|Sunday, 18 April 2021|
Athens News Agency: Daily News Bulletin in English, 14-01-17
From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>Friday, 17 January 2014 Issue No: 4562
 BoG governor sees signs economy is stabilising; blames rise in NPLs on recession, PSIThe Greek economy is showing stronger signs of stabilization, Bank of Greece (BoG) governor George Provopoulos (photo) said on Thursday.
"Forecasts that the recession will end in 2014 are well-founded, provided that there is no political polarization ahead of the European elections," Provopoulos told the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Affairs.
He also attributed a rise in non-performing loans, which have surpassed 30 pct of total loans, to the last years' unprecedented recession and the PSI, "which cut 41-42 billion euros from banks and almost wiped out their capital," as opposed to banks' strategies.
Commenting on the credit expansion rate in the 2000-2010 period, Provopoulos noted that "it should be not stigmatized because it offered households the opportunity to take out mort-gage loans at logical, cheap terms and put their heads under a roof. Some of us got carried away, probably banks used more flexible criteria. On the other hand, I should have to remind you that this was the spirit of an era, not only in Greece, but globally."
Today, banks are obliged by run three-year plans to deal with the problem of non-performing loans, Provopoulos said, while he criticized opposition parties for raising hurdles in efforts to deal with the problem. The central bank said that the banking system will need a new recapitalization by 2016, according to Black-rock's estimates.
This recapitalization can and must be done with the reserves of 8-9 billion euros of the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund.
On banks ability to support the economy, Provopoulos that as long as household savings remain negative, the ability of banks to finance enterprises, even in export-orientated sectors, will be limited in the short-term and lead these companies to seek alternative sources of funding, such as corporate bonds, share capital increases, EU structural funds and the European Investment Bank.
Commenting on a recent scandal with bad loans offered by Hellenic Postbank, Provopoulos said that the central bank had promptly put Hellenic Postbank's practices under strict surveillance and had cooperated impeccably with judicial authorities. He also pointed out that he had been criticised in previous years by those who considered Hellenic Postbank an exemplary bank.
 Venizelos begins round of meetings with U.S. officials in WashingtonWASHINGTON (ANA-MPA - P. Panagiotou)
Starting off a round of contacts with U.S. officials in Washington on Thursday, Greek government vice-president and Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos met with the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Edward Royce.
During their hour-long meeting, Venizelos presented to the priorities of the Greek EU presidency and briefed him on Greece's progress with its adjustment program and its related achievements in the economic sector.
Sources on the Greek side described the climate at the meeting as "extremely warm" and that the two sides also exchanged views on major foreign policy issues of bilateral and international interest.
Emphasis was placed on the Cyprus issue, matters pertaining to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Greek-Turkish and EU-Turkish relations, delimitating maritime zones in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the situation in Syria and the wider region of the Middle East and North Africa.
Following a meeting with representatives of the Greek American community, Venizelos also met at the Greek Embassy in Washington with representatives from American Jewish organisations, with discussion focusing on the prospects for enhancing Greece-Cyprus-Israel cooperation.
Venizelos also briefed his interlocutors on several issues relating to foreign policy and the agenda of the Greek EU Presidency.
Later on Thursday, Venizelos is scheduled to meet Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Menendez.
 Venizelos' meeting with Kerry rescheduled for FridayOn Friday, the Greek minister is to meet the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew and have talks with Secretary of State John Kerry, after which he will attend a working luncheon with executives from U.S. think tanks.
According to the State Department's program, Kerry will have no meetings on Thursday as his return to the US from Kuwait was delayed. Kerry participated in a conference for donors to Syria.
 Greek parliament president to open EU conference with Martin SchulzGreece will launch its presidency of the European Parliament on Monday, when Greek Parliament President Evangelos Meimarakis and European Parliament President Martin Schulz will co-chair the opening session of the Interparliamentary Conference on Economic Governance in Brussels.
The Conference is co-hosted by the European and Greek Parliaments in Brussels from January 20 to 22, according to an announcement by the Greek Parliament on Thursday.
Keynote speakers will include Presidents of European Commission and European Council JoseManuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, respectively. The sessions will conclude on Wednesday, Jan. 22, noon with the speech of Greek Finance Minister and President of EU Finance Ministers Meeting (Ecofin) Yannis Stournaras and the remarks of Greek-EU Parliament Vice Presidents Yiannis Tragakis and Othmar Karas, respectively.
Meimarakis will also hold separate meetings with his counterparts and with Barroso on Monday, Jan. 20, at 12:30.
The delegation of the Greek Parliament will also include deputies Alexandros Dermetzoglou (chair, Financial Affairs committee), Dimitris Kremastinos (chair, Social Affairs committee), Dimitris Papadimoulis and Filippos Sachinidis.
 European parties the key to genuine expression of EU citizens, Deputy Foreign Minister saysDeputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas participated on Thursday in the works of Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) on the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Kourkoulas presented to the members of the Committee the priorities of Greek EU presidency, focusing on the parliamentary committee's responsibilities over constitutional matters.
The minister also underlined that the Greek presidency will work to increase the participation of European citizens in the upcoming European elections, and to promote the order on the financing of European political parties.
"The actual function of European parties is the key to a genuine expression of the will of European citizens and to improve the quality characteristics of European democracy," noted Mr Kourkoulas.
 European Stability Mechanism's Regling defends troika's policies in GreeceSTRASBOURG (ANA-MPA/N.Roussis)
"Private investors thinking about investing in Greece, won't do it for the time being for more than 10 years," Klaus Regling, chief executive of the European Stability Mechanism said on Wednesday.
Speaking in European Parliament, during a hearing by a "troika report" commission examining the legality of the troika's actions in overdebted countries in Europe, Regling said the troika's interventions were necessary; he acknowledged that the structural measures it imposed created difficulties and predicted that in the near future Europe will have a supervisory system without the IMF.
