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Athens News Agency: News in English, 07-11-23
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 PM: Election law reform will enhance quality of democracy, stabilityPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Friday stressed that the issue of changing the current electoral law was inalienably linked with strengthening the quality of democracy in Greece and reinforcing the autonomy of the country's political system.
Karamanlis was replying in Parliament during to a question tabled by Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) MP Fotis Kouvelis, where he explained that the government sought such a discussion both within the context of revision of the Constitution and also within the framework of a relevant parliamentary committee.
Karamanlis said the main purpose of the proposed changes by the government was to "ensure, in the future, government stability which, however, would not affect the proportionality of smaller political parties' electoral strength".
He added that, with the bill that is currently being drafted and will be tabled in Parliament before the vote on the 2008 budget, a provision will be introduced aiming to "strengthen the incentives for participation of female candidates on the ballots, and by extension in Parliament".
Referring to the recent speculation over the so-called "German model", Karamanlis said that no one, including the main opposition party, can makeup pretexts for opposing the improvement of a law "which, in the final analysis, his own (PASOK) government has instituted â¦ this can occur only in one circumstance: If it (the main opposition party) is certain of its defeat in the next (general) elections".
Kouvelis, on his part, said that what was sought was not a preservation of the existing system, but the establishment of a simple proportional majority electoral system, which he said was the genuine reflection of the socio-political correlations.
He said that the government's "haste" to exclude "the party that will arise as the result of (electoral) cooperation" from the 50-seat "bonus" indicated fear, adding that "preserving the political 'fixer' of the two-party system is a useless political act, because although in the short term it may serve your party (ruling New Democracy) or other such parties, such as the main opposition party (PASOK), it nevertheless does not serve the proper function of the political system of the country".
Responding, Karamanlis reiterated the need for political stability.
"It would be exceptionally hazardous for the country's course if a situation of instability or, even worse, a situation of lack of governance, arose in the future".
Defending ND's decision to amend the electoral law at the beginning of its four-year term in office, the premier said that "prompt change is a matter of principle and concerns all the parties; it chiefly concerns the main opposition party which, if it believes it can win the elections, has only to agree" with the amendment.
Regarding the "Germany model", Karamanlis said this would require "substantive and exhaustive dialogue over its content, long preparation for its implementation" and, in addition, "at this stage, it can only come after the reform of the country's administrative structure and, consequently, is not an issue at the moment".
Karamanlis said that "steady and self-sufficient governments can more effectively shield the autonomy of our political system against pressure by interests; pressures which some quarters -- supposedly in surprise -- have just discovered".
The prime minister reiterated his government's aspiration to dialogue on all the issues, with all the political forces: "But we will not tolerate games of expediencies, such as those aspired to by the main opposition party".
"It (PASOK) cannot on the one hand refuse its required participation in the Constitutional Revision and on the other hand pretend that it wants something that cannot be done today. Political fireworks shot into the air cast light only on the problems of their inspirers. Opportunistic moves sought at the last minute do not advance the necessary climate of consensus. Quite the opposite, in fact, it's possible that they are sought and projected in order to conceal sterile and awkward rejection," the premier concluded.
Caption: Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis addresses Parliament on Friday, Nov. 23, 2007. ANA-MPA
 Papandreou visit to Sofia axed due to weatherMain opposition PASOK party and Socialist International (SI) President George Papandreou on Friday cancelled a scheduled trip to Bulgaria due to inclement weather conditions in the neighbouring country.
Papandreou was scheduled to visit Sofia to address a Party of European Socialists' Council meeting focusing on EU foreign policy and environmental issues.
 FinMin: High oil prices won't affect strong growthThe 2008 budget supports a government priority for a more dynamic economy and a fair society, Greek Economy and Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis said on Friday.
In an interview with the ANA-MPA, the high-ranking Greek minister stressed that high international oil prices would not undermine the state budget.
"The 2008 is another step towards a dynamic economy and a fair society. During the three-and-a-half years that have passed since March 2008, the governnment has introduced a new model to support growth, employment and social cohesion, based on fiscal consolidation and a wide-ranging reform programme. This policy brought results. The fiscal deficit fell from 7.3 pct of GDP in 2004 to 2.5 pct of GDP in 2006 and was close to 2.7 pct of GDP this year. At the same time, economic growth averaged 4.0 pct, unemployment fell by around three percentage points and social cohesion strengthened through measures to support lower incomes," Alogoskoufis said.
