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Athens News Agency: News in English (AM), 99-03-17

Athens News Agency: News in English Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr>

NEWS IN ENGLISH

ATHENS, GREECE, 17/03/1999 (ANA)


MAIN HEADLINES

  • Greece: EU Commission's resignation an 'act of sensitivity'
  • Schroeder for talks in Athens
  • Hellenic Aerospace signs deals for new Athens airport
  • Alpha Credit Bank to buy Cypriot insurance firm
  • Stocks end lower in profit-taking
  • Bond prices edge up, demand seen for drachma
  • Gov't seeks to improve EU telecoms programme
  • Local groups protest genetically modified cotton
  • Karamanlis ends US visit by meeting Defense Secretary Cohen
  • After Thessaloniki, Tipper Gore to visit Athens
  • Weather
  • Foreign exchange

NEWS IN DETAIL

Greece: EU Commission's resignation an 'act of sensitivity'

The resignation of the entire European Commission was "inevitable and an act of political responsibility", Athens remarked yesterday.

"The Greek government supports transparency and wants to strengthen the role of the European Commission and ensure its operation," government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said.

The 20-member Commission, the EU's executive body, resigned in the early morning hours only days before a critical extraordinary summit on the Union's budget reforms, and after the release of a damaging independent report that accused the body of losing control of the Brussels bureaucracy, mismanagement and favouritism.

The resigned Commission will stay on in caretaker capacity until it is replaced.

Referring specifically to Greek Commissioner, Christos Papoutsis, Mr. Reppas said he enjoyed the confidence of the government and said the fact there were no claims against him in the independent report was a positive factor.

Mr. Reppas said he hoped the crisis would be overcome quickly and that the problem be rectified soon.

"Greece is in touch with the other countries regarding the replacement of those who have resigned and I hope that the member-countries (of the EU) would decide on a joint position on this," he said.

Asked whether Greece would recommend the reappointment of Mr. Papoutsis, the government spokesman said the issue was whether the Commissioners who had resigned would accept to reassume their posts.

Echoing the government spokesman, Alternate Foreign Minister Yiannos Kranidiotis said the resignation was an act of political responsibility and sensitivity.

"It will not adversely affect the course of Greece towards economic and monetary union or the country's interest or goals," he added.

National Economy Minister Yiannos Papantoniou said the Commission's resignation had come "at a critical juncture for the European Union's future in view of the negotiations to complete 'Agenda 2000'."

In discussing the north-south disagreements of cutbacks in structural funds, he said the poorer southern countries' "front was firm", expressing an opinion that Greece had "two powerful negotiating tools": the fact that it is the EU's 'poorest' member-state and its "spectacular performance" in fiscal restructuring, as he called it.

Regarding materialisation of the Second Community Support Framework (1994- 1999), the minister said Greece had presented such an impressive performance that it was considered the "EU champion in earmarked credits and payments".

Based on statistics for 1994-98, Mr. Papantoniou said 85.6 per cent of the Regional Development Fund resources earmarked for the country had been secured, as had 82.2 per cent of the earmarked structural funds resources.

During that same period, he added, expenditures amounted to 62.9 percent of the Regional Development Fund financing and 61.5 per cent of the overall funds' credits. This put Greece in 4th place among the 15 Eu member- countries regarding the securing of credits, placing it above even such countries as Italy, Germany and Spain.

With respect to payments, it was in 5th place among the 15 member states, he continued.

The minister anticipated that 80 per cent of the total seven trillion drachmas in credits earmarked for Greece under the Second Community Support Framework will have been absorbed by the end of the year, while the remaining 20 per cent would be absorbed next year.

At the same time, he noted, materialisation of the Third Community Support Framework (2000-2006) would begin being materialised.

Meanwhile, in an ANA dispatch from Brussels, Mr. Papoutsis said the European Commission's resignation is an act of "democratic sensitivity and political responsibility", although he noted that collective responsibility does not mean collective guilt.

"This decision defends the Commission's prestige and political credibility as an executive body of the European Union," he said, and went on to add that "I hope that the European Commission will emerge strengthened with this political decision."