Commenting on the sustainability of the Greek debt, Regling underlined that "Greece is a special and complex case" because it was different from previous experiences of the International Monetary Fund.
"In the Greek case we have offered loans with duration of 30 years at half the interest rate compared with the IMF, while there is a 10-year grant period without any burden on state budget. Private investors thinking about investing in the country won't do it for the time being for more than 10 years. They will choose a shorter period and for them it is significant not have any burden from debt servicing in the next 10 years," he added.
Regling said that the troika did not impose but only recommended structural measures and noted that it was up to national governments to decide on the fiscal measures.
 EU spokesman: Troika's return to Greece not confirmed for JanuaryBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/V. Demiris)
A European Commission spokesman on Thursday denied Greek press reports claiming that the representatives of Greece's troika of lenders would return to Greece on January 20-22 to continue their review of the Greek economy.
Spokesman Olivier Bailly said that talks between the troika and Greek authorities are continuing from their respective home bases, adding that the aim is to have the representatives return to Greece before the end of January.
 Troika heads expected to return to Athens after January 27Troika heads are expected to return to Athens after the Eurogroup meeting on January 27 for a new round of evaluation of Greece's economy, according to Finance ministry sources.
Troika's technical team is already in Greece, the sources said, while in the mean time, the ministry staff will send December's final budget execution numbers to the lenders' representatives.
Ministry officials believe that those data tend to show an improved performance of the Greek economy, especially on the revenues side.
Under the new time schedule for troika's arrival, the agreement on the approval of the 3.1 billion euro tranche from the European side is being postponed until the February 17 Eurogroup meeting. The two IMF tranches - of 1.8 billion euro each, that is 3.6 billion euros in total ? are expected to be approved by the Fund at the end of February or the beginning of March.
The agenda of the new negotiations is considered 'crucial', as it includes the 2014-2015 fiscal gap, the equivalent measures for the VAT tax rate on restaurants and the real estate tax, the 2014-2015 funding gap, the change of the regime on group layoffs, the reduction of insurance fees by employers and the gradual annulment of certain indirect taxes.
 Europe ready for marine policy and planning, Shipping minister saysEurope should not move toward regional policies in the shipping sector, Shipping and Aegean Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis stressed in a press briefing on Thursday concerning marine policies adopted by Europe.
Varvitsiotis stressed an emphasis on maritime-related strategies during Greece's EU presidency would be a "happy coincidence" since this could build on the experience of Greece's European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki in the field and Europe was ready for maritime policy and planning on a regulations level. He added that Europe's shipping must remain competitive and keep pace with International Maritime Organisation (IMO).
The minister commented on his meeting with Malta and Cyprus' Transport and Infrastructure Ministers Joe Mizzi and Tasos Mitsopoulos in the framework of trilateral cooperation on maritime issues, and said that there are efforts to include the UK and Denmark in that cooperation scheme.
Varvitsiotis noted that in 2014 ports will receive more attention in order to enhance cruise shipping, adding that an organisation will be introduced to monitor port works. Regarding the Piraeus Port Authority (OLP) he commented that the only solution is to sell its shares but the percentage to be sold had yet to be decided.
 Greek and Cypriot Interior Ministers' meetingNICOSIA (ANA-MPA/A. Viketos)
The promotion of cooperation between Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Israel is a useful development tool, Cyprus and Greece's Interior Ministers Socrates Hasikos and Yiannis Michelakis said after talks in Nicosia on Thursday.
The main issue of the talks was the memorandum of understanding for the creation of a European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation between the Interior ministries of Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Israel, as well as issues relating to Greek nationals living in Cyprus.
Michelakis added that these partnerships and financing tools will contribute to economic growth as well as welfare activities, which will help vulnerable groups to cope with the effects of the economic crisis.
The Greek Interior minister said that they will discuss these issues along with their Italian counterpart in the upcoming Council of Interior Ministers.
Hasikos said the opinions and positions of his counterpart are "helpful," adding that there is scope for joint cooperation in the framework of the Greek presidency of the EU.
 'We need to deal with the skills shortage in Europe' education minister saysThe skills shortage in Europe needs to be dealt with and the gap between education and the needs of the labour market has to be covered, Education Minister Constantinos Arvanitopoulos and EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Androulla Vassiliou said on Thursday.
The two officials addressed the opening ceremony of the European programme Erasmus+ at the Academy of Athens, as part of Greece's presidency in the EU.
Erasmus+ is a 15-billion-euro, 7-year programme that aims to enhance skills and employability and upgrade the education and training systems as well as the systems related to youth and sports.
Arvanitopoulos noted that this programme will be a key instrument to support education and training, in order to upgrade the skills of the individual, address high unemployment rates in member-states and cover the need for highly skilled workers.
"It is necessary to link the three constituents of knowledge - education, research and innovation - and that requires cooperation on a national, regional and European level," Arvanitopoulos said, adding that countries with effective educational systems have lower youth unemployment rates and higher rates of educational participation.
The education minister also referred to the progress that has been made on education in the past one and a half years and added that under these circumstances Erasmus+ will be crucial in strengthening education and training.
"Using this instrument is particularly important at a time of economic crisis and negative impact on labour markets," he pointed out.
Vassiliou referred to the two innovations of the programme, the first of which is the introduction of a student loan guarantee facility from the European Investment Bank. The second innovation provides for the expansion of the programme outside the EU, allowing European students to study at universities outside the EU for one semester and to non European students to attend lessons at European institutions.
"There is a contradiction here," the commissioner pointed out. "Right now, there are two million job vacancies in Europe, because employers are unable to find workers with the required skills. This is a gap we have to cover," she said.
About 47,000 Greek students participated in the previous Erasmus programme, while 25,000 students from other EU countries studied at Greek universities.
 SYRIZA comments on Hellenic Postbank case and banksMain opposition Radical Left Coalition's (SYRIZA) press office on Thursday commented on the Hellenic Postbank's case and banks in general.
