capital, whereas jobs should be guaranteed.
He acknowledged that PASOK bears responsibilities for the current sad state of affairs at OA, while nevertheless charging that the government was “provocatively absent” in the 18 months since it assumed power in March 2004.
Turning to an overall political vision, Papandreou echoed previous statements over boosting spending for education and research, promising that if in government, he would allocate 5 percent of the annual state budget to the education sector from savings gained from defense cuts, public expenditures and subsidies without a "social result", as he said.
He also repeated his support for private non-profit universities -- a distinct break with past PASOK positions -- noting that public institutions will continue to act as the primary level in the tertiary level, "although PASOK has nothing to fear from non-public forms of (higher) education".
In terms of tax policy, Papandreou proposed slashes in income tax with corresponding hikes in capital gains taxes. Turning to a long-standing target by successive Greek governments over the past decades, he also called for a sharp reduction in tax evasion and social security contributions evasion through stepped up enforcement.
In beginning his statements, Papandreou aimed directly at the Karamanlis government, accusing it of being a "government of the few and ignoring the many". To back his point, he referred to the government's opposition to a heating oil subsidy for the coming winter season and to minor, as he said, increases in pensions.
Other noteworthy proposals cited by Papandreou included the transfer of the Manpower Employment Organization (OAED), the primary agency for compiling unemployment statistics and managing employment programs, from state control to social partners.
Furthermore, in unveiling a greater portion of his ideological perspective, Papandreou noted that the conservative view of the public sector's role today encompasses both a "demonisation of the state" and a "demonisation of the market" -- "what's progressive is the development of the third major pole, namely, the society of citizens".
Turning to the foreign policy front, Papandreou, the former foreign minister in successive Simitis governments, stressed that it would be "a historic mistake" for Greece to agree to the start of Turkey's EU accession talks (set for Oct. 3) under the current conditions.
"The continuing occupation of Cyprus and Turkey's claims in the Aegean cannot be grafted onto a European normality," Papandreou said, adding that such a prospect would be nothing more than a constant "time bomb".
He emphasized that Oct. 3 is a last chance for Athens to seek a "new Helsinki (agreement) with a timetable, commitments and guarantees by Turkey ... because this is what the country's national interest demands".
In closing his address, Papandreou lashed out at the government for reneging, as he charged, on its pre-election pledges. Among others, he said the government has not given families with three children the benefits allocated to families with four or more offspring, and has also failed to create a small and flexible cabinet, but instead has proceeded with the wholesale creation of new departments and multitudes of new committees.
Additionally, he also claimed that some 25,000 high-ranking public sector officials are being "hounded" by the ND government.
In a later response to Papandreou's address, government spokes-man Theodoros Roussopoulos noted that "Greek citizens have the chance to compare".
"On the one side, there's the work, clear-cut strategy and poised policy of the government; and on the other, there's the vacuous words of PASOK. On one side there is a new government policy that's already producing results, one that ensures a better future for all. On the other side, there's a universal rejection of any change, any form of reform. On one side there's the language of truth, and on the other: the voice of populism".
Source: Athens News Agency