Mr. Papoutsis said that what Europe needs at present is democratic control, transparency, good and effective management and consolidation of the role of European public administration.

Schroeder for talks in Athens

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will hold talks with Prime Minister Costas Simitis in Athens today in light of the upcoming Berlin summit.

The visit by the German leader, who is also the European Union's current president, is targeted at achieving a rapprochement in the views of member- states to facilitate a successful outcome to the summit.

Bonn's EU presidency attributes major importance to the Berlin summit, scheduled to take place on March 24-25, on the agreement concerning the "Agenda 2000."

According to reports and the national economy minister, however, the Greek side is expected to maintain a steadfast position over the issue of Structural Fund and EU budget resources. The front created by the southerners has been unbreakable so far.

Hellenic Aerospace signs deals for new Athens airport

Hellenic Aerospace Industry, Dassault Aviation and Aeroservices SA have signed a memorandum of understanding to create an aircraft servicing and maintenance centre at Athens' new airport at Spata, which is scheduled to begin operations in March 2001.

The new company will handle all Falcon type jets produced by Dassault Aviation and other aircraft used in southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean.

Hellenic Aerospace Industry and Dassault have worked together on projects for the last 20 years.

The two firms are currently studying ways of expanding their cooperation with a more ambitious strategic alliance covering the defence and civil aviation sectors.

Alpha Credit Bank to buy Cypriot insurance firm

Alpha Credit Bank announced yesterday that it would buy a 70 percent stake in Metropolitan, a Cypriot insurer.

The move follows the Greek private bank's entry into the Cypriot market through Alpha Bank Limited.

Metropolitan will change its name to Alpha Insurance and enter the group of the same name in Greece.

The firm to emerge will work with Alpha Bank Limited in the distribution of life insurance and general insurance products.

Stocks end lower in profit-taking

Equity prices succumbed to profit-taking yesterday, ending a seven-day rally that had pushed the Athens Stock Exchange 12.17 percent higher to new record levels.

Traders said the market needed a correction and that it was unaffected by the European Commission's resignation.

The general index ended 0.75 percent off at 3,598.09 points after moving in a range of 115 points. Turnover was 166.4 billion drachmas and volume 26, 873,984 shares.

Sector indices suffered losses.

Banks fell 0.33 percent, Leasing dropped 1.79 percent, Insurance ended 0.19 percent off, Investment ended 0.63 percent down, Construction eased 0.37 percent, Industrials fell 1.60 percent, Miscellaneous dropped 1.85 percent and Holding fell 2.59 percent .

The parallel market index for small cap companies ended 0.73 percent off while the FTSE/ASE 20 index ended 0.37 percent down at 2,246.84.

National Bank of Greece ended at 22,650 drachmas, Alpha Credit Bank at 38, 705, Ergobank at 26,050, Ionian Bank at 23,050, Titan Cement at 25,400, Hellenic Petroleum at 2,630, Intracom at 19,950, Minoan Lines at 7,500, Panafon at 9,100 and Hellenic Telecoms at 7,900.

Bond prices edge up, demand seen for drachma

Bond prices nosed up and investors sought drachmas, again driving up the national currency, traders said.

Domestic markets brushed off a mass resignation by the European Union's Commission.

The new 10-year bond was trading at 103.20 and the previous 10-year issue at 117.75.

Electronic trade was light at 39 billion drachmas, up from a scant 15 billion drachmas in the previous session.

The drachma gained in the foreign currency market, prompting the central bank to intervene to curb its ascent through the purchase of around 20 million euros at its daily fix.

The euro was set at 321.310 drachmas at the fix from 321.400 drachmas on Monday.

Gov't seeks to improve EU telecoms programme

The government is amending its original programme for a European Union funded telecommunications project in order to fully exploit the 125 billion drachmas available, secretary general Manolis Yakoumakis of the communications ministry said yesterday.

He was speaking on Crete after a meeting of a committee that is monitoring the programme, which falls under the second community support framework.

The programme mainly involves infrastructure and projects handled by the state-owned Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation.

A 2.5 billion drachma telecoms project aimed at private investors is to be tendered in April that seeks 50 percent funding for the development of pilot telematics applications in the transport sector.