"The Hellenic Postbank's scandal revealed the political responsibilities of the two-party system's representatives who, at the same time as they were forcing citizens to make painful sacrifices, were handing out gifts to party cronies, over-indebted media enterprises and their two parties," stressed SYRIZA in a press release.
"As with the Lagarde list and in the submarines' case, the rotten two-party system is indulging in its favourite game of 'hide-and-seek'," SYRIZA added.
In addition, SYRIZA demanded the immediate and thorough examination of the Hellenic Postbank's case so everyone responsible for the bank's bad loans might be identified, as well as control of non-performing loans given by the systemic banks, especially those towards business groups,the media and political parties.
Banks that have been recapitalised with public money should be placed under the control of the state society, serving the economy and supporting growth, the party said.
 SYRIZA official attacks government, presents party's proposals on banking systemA banking system that remains under state control, setting up a bank to support development and a special organization that will deal with 'bad loans' are the three main points in Radical Left Coalition's (SYRIZA) agenda for the banking system, SYRIZA's Yiannis Milios, responsible for the main opposition party's economic policy, said on Thursday.
"First of all, [we must have] public control of the banking system. It should retain its public nature, not because we support state control 'whether or no' but because this is a necessary in order to implement a different set of policies," he said in an interview with the Greek website Left.gr.
"Secondly, setting up a parallel financing sector, which will not form a part of the systemic banks. I am talking about a special-purpose development bank, about social solidarity funds and instruments to support of initiatives offering support and tackling the humanitarian crisis. Third, and possibly most important of all, dealing with non-performing, 'bad loans'. We should have a special state-controlled organization... This should be able to consider the cases of small households and businesses that cannot repay their loans," he pointed out.
According to Milios, the Hellenic Postbank was split up into a 'bad' bank burdened with non-performing loans and a 'good' bank that got all its sound assets. He said that this process cost the state 4.5-4.6 billion euros, after which the 'healthy' bank was given away to Eurobank.
On the issue of the banks returning to private hands, Milios pointed out that the "Greek state has given about 205 billion euros in collateral and loans, an amount that exceeds Greece's current Gross Domestic Product (GDP). That includes the 50 billion loan given to the banks, which burdens the state budget, in other words the Greek taxpayers."
He added the government has launched a process so that private investors can reacquire systemic banks, through a share buy back. It used warrants, which means that those private investors who participate in the banks' capital increase would be able to acquire additional shares at a set price. Milios, though, pointed out, that current share prices are too low.
"Based on SYRIZA's estimates, the four banks will return to private hands, through shares bought from the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, for 15-18 billion euros, when they should give between 40-50 billion euros," he said, adding that this would put the state and therefore Greek tax payers out of pocket by about 20-30 billion euros.
 Greece supports all initiatives of Cypriot leadership, Interior Minister saysNICOSIA (ANA-MPA/A. Viketos)
Greece is on Cyprus' side and supports all initiatives of the Cypriot leadership, Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis, who is on a visit to Nicosia, said on Thursday.
It is a difficult time for Greece and Cyprus," he said, adding that "both the Cypriot Greeks and Greece will win the fight and we will be able to see the results of these efforts very soon."
 Environment, Energy Minister Yiannis Maniatis to attend 8th EU-Russia Partnership CouncilEnvironment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Yiannis Maniatis will visit Moscow on Thursday to attend the 8th meeting of the EU-Russian Permanent Partnership Council, to be held on Friday. Maniatis will be accompanied by European Commissioner for energy G?nther Oettinger.
The meeting is taking place in the framework of ongoing EU-Russia dialogue on energy issues, with the Greek minister representing the EU presidency currently held by Greece.
The agenda for the meeting will cover legislative measures taken by the two sides for the energy sector and their repercussions on EU-Russia relationships, energy cooperation in gas, electricity and nuclear power, and EU-Russia dialogue on energy issues.
 Foreign ministry's Michalos at 2nd International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for SyriaThe Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, which gathered more than 2.4 billion dollars for the victims of war, ended on Wednesday in Kuwait.
Greece was represented by Secretary General for International Economic Relations and Development Cooperation Panagiotis Michalos.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that half the Syrian population is in urgent need of help, adding that approximately 9.3 million people are at immediate risk.
Michalos reiterated Greece's commitment in the diplomatic process of finding a permanent solution to the Syrian issue, stressing that the country stands by international diplomatic efforts to support the approximately three million Syrian refugees that have fled to neighbouring countries.
In the margins of the conference, Michalos discussed with EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid Kristalina Georgieva issues of policy coordination of the EU member states in migration. He also met with Foreign ministry officials, including Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, and discussed issues relating to the construction of the TAP natural gas pipeline and enhancing maritime cooperation.
 Deputy Development Minister Skordas talks to ANA-MPA on protection of borrowers from foreclosuresThe government will not put up with anything undermining the implementation of a new law protecting borrowers from foreclosures when they are unable to meet mortgage payments, Deputy Development Minister Thanassis Skordas told ANA-MPA in an interview on Thursday.
"Indeed, many borrowers have said that they could not submit the proper documentation to the banks. We immediately contacted the Banks Association and the lenders' managements in order to find a solution. In any case, I need to make clear that the government will not tolerate the undermining of this regulation, either from ignorance, negligence, or possible intent," Skordas pointed out.
Asked whether banks might possibly give an 'informal' extension beyond the expire date of January 31, Skordas made clear that: "If, for any reason, as the expiration of this deadline approaches, we see a need to reconsider its validity period, we will talk about this with the Banks Association and the government will be able to proceed with a legislative initiative."
Skordas commented on the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report , which estimates Greece's 'bad loans' would rocket to 40 percent in 2014, from 32 percent last year.
