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Athens News Agency: News in English, 07-05-30

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

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

CONTENTS

  • [01] PM meets pensioners, pledges to boost low pensions
  • [02] OECD urges pension reforms for Greece
  • [03] 'Blue Flag' for 428 Greek beaches, 9 marinas

  • [01] PM meets pensioners, pledges to boost low pensions

    The government on Wednesday promised a series of measures to boost the income of those on low pensions, such as higher income supplement benefits and tax relief, after a meeting between Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and representatives of the pensioner unions' umbrella federation.

    National economy and finance minister George Alogoskoufis, who also attended the meeting, announced plans to increase the EKAS low-pension supplementary benefit and the Farmers' Pension Fund (OGA) pensions, together with tax relief measures already being advanced by the government and new initiatives that are being examined, in order to boost pensioner incomes.

    Alogoskoufis said that the government, given the existing financial restrictions and the limits of the state budget, has taken "significant steps to reinforce the incomes of pensioners that we had the opportunity to analyse".

    The also minister reminded reporters that pension increases had been above inflation and higher than the equivalent increase to salaries for every year of the present government's term, even in the most difficult years, such as in 2005.

    In addition, the abolition of the recipients' contribution to the LAFKA civil service pensioners' supplementary fund was another very important boost to pensions which, together with the retroactive rebate of contributions that had been paid into the LAFKA by pensioners, exceeded 650 million euro.

    "We had significant increases also in the EKAS: 35 euros monthly this year and another 35 euros monthly as of January 1, 2008. We have a significant increase in the OGA pension of 50 euros per month this year and another 50 euros so that it will reach 330 euros per month, as we had promised," Alogoskoufis said, adding that "naturally, we are examining all other initiatives required to boost the incomes of pensioners".

    One of those initiatives, he continued, "which should not be underestimated", was the large tax reliefs that have already been set in motion, the increase in the tax-free allowance to 12,000 euros from 10,000 euros, and the reduction in taxation rates, Alogoskoufis concluded.

    A representative of the pensioners' union federation, IKA pensioners' president Diamantis Mavrodoglou, noted that the prime minister had fallen short of meeting their demands during the meeting, promising to "make an effort" but avoiding any specific commitment.

    Listing pensioners' demands, he said they included an increase in the minimum pensions to 1,050 euros a month, setting pensions at 80 percent of the last salary, abolition of VAT on basic goods and a tax-free allowance of 15,000 euros, as well as general demands like reducing high prices and better health care.

    Noting Karamanlis promise to increase EKAS, Mavrodoglou said that this "is not a solution, but it is a solution for pensioners on the lowest incomes, since it addresses their financial problem to some extent".

    During the meeting, the pensioners' unions of pension fund losses over the years through unwise investments, like the recently revealed structured bonds and others, noting that up to 100 billion euros had been lost in this way since 1950.

    According to government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos, meanwhile, the prime minister had emphasised the great efforts already made by the government to improve standards of living among pensioners, given the huge problems and large deficit that it had inherited from the previous government, and that efforts in this direction would now be even greater.

    He also listed additional measures taken by the government, such as the reintroduction of a unemployed widows under 40, the opportunities given to people to pay up to 150 days of missing social insurance contributions in order to qualify for a pension after the age of 65 for men and 60 for women and others.

    In Thessaloniki, meanwhile, pensioners from various pensioner unions organised a protest march to the Macedonia-Thrace Ministry and held a rally asking for the return of money lost to social insurance funds from investments in structured bonds and that their reserves be managed by those insured and paying contributions to them.

    They also demanded the abolition of a presidential decree 258/05, which they said decreased the income of pensioners of the newly formed OAEE fund by 30 percent, a minimum pension of 1050 euros for the private sector and of 80 percent of the last wage for those in the public sector.

    A delegation of pensioners met with Macedonia-Thrace Minister George Kalantzis to present their demands.

    Caption: ANA-MPA file photo of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

    [02] OECD urges pension reforms for Greece

    The pension system is the biggest economic challenge facing Greece, Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Wednesday.

    Speaking to reporters, in Athens, during a presentation of OECD's report on the Greek economy, Gurria said the Greek pension system needed radical reform otherwise the problem could pressure other economic reforms in the country. The pension system offers many incentives for early retirement, while it should not, Gurria noted.

    All OECD member-states are called to resolve this problem and find solutions. The challenge is acute, Gurria said, adding that several countries were readjusting pensions in view of increased life expectancy.

    He emphasized the problem of early retirement and said the Greek government should review all incentives offered for early retirement, or offer more incentives to stay in the labour market longer.

    Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said the government has a clear strategy and that Greek society would decide the extent of reforms to the social security system. He added, however, that measures were needed to ensure the viability of the social security systetm and to correcting injusticies. He reiterated that the solution would be offered by the next government.

    On the labour market, Gurria noted strong employment rates in the age range from 25 to 54 years and stressed that Greece recorded the highest employment rate in this spectrum within the OECD. He noted, however, that women temporarily leaving their work (child birth) finding it very difficult to return to the labour market later.

    The OECD secretary-general said reforms made in the education system so far were moving in the right direction but stressed that more reforms were needed and that the Greek government should examine the introduction of education fees in higher education.

    Alogoskoufis said that certain reforms (such as education fees) were forbidden by the country's constitution.

    Both men agreed that Greek economic progress was significant. Gurria noted that Greece was moving very rapidly, more than other OECD member-states and urged for improvements in the operation of public enterprises and containing state spending.

    Alogoskoufis said the OECD's report confirmed the progress made by the Greek economy and noted that "we still are in the middle of the road".

    Caption: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria at a press conference held in Athens on May 30, 2007. ANA-MPA/ MARIA MAROGIANNI

    [03] 'Blue Flag' for 428 Greek beaches, 9 marinas

    Greece came 2nd among 49 countries for clean beaches in 2007, with 428 of its beaches fulfilling the necessary criteria to receive the "Blue Flag" certificate this year, the most important being water quality. A total of 428 beaches and 9 marinas, operated by coastal municipalities, hotels and other operators, were awarded "Blue Flags" in Greece, according to the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, HSPN, which has handled the "Blue Flags" programme in the country since 1992. Last year, "Blue Flags" were awarded to 411 beaches and 5 marinas in Greece. "Blue Flag" marina candidates are evaluated in detail to ensure compliance with the criteria concerning waste recycling facilities in the marina, the presence of a map indicating all required facilities, life-saving equipment and the posting of safety precautions. Candidate beaches are evaluated based on the presence of a map indicating all required facilities, presence of waste recycling facilities at the beach and compliance with the water quality criterion regarding sampling frequency.
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