Local groups protest genetically modified cotton

Several local ecological organisations, scientific agencies and groups of pupils have expressed strong opposition to a proposal by a number of companies for the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) cotton and corn in the region of Fthiotida, central Greece.

The opponents of the proposal have issued announcements calling on the prefectural authorities not to grant permission "for such kinds of experiments."

"We want to know that you who administer our affairs are considering only the good of our prefecture and not the financial interest of certain agrochemical concerns who provenly pose a world threat," the children of Lamia's 6th primary school wrote in a letter to the Fthiotida prefect Triantaphyllos and prefectural councillors.

Owing to the opposition, the Fthiotida prefectural council last night decided to suspend taking a decision on the proposal so that it could be briefed in greater detail.

Prefectural officials meanwhile were quick to underline that the proposal concerned only "trial cultivations".

Last year, permission was given for the cultivation of GM cotton on an area of 10,000 square metres, but the crop was never harvested due to its destruction in bad weather.

The controversy over GM crops and food has been fuelled by the fears of some scientists that they pose a threat to biodiversity, have implications for wildlife and the environment, may cause a build-up of antibiotic resistance and possible genetic damage to animals and humans.

Karamanlis ends US visit by meeting Defense Secretary Cohen

Main opposition New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis concluded his first official visit to the United States since assuming ND's leadership with a meeting here yesterday with US Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Their hour-long talk focused on NATO's role, developments in Kosovo, the Cyprus issue, bilateral relations and the need to upgrade them, as well as the role Washington can play in the wider region.

Mr. Karamanlis said explained that Greece is a country which both desires, and in practice, has a stabilising role in the region.

"We do not desire changes in borders. We want wider cooperation both at bilateral and multilateral level," he said.

Mr. Karamanlis added that even if the two countries agree on basic pursuits which are stability and stabilisation in the region, this does not mean there is an identity of views. He further said that this does not mean that we must not have corridors of communication, adding that the US is an important country "which must know what we believe, what we feel and what we are pursuing."

Mr. Cohen raised the issue of the "November 17" terrorist group's activities and conveyed Washington's concern.

He said the elusive terrorist cell has been active for many years in Greece, with repercussions on inter-state relations.

Mr. Karamanlis stressed the need for NATO enlargement with the accession of more countries. He also raised the issue of Greek-Turkish relations, saying Athens desires Turkey's European orientation, although Ankara must first respect international law and abandon threats to use force.

After Thessaloniki, Tipper Gore to visit Athens

The wife of US Vice-President Al Gore, Tipper Gore, yesterday delivered a speech at the American College in Thessaloniki (Anatolia) at the invitation of the school's alumni to mark its 60th anniversary.

Ms Gore's address focused on the "Peace Corps" - the body of volunteers set up by John F. Kennedy in the early '60s and still active today around the world.

Several ministers and the US ambassador to Greece Nicholas Burns attended.

Ms Gore will visit Athens tomorrow where she will deliver an address at the American College in Athens, while later in the day she will be received by the President of the Republic Kostis Stephanopoulos.

In a related development, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) yesterday strongly condemned US policy in the Balkans on the occasion of a visit by Ms Gore.

WEATHER

Partly cloudy weather and scattered showers and a drop in temperatures will prevail throughout Greece today. Rain or sleet in northern Greece. Winds variable, strong to gale force in the Aegean. Athens will be rainy with temperatures between 9-13C. Same in Thessaloniki with temperatures from 4- 7C.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE

Wednesday's rates (buying)
U.S. dollar          293.275
Pound sterling       475.228
Japanese yen (100)   247.643
French franc          48.591
German mark          162.969
Italian lira (100)    16.461
Irish Punt           404.716
Belgian franc          7.901
Luxembourg franc       7.901
Finnish mark          53.608
Dutch guilder        144.638
Danish kr.            42.864
Austrian sch.         23.164
Spanish peseta         1.916
Swedish kr.           35.553
Norwegian kr.         37.224
Swiss franc          199.412
Port. Escudo           1.590
Aus. dollar          183.857
Can. dollar          191.476
Cyprus pound         550.659
Euro                 318.740
(C.E.)
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