"It is true that the crisis has strained [the ability of] many borrowers - both companies or households - to repay loans," he said. "For this reason, all the government's initiatives aim to facilitate borrowers, so that they can deal with this problem more easily. The data shows, though, that the increase in non-performing loans has slowed down. Nevertheless, it is still a concern. For this reason, the recent law provides for setting up a government council to manage private debt. In this way, we will be able to examine the situation thoroughly and find ways to speed up the delivery of court decisions for cases that have languished within the courts for years. We will also be able to find ways to define the meaning of a cooperative borrower, as well as a minimum decent standard of living, so we can very quickly be prepared for a permanent arbitration mechanism."
The full audio interview is available to subscribers at the ANA-MPA website.
 Northern Greece to have its own public television channel, Kapsis saysNorthern Greece is to have its own public television channel with nationwide range, based in the city of Thessaloniki, Deputy Minister for Public Television Pantelis Kapsis said in an announcement on Thursday.
"Based on the operational plan of (New Hellenic Radio, Internet and Television) NERIT's board, there is provision for setting up a second nationwide channel and a general directorate for regional content based in Thessaloniki," the minister said, adding that the government will soon be launching the process for hiring 64 journalists, technicians and administrative staff.
The minister was replying to criticism from the local journalists' union ESHEMTh and the regional chapter of the government's junior coalition partner PASOK, which claimed that northern Greece was being downgraded in terms of public broadcasting and news.
Kapsis added that more streamlined costs relative to the previous public broadcasting channel in northern Greece ET-3 would allow more money on for content production, despite NERIT's lower budget.
 Government trying to 'obliterate' public TV in northern Greece, SYRIZA chargesThe government is trying to "obliterate" public television in northern Greece, main opposition SYRIZA party charged on Thursday.
"The call for job openings at the new public radio and television agency in Thessaloniki, which is being downgraded to a simple branch outlet, can only be seen as a joke," the party said. "It is not possible to have a regional radio and television agency operate on a staff of 15 journalists and 27 other specialists," it added, and blamed both the two-party government and Deputy Minister for Public Radio and Television Pantelis Kapsis for artificially downgrading public electronic media.
 PASOK party agrees in principle with 'Primary National Health Network' billHealth Minister Adonis Georgiadis confirmed that the PASOK party's health sector had agreed in principle with the bill on the "Primary National Health Network" that is to be tabled in Parliament next week.
"The basic principles of the bill are not changing. They are known and they have been formulated. What we are discussing now are the details. The devil is concealed in the details sometimes," the minister said.
Speaking after a meeting with a delegation of PASOK's health sector, headed by the chairman of the Parliamentary Permanent Social Affairs Committee Dimitris Kremastinos, "many of the observations made were correct and are being adopted in the bill. On some other points we may have some disagreements".
 Administrative Reform ministry initiates a series of bureaucratic simplificationsThe Administrative Reform ministry is initiating a first set of administrative simplifications through the draft law put to public consultation on Wednesday, in an effort to drastically reduce bureaucracy and boost the business climate.
At the same time, the introductory statement said the draft law reduces the administrative burden for citizens and businesses in their dealings with the state, as well as for public services. It is estimated that about 35 million ratifications of copies are made annually in Greece, requiring three minutes for each one of them on average, namely 1.75 million man-days required, approximately 1,000 full-time employees per year.
In an effort to simplify the current regulatory framework, which applies to business licensing and submission of data to the appropriate public organisations on behalf of businesses already operating in Greece, the government entered into a strategic cooperation with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in late 2012, making use of the international experience and expertise of the organisation in the field of reducing bureacracy.
 DIMAR's executive committee convenes to discuss organisational issuesThe opposition Democratic Left (DIM.AR) Executive Committee on Thursday convened to discuss political initiatives to 'reconstruct' the social democratic area ahead of the European Parliament elections in May.
DIM.AR aims to accelerate procedures for bringing a discussion in Parliament on proposed legislation for changing the electoral system to one based on simple proportional representation and to enhance transparency in political partu finances. At the same time, DIMAR will insist on its positition that the first round of local elections and European Parliament elections be held together.
Party leader Fotis Kouvelis informed the executive committee members that Christos Machairas will take over as the party's spokesman next week.
 Democratic Left to discuss reconstruction of democratic socialismThe Executive Committee of Democratic Left (DIMAR) at its first meeting following the party congress discussed the issue of assuming political initiatives for the reconstruction of democratic socialism.
It also said it would seek to accelerate the process so that the draft laws submitted by the party for the establishment of the proportional representation voting system and for parties' transparency are discussed in Parliament as soon as possible.
At the meeting, Christos Macheras was appointed party press spokesman.
 Independent Greeks leader Kammenos, Health minister in court over defamation caseA misdemeanor court tried on Wednesday the case of a lawsuit filed by the Independent Greeks leader Panos Kammenos against Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis, on the latter's allegations that a yacht named 'Iliatoras of London' belonged to Kammenos while it was registered under an off-shore company, allowing Kammenos not to pay taxes on yacht ownership.
Kammenos is asking a 670,000-euros compensation for defamation.
Both politicians attended the court proceedings.
The minister asked to testify, but the court overruled his request. He did submit, though, a series of documents and DVDs showing Kammenos onboard the yacht and claimed it belonged to an off-shore company and that until 2009 there had been no documentation to certify Kammenos's father as the owner.
Former New Democracy deputy and director of Kammenos's political office Ioannis Gianellis testified in support of the suitor, claiming that the boat belongs to Kammenos's father, Ilias, and not to an off-shore company.
 KKE party sg holds meeting with Attica regional governorCommunist Party of Greece (KKE) General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas met at the party's offices on Thursday with Attica regional governor Yiannis Sgouros, who briefed him on issues and activities of the Attica Region and of the institution of local and regional administration in general.
According to a KKE party press release, "Mr. Koutsoumbas gave a briefing on KKE's assessments regarding political and economic developments and the aggravation of popular problems due to the antipopular policy".
 Suspect in submarine kickbacks' case arrested for violating conditions of releaseThe Greek Police on Thursday arrested the businessman Alexandros Avataggelos, a suspect in an ongoing investigation of a kickbacks-for-contracts case connected to the submarines purchased by the Greek Navy. Avataggelos was arrested by Attica security police on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by the magistrate handling the case.