The minister said the 2008 budget, envisaging a fiscal deficit of 1.6 pct of GDP, will begin a second phase of fiscal consolidation aimed to present balanced budgets by 2010.
"This goal is promoted mainly through an effective battle to combat tax evasion and reduce public spending," he said, adding that the main characteristics of the budget was strengthening the social state and a new model for economic growth. Alogoskoufis said the budget envisaged the creation of a Social Cohesion National Fund to finance focused programmes to combatting poverty in the country.
The government will continue a tax reform effort with the aim to cut income tax factors to 25 percent in 2009, from 30-40 pct in 2006, along with abolishing all property taxes.
He acknowledged that high oil prices have added uncertainty to the global economy, although he stressed that high oil prices would not undermine the state budget.
"We lived with high fuel prices in the previous two years but achieved in reducing fiscal deficits and strengthen economic growth," he said.
Alogoskoufis said government efforts to combat tax evasion has already offered results but stressed there were more room for improvement, while he noted that the government will focus its efforts on cutting public overspending.
Additionally, he said he expected economic growth to remain strong in the coming years based on the implementation of several major projects, economic reforms and the introduction of joint ventures between public and private sectors enterprises. Alogoskoufis noted that the Greek government will sign a 4th Community Support Framework for the period 2007-2013 with the European Union next Monday in Brussels.
Finally, the Greek minister said business delegations organised by the government and the president of the republic to Arab countries and Mediterranean states have significantly strengthened the country's position in the wider region.
Caption: ANA-MPA file photo of George Alogoskoufis.
 Greece, France re-affirm excellent defence tiesDefence Minister Evangelos Meimarakis and his French counterpart Herve Morin on Friday re-affirmed the excellent level of bilateral relations between the two countries, following a meeting in Athens, during which they discussed bilateral cooperation in the defence and security sector within the framework of the EU, particularly in view of France's assumption of the European Union presidency in the second half of 2008.
The two defence ministers also discussed developments in the Balkans, where an identity of views was ascertained, according to reports.
In statements after the 90-minute meeting, Meimarakis and Morin referred to talks between Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which recorded a new momentum in the traditionally very close ties between the two countries.
Meimarakis stressed that Greece actively supports the EU's defence dimension, given that through a common defence policy Europe would be able to meet any new challenges and contribute to the consolidation of global security.
Morin, in turn, said that "the Europe of defence" must have its own autonomous means and prospects in order to ensure security and stability, not only in Europe, but also in other regions where it had a traditional presence. He also said that France relied on Greece's support for the initiatives it would undertake, in the framework of its EU presidency, for tackling illegal immigration and illicit trade.
Regarding Kosovo, Meimarakis reiterated that the solution to the issue must be an agreed deal that also ensured the province's viability, while he cited Greece's support for the efforts of the Troika group to bridge the differences between the two sides, and also its appeal to both sides to manifest a spirit of compromise and constructive thoughts.
Morin noted the need for a united Europe to continue its efforts and have a presence in the region, regardless of the outcome of the talks that end on Dec. 10. He also called for stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina to be ensured in a firm and viable manner.
Asked about Turkey's EU prospect, Meimarakis stressed that "full fulfilment (of criteria) means full accession", reiterating Greece's support for Turkey's EU aspirations.
Morin, in turn, noted that several chapters needed to be opened up in the accession negotiations between candidate Turkey and the European Union, stressing that those chapters must first be incorporated into the European acquis before dealing with more delicate matters. He explained that incorporation (into Turkish legislation) of the "acquis communautaire" (the EU body of legislation) was a time-consuming procedure, at the end of which "we will look at, in due course, for the appropriate solution in EU-Turkey relations".
"Will we have full accession or a privileged partnership relationship with Turkey?" he rhetorically said, noting, on a lighter note, that when the time comes to answer this question, neither he nor Meimarakis would be the ministers that will be examining the matter.
Meimarakis further thanked his French counterpart for Paris' active support to Greece in tackling the devastating wildfires in Greece this past summer.
Afterwards, the two defence ministers visited an airbase in Tanagra, north of Athens, to attend a ceremony where a newly delivered French-made Mirage 2000-5 warplane were incorporated into the Hellenic Air Force fleet.
Caption: Greek Defence Minister Evangelos Meimarakis and his French counterpart Herve Morin meet in Athens on Friday, Nov. 23, 2007. ANA-MPA /STR
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