According to police, the charges listed on the warrant were for violating the conditions for his release pending trial. According to sources, the suspect failed to pay the amount of bail imposed for his release, amounting to 500,000 euros. He was also banned from leaving the country and required to report regularly to a police station in his area.
Avataggelos is accused of using his companies to move the illegal money received in kickbacks. He is to be led before a public prosecutor on Friday.
 EU's HELBROC Battle Group on stand-by for first half 2014The European Union's HELBROC Battle Group led by Greece and stationed at the 71st Airmobile Brigade at Nea Santa, Kilkis was put on stand-by for operations in the first half of 2014 on Thursday.
The ceremony placing the battle group on stand-by was attended by Greek Armed Forces General Staff chief Gen. Mikhail Kostarakos, Bulgarian Chief of Defence Gen. Simeon Simeonov and representatives of the armed forces of Romania, Cyprus and Ukraine.
The HELBROC battle group, also known as the Balkan Battle Group, as also been on stand-by for operations in the second half of 2007, the first half of 2009 and the second half of 2011. It is scheduled to next go on stand-by in the first half of 2016 and the first half of 2018.
 Hatzidakis presents development ministry's priorities for 2014Liquidity is the top issue that the government has to deal with this year, Development Minister Costis Hatzidakis said on Thursday, while underlining the need for a positive climate in order to restore proper liquidity conditions.
During a press conference to present his ministry's priorities for 2014, he pointed out that neither exaggerations on the part of the troika representing the country's international lenders nor populism from the opposition parties would help achieve this goal.
According to the minister, the troika was casting "a pervasive cloud of doubt" over the government's efforts, while the opposition was resorting to 'barren' populism.
"There are no grounds for these doubts. We do not want to be either the troika's 'yes men' or the heroes of the month but create something responsibly. We have nothing to do with populism," Hatzidakis said.
Outlining the measures that the ministry is currently working on, he did not rule out a possible amendment of the bankruptcy procedure, so as to facilitate those in real need but prevent 'paper bankruptcies'.
Deputy Development Minister Notis Mitarakis, on his part, highlighted his concern over the impact of high energy costs on the competitiveness of Greek companies.
"I am also concerned at the impact of the energy cost. What is important is to have an industry ministry but an industry sector at the same time," he said.
He added that the prime minister himself has classified this issue as a top priority, while the environment ministry is also considering possible solutions.
Hatzidakis then presented the ministry's three priorities for 2014: to support a productive model, strengthen competitiveness and improve the function of the market, with an aim to lower prices and offer a safety net to unprotected consumers.
In the coming days, the ministry will present a draft bill to introduce proposals from a study carried out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), unveiled for public consultation.
Those proposals seek to lift barriers in the market so that free competition can lead to lower prices. They include an extension of the expiration date for fresh milk, scrapping uniform prices on books and the sale of non-prescription drugs in supermarkets, among others.
They will also introduce a special tag on products, certifying their Greek origin. The documentation on this has already been issued and the relevant procedures are expected to be concluded within February.
At the same time, the ministry will continue fighting illegal trade. In 2013, 10.6 million items were confiscated, up from to 2.0 million items a year earlier, while this year the ministry plans to intensify inspections at warehouses and importers.
Deputy Development Minister Notis Mitarakis mentioned that the ministry aims to increase employment and added that banks should finance viable businesses that offer innovative products. He also referred to the sale of the former Athens airport, Elliniko, saying that the board of directors at the country's privatisation agency TAIPED will approve the legal documents within the day and that the tender will have been concluded within the first quarter of the year.
 Unemployment top priority in 2014, Labour minister tells event"Tackling unemployment is a top priority for the government in 2014 and we are using all available funds (to that end)," Labour Minister Yiannis Vroutsis told an event Thursday evening, organized by the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA), the Centre of Planning and Economic Research (KEPE) and Naftemporiki newspaper.
Vroutsis referred to a number of programmes to be implemented in the first months of the year, which are of a total spending of 350 million euros and envisaged to benefit some 74,000 jobless.
In addition, a new programme to be out in May would allow up to 230.000 young unemployed not in education, employment or training up to the age of 24 to enter the labour market, Vroutsis said.
This programme will be budgeted at 340 million euros, half of which will come from EU special funds for the Youth Employment Initiative and the remaining from the new National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF).
The minister also referred to the reduction of employer contributions by 3.9 percentage units by 2016, and estimated that this would help create up to 30,000 new jobs. However, he acknowledged that the specific task will be difficult as fiscal equivalents would have to be found to compensate for the loss in insurance funds' income.
The minister described labour market streamlining as "necessary", stressing the positive impact the stricter legislation on eliminating undeclared work has had so far.
 Finance ministry gives figures for online state debt seizures pilot schemeThe finance ministry on Thursday announced that, in cooperation with four of the country's tax offices, the state had so far carried out 200 online seizures of cash directly from the bank accounts of those owing money to the state.
Online seizures from bank accounts were introduced on a pilot basis at four tax offices, with the prospect of extending this to all tax offices in the country in the first quarter of the year.
The ministry also announced a further shift to the use of digital platforms by the public, noting that only 10,000 people had paid for road tax fees in person at tax offices in 2013, down from 230,000 the previous year, with the rest paying online.
 Agriculture minister Tsaftaris visits Berlin's 'Green Week' trade fairAgricultural Development and Food Minister Athanasios Tsaftaris on Thursday travelled to Germany for the 79th Berlin International Green Week, an important international trade fair held annually for the food, agriculture and gardening industry. On Thursday evening, Tsaftaris?was scheduled to attend the opening ceremony of the event, at the invitation of his German counterpart Hans-Peter Friedrich.
The Greek minister will also attend the 6th?Berlin?Agriculture Ministers'?Summit, and will deliver a speech at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA).
Tsaftaris, who is accompanied by Secretary for Rural Policy and International Relations Dimitris Melas, will on Friday attend the opening of the Greek pavilion at the Green Week fair, which is under the auspices Greek ministries and the Greek embassy in Berlin.
While in Berlin, Tsaftaris is to have a series of meeting with counterparts from Germany, France, Moldova, Montenegro and the UK, for a briefing on the agenda and events to be hosted by the Greek EU presidency.
This year's Green Week includes 37 participants from Greek regions, municipalities and cooperatives, as well as individual rural producers from across the country.
 High margins for improving building energy efficiency in Greece, Alt. Energy Minister Kalafatis reportsAlternate Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Stavros Kalafatis on Thursday said there were significant margins for improving energy conservation in Greek buildings, both public and private. The minister was presented the statistical figures on the issue of building energy efficiency certificates and the records of energy inspectors on the third year after inspections and certificates were introduced.
The minister said a total of 509,000 energy efficiency certificates have been issued so far, with the numbers rising from 60,640 in 2011 to 219,804 in 2012, 226,077 in 2013. Of these, 79 percent were for building constructed from 1950-2009 and the majority were for properties offered for rent.
Based on the results, a significant percentage of buildings in Greece are in the lowest energy-efficiency category and have minimal insulation and inefficient heating and cooling systems.
 Israeli YOZMA to conclude two studies on innovation by March, Dev't minister saysDevelopment Minister Costis Hatzidakis said on Thursday that Israeli organization YOZMA is expected to have completed two studies on ways to strengthen innovative business activity, aimed at funding small and medium-sized companies, by the end of March 2014. Hatzidakis addressed the signing ceremony of the cooperation agreements among the Management Organization Unit of Development Programmes (MOU), the Hellenic Fund for Entrepreneurship and Development (ETEAN), the Hellenic Venture Capital Association (HVCA) and the Israeli organization YOZMA.
The agreements were part of the cooperation memorandum signed by the Development minister and the YOZMA Group Fund of Funds during the recent visit of the Greek prime minister in Israel.
The memorandum provides for the cooperation with the Israeli organisation, regarding the setting up a strategic innovation and funding of entrepreneurship.
Israel's ambassador to Greece Arye Mekel mentioned that his country had the expertise to help Greece. He also referred to a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during the Greek prime minister's visit to Israel, who had said that now is the right time for Israeli businessmen to invest in Greece.
 Greek inflation at -1.8 pct in DecemberBRUSSELS (ANA-MPA/Maria Aroni) -
Greece remained in the deflation zone in December, with an inflation rate of -1.8 pct, Eurostat said on Thursday.
In a report published here, the EU executive's statistics agency said that average inflation rate in the Eurozone eased to 0.8 pct in December, from 0.9 pct in November, while in the EU, the inflation rate was unchanged at 1.0 pct.
Greece recorded the lowest inflation rate in the EU (-1.8 pct), followed by Cyprus (-1.3 pct), Bulgaria (-0.9 pct) and Latvia (-0.4 pct). On the other hand, Estonia, UK and Austria recorded the highest inflation rates (2.0 pct), followed by Finland (1.9 pct). The inflation rate was 0.3 pct in Greece in December 2012, in the eurozone was 2.2 pct and in the EU 2.3 pct.
Electricity (0.11 pct), tobacco (0.08 pct) and restaurant (0.05 pct) recorded the biggest percentage increases, while telecoms (-0.14 pct), diesel oil (0.13 pct) and medical prices (0.07 pct) the biggest declines.
 Meeting on Shipping ministry's issuesA meeting of Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras, Shipping Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and Alternate Finance Minister Yiorgos Mavraganis will be held at the Finance ministry at noon on Thursday.
They will discuss the contributions by shipowners as well as the recommendations of the Shipping ministry on VAT reduction for ferry tickets.
 Greek annual deflation of 1.8 percent in December, EurostatGreece posted deflation of 1.8 percent in December compared to 2.9 percent in November, according to figures released on Thursday by Eurostat.
In eurozone, inflation fell to 0.8 percent in December from 0.9 percent in November and 2.2 percent in December last year. In EU-28, inflation was stable at 1.0 percent.
Greece is followed by Cyprus(-1.3 pct) and Bulgaria (-0.9 pct). Estonia, the UK, Austria (2.0 pct) and Finland (1.9 pct) recorded the highest inflation rates.
 Thessaloniki Mayor Yannis Boutaris welcomes Ryanair to Macedonia airportThessaloniki Mayor Yannis Boutaris expressed his satisfaction over the establishment of a hub base of the low-cost airline carrier Ryanair in the Macedonia airport of Thessaloniki, commenting that this development will positively contribute to the city in its role as European Youth Capital 2014.
Boutaris urged other airlines to also invest in Thessaloniki's airport.
"Seems that the presence of Ryanair at the Thessaloniki airport in the previous period , following the agreement the company signed with the Tourism Organization of Thessaloniki ( CTG ) paid off , "noted Mr. Boutaris, and added that the establishment of Ryanair to "Macedonia" airport, will create job positions in the domesti market.
Tourism Organization of Thessaloni (OTC), says that company's aim is to transport annually from/to Thessaloni over 1,6 million passengers, thus creating more than 1.600 jobs. "We are continuing our efforts as an organization of approaching other companies with low cost tickets," stated Chairman, George Tsamaslis.
Also Dutch company Transavia will connect Thessaloniki to Amsterdam from April 2014, with low cost flights three times a week, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
 DELTA Foods signs strategic agreement with GranaroloVivartia Group on Thursday announced the signing of a strategic agreement between DELTA Foods SA and Granarolo for the exclusive distribution of Greek yoghurt and cheese to the markets of Italy and France.
The dairy products will be produced in DELTA's facilities in Greece and will be distributed through Granarolo's networks.
"It is a partnership of strategic significance, which unites two historic and leading companies in the dairy industry, with a presence of more than half a century in each country, a union expected to bring significant results to both parties. The know-how and expertise of DELTA combined with the deep knowledge of Granarolo in the Italian market, are guarantees for the development of a powerful formation in the dairy business," a statement said.
Granarolo has an annual turnover of around 1.0 billion euros, with established activities in Italy, France, Spain and the UK.
 Forthnet says equity capital totals 33.029 mln eurosForthnet SA on Thursday said its equity capital, following the successful completion of a share capital increase plan, totalled 33.029 million euros.
In an announcement to the Athens Stock Exchange, Forthnet said its voting rights totaled 110,097,185, resulting from an equal number of common nominal shares worth 0.30 pct each.
 Geniki Bank says it is in exploratory talks with international investorsGeniki Bank is undergoing an organizational restructure to support its future course and operational development.
In an announcement, Geniki Bank said its aim was to become stronger through international partnerships and for this reason it was in exploratory talks, still at a very early stage.
The bank said that, as its parent company Piraeus Bank, recently confirmed, there was nothing specific to be announced to investors concerning the bank.
 Greek stocks end moderately lowerGreek stocks ended lower in the Athens Stock Exchange on Thursday. Comments made by Bank of Greece governor in Parliament that some banks might need more capital after the latest round of stress tests dampened sentiment in the market and reversed an initial advance of prices which temporarily pushed the index closer to the 1,300 level.
The index ended at 1,271.31 points, off 0.97 pct, after rising as much as 1.12 pct during the session. Turnover remained a strong 102.27 million euros.
The Large Cap index fell 1.0 pct and the Mid Cap index eased 1.09 pct. Athens Water (2.68 pct), Hellenic Exchanges (1.84 pct), Piraeus Bank (1.10 pct) and Intralot (0.95 pct) were top gainers among blue chip stocks, while Terna Energy (3.11 pct), GEK Terna (3.10 pct), Ellaktor (3.09 pct) and Alpha Bank (3.03 pct) suffered the heaviest percentage losses of the day.
The Media (9.29 pct), Chemicals (1.52 pct) and Financial Services (1.16 pct) sectors scored gains, while Construction (2.05 pct), Oil (1.47 pct) and Raw Materials (1.46 pct) suffered losses.
Broadly, decliners led advancers by 84 to 55 with another 20 remaining unchanged. Galaxidi (22.22 pct), Geniki Bank (20 pct) and Medicon (20 pct) were top gainers, while Sato (20 pct), Elviemek (19.79 pct) and Kyriakoulis (18.58 pct) suffered losses.
Sector indices ended as follows:
Industrial Products: -1.41%
Oil & Gas: -1.47%
Personal & Household: -0.35%
Raw Materials: -1.46%
Travel & Leisure: -0.76%
Food & Beverages: -1.35%
Financial Services: +1.16%
Real Estate: -1.26%
The stocks with the highest turnover were Piraeus Bank, OTE, OPAP and PPC.
Selected shares from the FTSE/ASE-20 index closed in euros as follows:
Alpha Bank: 0.70
Public Power Corp (PPC): 11.26
Coca Cola HBC: 20.93
Hellenic Petroleum: 7.50
National Bank of Greece: 4.13
Eurobank Properties : 7.20
Piraeus Bank: 1.84
 Greek bond market closing reportThe yield spread between the 10-year Greek and German benchmark bonds widened to 6.18 pct in the domestic electronic secondary bond market on Thursday, from 5.98 pct the previous day, with the Greek bond yielding 7.95 pct and the German Bund yielding 1.77 pct. Turnover was a thin 3.0 million euros, all buy orders.
In interbank markets, interest rates continued moving higher. The 12-month rate rose to 0.572 pct from 0.565 pct, the nine-month rate rose to 0.497 pct from 0.489 pct, the six-month rate rose to 0.405 pct from 0.397 pct, the three-month rate rose to 0.300 pct from 0.290 pct and the one-month rate rose to 0.234 pct from 0.216 pct.
 ADEX closing reportThe January contract on the FTSE/ASE Large Cap index was trading at a premium of 0.24 pct in the Athens Derivatives Exchange on Thursday, with turnover remaining a strong 98.381 million euros. Volume on the Big Cap index totaled 42,462 contracts worth 89.505 million euros, with 56,545 open positions in the market.
Volume in futures contracts on equities totaled 15,041 contracts worth 8.876 million euros, with investment interest focusing on Piraeus Bank's contracts (3,791), followed by Alpha Bank (1,738), National Bank (918), MIG (528), OTE (1,742), PPC (2,539), OPAP (777), Mytilineos (927), GEK (590), Intralot (266), Hellenic Petroleum (259), Hellenic Exchanges (197) and Motor Oil (111).
 Foreign Exchange rates - FridayReference buying rates per euro released by the European Central Bank:
U.S. dollar 1.380
Pound sterling 0.844
Danish kroner 7.573
Swedish kroner 8.949
Japanese yen 144.34
Swiss franc 1.253
Norwegian kroner 8.514
Canadian dollar 1.507
Australian dollar 1.568
 Karamolegos thanks police after escaping from kidnappersIndustrialist Manolis Karamolegos, who was abducted on Tuesday and escaped less than 24 hours later after convincing one of his kidnappers to turn himself in, thanked the Greek police for their professionalism and humanity adding that the investigation continues and that he is confident that the case will be solved very soon.
Karamolegos rejected press articles linking his kidnappers with employees or former employees of his company and clarified that his abductors have never worked or have any connection with his bakery industry.
 Public prosecutor files charges against Karamolegos kidnappersThe public prosecutor on Thursday filed charges against the two alleged abductors of the businesman Manolis Karamolegos.The two suspects were charged with abduction, theft, repeated counts of grievous bodily harm and illegal weapons possession.The case has been assigned to an examining magistrate.
 Costas Sakkas re-arrested by Counter-Terrorism serviceGreece's Counter-Terrorism Service again placed 30 year-old Costas Sakkas under arrest on Thursday evening after his fingerprints were matched with those found in the safehouse used by the "Conspiracy of Cells of Fire" terror group in the Athens suburb of Halandri. According to police sources, it was the first safehouse detected by the Counter-Terrorism Service during its investigation of the "Conspiracy of Cells of Fire" group, on '25 Martiou' street. Sakkas was arrested on a warrant issued for actions falling under penal code article 187A on criminal organisations and forming an armed group. He will be led before the relevant prosecutor on Friday.
 Prosecutor appeal acquittal of 'Cells of Fire' member on violating release restrictionsProsecution authorities appealed the acquittal of Kostas Sakkas by a misdemeanor court, who was recently found innocent on the charges of breaching release restrictions.
Sakkas, who was accused of being a member of the terrorist organization "Conspiracy of Cells of Fire", had been kept in custody for 31 months and was released last summer after a 38-day hunger strike.
In order for him to be released, he had posted a 30,000-euros bail and had been banned from leaving the country, coming into contact with fellow Cells members and moving outside the Attica prefecture. He also had to report on a regular basis to a police station and dwell at a declared residence.
Sakkas was arrested a few days ago and was tried for spending the night at his girlfriend's house. In court, he had testified he decided not to leave his girlfriend's house because he was drunk and felt dizzy.
 Hellenic Postbank executive turns herself in, released after testifyingHellenic Postbank (TT) executive Fotini Kresta on Thursday gave herself up and was led before the prosecutor investigating the Hellenic Postbank unsecured loans. Authorities had earlier issued an arrest warrant issued against her.
Kresta, who was on the subcommittees evaluating loan applications from large businesses and had co-signed their approval, faces charges in connection with the bank's negligent audits.
She was later released with the agreement of the magistrate and public prosecutor handling the state, with the condition that she is forbidden to leave the country.
 Employees' union announces 24-hour nationwide strike in retail trade next SundayThe Federation of Private Employees has called a 24-hour nationwide strike in the commerce sector on Sunday, January 19. An announcement by the federation said that employees are continuing their struggle against law allowing shops to open on Sunday, "which abolishes the right to the Sunday holiday".
The federation questioned figures given by trade associations and the development ministry, according to which the operation of stores on Sundays and on the "white night" boosted turnover in the market and stresses that the reality is different.
It says specifically that "the overwhelming majority of stores that tried their operation on Sundays did not succeed in covering even their basic operational costs. People went out for a stroll and not for shopping. Thousands of employees who were obliged to work on Sundays neither received a day off nor were they paid. They worked for free for the employers, while at the moment thousands of employees in trade are unpaid for over six months. Working 2-3 days a week in rotation has become a generalised trend. The young people on a four-hour timetable are not paid more than 250 euros a month."
The federation believes that Sunday opening for shops must be overturned because it is leading more small and medium-sized enterprises to closure and thousands of new layoffs. A strike rally is scheduled to take place in central Athens at noon on Sunday, in the main shopping districts around Syntagma Square and Ermou Street.
 Hearings on municipal embezzlement case of Thessaloniki open on ThursdayHearings reopened on Thursday for an 18-million-euro embezzlement case involving the Municipality of Thessaloniki before a five-member court of felony appeals in Thessaloniki.
The court, hearing the case at a higher level, then proceeded to break in order to consider issues raised by the the defense lawyers.
Former mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, former municipality general secretary Michalis Lemousias and a treasurer named Panagiotis Saxonis have already received life sentences. Two former directors of the municipality's treasury department, who have received 15- and 10-year sentences, respectively, have been released ahead of the repeat trial.
 Nigerian migrants repatriated from three EU countriesA joint European repatriation operation for Nigerian migrants was carried out on Thursday via a charter flight.Thirty-five migrants from Italy, five from Malta and five from Greece left from Rome airport for Nigeria.The operation was held with the financial support and coordination of Frontex, the European Union's border management agency.
 Police seize two containers with imitation cigarettes at PireausAthens Narcotics Police and Piraeus custom officers seized large quantities of cigarettes in two containers at the port of Piraeus on Wednesday. According to an announcement Thursday, the two containers coming from China and Manila carried documents claiming they contained blankets and metal garden chairs.
Police confiscated 412 cartons or 4,120,000 cigarettes, an imitation of the Marlboro brand, in the first container, while the second one contained 1,048 cartons or 10,480,00 pcs of Marble cigarette brand imitation cigarettes.
The unpaid duties amount to 2,760,406.14 euros. Police is continuing investigations to locate the recipients.
 Overcast on FridayA mixed pattern of overcast areas in Greece and clearer skies on the eastern part of the mainland and the Peloponnese. Variable winds turning to south-southeasterly, from 2 to 5 Beaufort. Temperatures from 3C to 18C. In Athens, generally fair with low visibility early in the morning. Variable winds turning gradually southerly up to 4 Beaufort, and temperatures from 8C to 18C. In Thessaloniki, the same with temperatures ranging from 6C to 14C.
 The Thursday edition of Athens' dailiesAVGHI: Explosion of red loans.
DIMOKRATIA: The mysteries of Strasbourg.
EFIMERIDA TON SYNTAKTON: New revelations on Golden Dawn's action.
ELEFTHEROTYPIA: Prime Minister Antonis Samaras lost the opportunity at the Europarliament.
ELEFTHEROS TYPOS: The plan for reductions in social secerity contributions.
ESTIA: The primary surplus is not enough.
ETHNOS: Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) an armed party.
IMERISSIA: Bankers' recommendation of survival to Greek businessmen: Merge or shut down.
KATHIMERINI: Evidence of paramilitary action.
LOGOS: The bell sounds for the 'red loans'.
NAFTEMPORIKI: Bank of Greece recommendation to banks: Loans only to healthy businesses.
RIZOSPASTIS: They (Samaras and SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras) worry who will be EU and the capital's chosen.
TA NEA: How to make arrangements for the loans you can't pay.
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